The Bible Says What? ‘A person with a defect is excluded’
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The Bible Says What? ‘A person with a defect is excluded’

Rabbi Young-Somers takes a controversial topic from the Torah and looks at a Reform Jewish response

Strolling through the concourse at the annual Maccabi Fun Run, I was blown away by the diversity of community organisations.

A lot of them exist to support those with special needs and disabilities. My family have come to know many of them over the years: from Norwood’s club ‘Unity’ – which my sister and I attended as kids – to Langdon, with whom my sister currently lives and is supported by.

These charities were not the only places we could be fully us and Jewish. My sister was also welcomed into broader Jewish life: leading with RSY Netzer, and singing in the choir.

So it is always a bit jarring to find the verses of Leviticus 21 excluding those in Aaron’s family from participating fully (or at all) in the Levite duties: “No man among the offspring of Aaron the priest who has a defect shall be qualified to offer the Eternal’s offering by fire”.

Some may be excluded because of physical limitations; after all hefting a sacrificial cow about would probably be too much for many, but even small blemishes seemed to exclude Priests. Biblically, it may have been understood that such physical attributes were caused by sin.

Many mocked footballer Glenn Hoddle in 1999 when he suggested disabilities were caused by sins in previous lives, but such theology isn’t absent in our own history.

This is one of those instances where I am delighted our practice as a community doesn’t reflect the text.

I don’t wish to see the rebuilding of a Temple life that limits participation from those who would give of themselves, and I’m proud of the community we do exist in that often does so much to empower, welcome and involve families like mine and individuals like my sister, and enables us all to contribute.

  •  Rabbi Young-Somers is an educator at the Reform Movement 
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