This morning I studied Mishnah Rosh Hashanah at my favorite local cafe– 2Alices Coffee shop. I met friends from our community and around the county to discuss Torah and think about the upcoming holidays. Of course, every Tuesday when we meet our conversation expands beyond the texts, but sometimes I am struck by the depth of these primary sources.
The first chapter of Mishnah Rosh Hashanah begins with a discussion of the various New Years on the Jewish calendars, but then digresses into the procedures for recognizing and announcing the new month. While less relevant today with a fixed calendar, the principles are fascinating. Since an accurate calendar determined whether fast days and feast days were at the appropriate time, one could even violate Shabbat to get to Jerusalem and inform the Court that the new moon had been spotted. The last (ninth) mishnah of the chapter opens with a powerful point about equality:
מִי שֶׁרָאָה אֶת הַחֹדֶשׁ וְאֵינוֹ יָכוֹל לְהַלֵּךְ, מוֹלִיכִין אוֹתוֹ עַל הַחֲמוֹר, אֲפִלּוּ בְמִטָּה.
|One who has seen the new moon [on Shabbat], but is unable to walk [to the court to give evidence], must be brought mounted on an ass or even [carried by others] in a bed.
(Text from Sefaria.org)
The permission to travel on Shabbat, to be a witness, is not limited to the able-bodied. ANYONE and EVERYONE who saw the moon MUST go to Jerusalem. Everyone has a voice. Any technology they need to assist them–donkey, carrying by others–is permitted and required to be used. These technologies are not seen as violating Shabbat but assisting the person with the mitzvah.
It does not take a rabbinic genius to see the connection to the modern world. An electric wheelchair, a hearing aid, other mobility implements are all clearly permitted on Shabbat. A sacred priniciple in our tradition is kvod habriot, respect for others.The particulars of each of those cases are even discussed in Orthodox halachic literature.
For example: http://www.zomet.org.il/eng/?CategoryID=198&ArticleID=409 regarding electric wheelchairs and http://www.daat.ac.il/daat/english/journal/sandler-1.htm regarding hearing aids.
One organization that has worked very hard for inclusion for people with disabilities is the Ruderman Foundation: http://rudermanfoundation.org/programs/disability-inclusion/ Partnering with United Synagogue, they have helped many communities evaluate their physical structures and community attitudes to be more inclusive: http://www.uscj.org/LeadingKehilla/Accessibility/InclusionInitiative/defaulhttps://photos.google.com/photo/AF1QipMlY51hHGuantWrQHvBzIbxGQYetJGDTHl8oQVSt.aspx
At the end of the day, I return to the beginning–what can we do to ensure that every person who enters our doors has access to our community and is truly welcomed? We know we have work to do. I look forward to continuing the process of inclusion with you.