Can a blind person read Torah in Braille? - Rabbanit Aliza Sperling

Rabbanit Aliza’s halachic responsum looks at the question of whether a blind person may read Torah for the congregation in Braille. She examines the sources related to blind people reading Torah and makes the case that, with the advent of Braille books, a blind person is now also able to read the words of Torah and ought to be able to participate in mitzvot that were heretofore unavailable to them.

Question: I have a blind congregant who recently joined our synagogue. The congregant is a wonderful addition to our community, and we have acquired a Braille siddur and chumashim to make our services more accessible. Recently the congregant expressed a desire to lein for the congregation, using a Braille text.

The halachic material I have researched mostly assumes that a person who was born or became blind is unable to read; the discussions revolve around the question of whether the inability to read disqualifies a blind person from Torah reading. However, my congregant is fluent in both English and Hebrew Braille. Would non-visual reading suffice for keriat hatorah? Would the Braille text count as “written text”? Would it be acceptable for my congregant to read from a Braille chumash, since a Sefer Torah would obviously not be accessible?

While it might be normatively shocking to see a blind person reading Torah from a Braille chumash, are there any halachic reasons to prohibit this practice? What other halachic issues are involved in keriat hatorah by blind individuals from a Braille text?

About Rabbanit Aliza Sperling

Rabbanit Aliza Sperling teaches Talmud at the Maharat- Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Beit Midrash Program. She is also the director of HerTorah, an innovative women’s Torah study and community program in Washington DC. Aliza is a research fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America and serves as a Wexner faculty member. She received semicha from Yeshivat Maharat and a JD from NYU Law School.