A Blind Aliyah

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Can a blind man serve as the shali’ach tzibur (chazzan, precentor)? Many people would say no based on the famous Gemara (Bava Kamma 87a) that R. Yosef, who was blind, said that he would celebrate a holiday if someone would tell him that the halakhah is not like R. Yehudah, who held that blind people are not obligated in mitzvos. However, the vast majority of rishonim ruled against R. Yehudah and held the blind people are obligated in mitzvos. And so the Shulchan Arukh (Orach Chaim 53:14) rules, that a blind man can serve as the shali’ach tzibbur.

After I discussed this recently with my good friend, R. Daniel Z. Feldman, he sent me a draft of a chapter from his forthcoming fourth volume of Binah Ba-Sefarim that discusses this topic. Characteristically, he charts the views among the acharonim regarding what R. Yehudah held — are blind people only exempt biblically but obligated on a rabbinic level, does this apply to all mitzvos or only positive commandments, what about the Noahide laws, etc.

The Shulchan Arukh (ibid.) writes that a blind man cannot be called to the Torah. The Rema (Orach Chaim 139:3) adds that nowadays, when we are lenient to call to the Torah even an ignoramus who cannot follow the reading, we also call blind men to the Torah. R. Feldman discusses this at some length also, particularly regarding the maftir for special days.

(No, I don’t know when the book will be come out. But you can bet that it will be at next year’s SOY Seforim Sale.)

About Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the Editor of TorahMusings.com, a leading website on Orthodox Jewish scholarly subjects, and the Book Editor of the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Action magazine. He writes a popular column on issues of Jewish law and thought featured in newspapers and magazines, including The Jewish Link, The Jewish Echo and The Vues. In the past, he has served as the President of the small Jewish publisher Yashar Books and as the Managing Editor of OU Press. Rabbi Student currently is serving his third term on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America and also serves as the Director of the Halacha Commission of the Rabbinical Alliance of America. He serves on the Editorial Boards of Jewish Action magazine, the Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society and the Achieve Journal of Behavioral Health, Religion & Community, as well as the Board of OU Press. He has published five English books, the most recent titled Search Engine volume 2: Finding Meaning in Jewish Texts -- Jewish Leadership, and served as the American editor for Morasha Kehillat Yaakov: Essays in Honour of Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.

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