This week’s portion, Emor, presents us with a series of intriguing issues We look at the series of regulations around the priests, especially as they relate to being impure in association with the dead. We have verses that speak to blasphemy and a recitation of the festival calendar. Yet, one of the more challenging issues that confront us this week is the series of verses that, in assoctaion with the priests, mention the prohibition against anyone having a defect being acceptable for this sacred role. (Leviticus 21:16ff)
Now we know that these verses were written for a society and practice that does not exist. We understand that the ideal of “perfection” of those who are called upon to perform the priestly duties was meant to symbolize a sacred relationship of priest with God. All that we understand in looking backward. Today , however, we understand things so differently. One of the great advances in our conteporary world his been the rapid inclusion in so many congregations and organizations of individuals who deal with various types of disabilities. Those of us who have worked with, taught and officiated at classes and life cycle moments have seen first hand the power of inclusion as men and women, boys and girls take their rightful place within the community, each according to their own abilities.
Over the course of several years, there have been a growing number of resources produced that speak to this embrace of inclusion. One of the first such detailed resources was the book “Judaism and Disability” by Rabbi Judith Z Abrams (z’l) published by Gallaudet University Press in 1998.In discusssing this portion, Rabbi Abrams points out that “although disabilities disqualify a priest from officating in the cult, he is still considered a priest in all other respects.” She adds that “a priest in a state of ritual impurity is more disabled than a priest who is blind” (p.26). In the discussions on this text, we see that being in a state of ritual impurity (tameh) is the more serious concern.
Today the Jewish world opens its heart and doors in so many ways. February has been declared Jewish Disabilities Awareness Month (JDAM) and a growing number of congregations raise the level of awareness during this month through services, programs and educational events. A recent major resource, created by one of the developers of JDAM, is the work by Shelly Christensen called “From Longing to Belonging: A Practical Guide to Including People With Disabilities and Mental Health Conditions in Your Faith Community”. (Inclusive Innovations. 2018)
We have come a long way on recent years to make sure that the the synagogue can be a house for all people. Yet, their still exists stigma and challenges as to full inclusion. This remains part of our call to action in creating a fully inclusive and open community.
Rabbi Richard F Address.