July 5, 2007 - Resources for Jewish Blind - Pt. 12007-08-16 15:14:48
By MARK MIETKIEWICZ
Although the Internet is primarily a visual medium, it still is an incredible resource for people who are blind or have limited vision. Last week, I recommended Jewish sites about - and for - people who are deaf. This week and next, Jewish resources for the blind.
Despite what I just wrote, I do want to mention that I did find more Jewish sites devoted to deaf than to blind people. Perhaps that is a related to the fact that sites for the blind need to conform to certain standards http://tinyurl.com/qs4lf if special "assistive software" (such as screen readers) is going to be used. Regardless, it should not be forgotten that there are numerous sites that provide Jewish music and audio classes that can be of great benefit to people who are blind or have limited sight. (More on that later.)
Jewish tradition holds that people who are blind are not required to do certain mitzvot and are not permitted to do perform some others. Rabbi Moshe Tendler and Dr. Fred Rosner provide some examples:
- A blind person must light Sabbath candles on Friday night, as long as there is no danger to the person or to anyone else.
- A blind person may be accompanied by his guide dog into the synagogue. Since the dog is enabling its master to fulfill the commandment of public praying, it is not a desecration of the synagogue.
- A blind person cannot perform the search for leavened bread (chometz) prior to Passover; another member of the family should do so. http://tinyurl.com/2v2sh2
Rabbi Daniel Nevins serves as a member of the Committee of the Conservative movement's Committee of Jewish Law and Standards. Several years ago, they looked at what extent blind people could be involved in Torah reading. They concluded that "Jews who are blind should participate in synagogue rituals together with sighted Jews, all of whom are obligated to keep the Torah." But because "the Torah must be read for the congregation directly from a Torah scroll, and not from a printed text or from memory, Jews who are blind may participate in Torah reading in one of three ways:
- By receiving an aliyah and chanting softly after the reader;
- By serving as meturgamon, the verse-by-verse translator of a section of the parashah;
- By reading from braille a standard maftir, since it has already been chanted in the established fashion from the Sefer Torah. http://tinyurl.com/2hor4x
The largest lender of Jewish books in braille and large print is JBI International. The New York-based organization was established in 1931 as the Jewish Braille Institute. According to its website, JBI lends its materials (including talking books) to over 35,000 people around the worald. Registered users can search the online database for material. JBI's braille library contains more than 8,500 titles in English and Hebrew. http://jewishbraille.org
Braille is a system of writing in which a combination of six dots are raised in order to represent letters of the alphabet and are identified by touch. You can get a good visual representation on the Wikipedia page to compare how the English http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Braille and Hebrew http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hebrew_Braille alphabets are formed. It is interesting to note that the Bet is the same as the "b" in English and the Gimel is written like a "g" while a Chet is written like an "x". I was surprised to learn that the letters in Hebrew braille are written from left to right.
Although they may not have been created specifically for people who are blind or visually impaired, there are many sites which provide audio entertainment, information and educational opportunities. For Jewish learning, check out the audio links at Jacob Richman's Hot Sites. http://tinyurl.com/37hj4o You can have any portion of the Torah chanted to you at the magnificent Navigating the Bible site. http://tinyurl.com/2s5pdy
For news and entertainment, go to the Radio, Podcast and Music sections of Larry Grossman's excellent Jewish Webcasting Guide. jewishwebcasting.com And for music, don't miss Arutz Sheva's Music Jukebox. http://tinyurl.com/2pohfn
Please note that these sites were not necessarily created for people using specialized software for the blind. Those users may need assistance from sighted individuals to maneuver the sites.
* * *
Mark Mietkiewicz is a Toronto-based Internet producer who writes, lectures and teaches about the Jewish Internet. He can be reached at email@example.com.