'Do not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block in front of the blind' Disability in Jewish Thought and Culture
31 March - 2 April 2014
Universiteit Antwerpen, Hof van Liere
Prinsstraat 13, 2000 Antwerp
In cooperation with Tikvatenoe (director Ms. Rosi Rosenberg).
With the support of Institutum Iudaicum.
With the support of "Universiteit en Samenleving" of the University of Antwerp.
The conference “ ‘Do not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block in front of the blind’ Disability in Jewish Thought and Culture” aims to bring people together who in their research address the theology, history and practical experience of disability and Judaism. We will focus both on rabbinical theological debates, on practical implementation of religious beliefs and on the genuine experience of disability in the Jewish community, in order to understand the many tensions that arise between the different traditional sources themselves and between orthodoxy and practice. The conference will focus on – although certainly not limit itself to – the meaning of deafness, and disabilities connected to childhood and old age in these discussions.
Keynote lectures by R. dr. Zvi Marx, author of Disability in Jewish Law (Routledge, 2002), Prof. dr. Jeremy Schipper, author of Disability and Isaiah’s Suffering Servant (Oxford University Press, 2011) and R. dr. Aharon Fried.
Organizing committee: Prof. dr. Patrick Devlieger, Prof. dr. Guido Lichtert, Prof. dr. Vivian Liska, Dennis Baert, David Dessin, Jan Morrens, Stefanie van Stee.
Monday 31 March
20.00 u Introduction: Vivian Liska (IJS, University of Antwerp) and Guido
Lichtert (KU Leuven)
20.20 u Keynote lecture: Tzvi Marx (Stichting Pardes)
Judaism and "Moom" [blemish, impairment, disability, handicap, etc]
followed by a reception
Tuesday 1 April
09.30-11.30 u Visit Tikvatenoe (speakers only)
including lecture by Georges Lehrer: The Halachic Status of the
12.00-13.00 u Lunch (speakers only)
13.00-14.00 u Keynote lecture II: Aharon Fried (Stern College for Women of
The Disabled in Talmudic and in Rabbinic literature, in Theory, and
14.00-14.15 u Coffee break
14.15-15.45 u Session I: Jewish Philosophy and Disability
Chair: Emmanuel Nathan (KU Leuven)
Dennis Baert (IJS, University of Antwerp): The Law of Defects: The
Phenomenological Case for the Halachic Approach to Disability
Claire English (Concordia University): Rosenzweig and Disability
David Pruwer (Cambridge University): Rethinking Madness as
15.45-16.00 u Coffee break
16.00-17.30 u Session II: Religion and Disability
Chair: Dennis Baert (IJS, University of Antwerp)
Emmanuel Nathan (KU Leuven): Treasure in Earthen Vessels:
The Apostle Paul at the Intersection of Judaism and Disability in the
Lennart Lehmhaus (Freie Universität Berlin): Blessed are you who
creates such varied creatures - Disability in Rabbinic Literature
between Medical, Halakhic and Ethical Discourse
Joshua Felberg (Mansfield College): The Blight of Difference: Jewish
and Christian Approaches to Disability in Late Classical Antiquity
19.30 u Conference dinner (speakers only)
Wednesday 2 April
09.00-09.15 u Coffee
09.15-10.45 u Session III: Judaism and Disability from a Sociological,
Chair: Patrick Devlieger (KU Leuven)
David Neal Miller (Ohio State University): Mastering the Defect:
Disability in Yiddophone Ashkenaz
Julia Watts Belser (Georgetown University): Brides and Blemishes:
Gender, Sexuality, and Women's Disability in Rabbinic Culture
Ela Koren et.al. (Bar-Ilan University): Predicting Psychological
Well-being through Meaning in Life and Attitudes toward Disability
in a Group of Religious Jewish Women in Israel
10.45-11.00 u Coffee break
11.00-12.00 u Keynote lecture III: Jeremy Schipper (Temple University)
Reconsidering Disability and Restoration in Biblical Narrative and
12.00-12.45 u Round table discussion and conclusion
12.45 u Lunch (speakers only)
Click here if you would like to register for this conference (participation is free).
Click here for a list of hotels close to the conference venue.
Call for Papers (closed)
CALL FOR PAPERS: International conference ‘Do not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block in front of the blind’. Disability in Jewish thought and culture
31 March - 2 April 2014
Institute of Jewish Studies - University of Antwerp
Please send your abstracts (500 words) and short bio to David Dessin (firstname.lastname@example.org) by 30 September 2013
In sharp contrast to Aristotle’s statement that there ought to be a “law that no crippled child be reared” the Mishnah never even considers infanticide as a possibility. The rabbis cherish life and see human variety as evidence of God’s greatness. Despite this positive attitude towards the disabled, they were excluded from many religious practices. Access to the sanctuary of the Temple was severely limited for the disabled, as God’s presence in the Holy of Holies could be lethal and physical perfection was required to even survive it. At the same time, there are several examples of people with disabilities who played a crucial role in Biblical history. Jacov limped his way into greatness, while Moses spoke some of history’s greatest orations with a speech impediment. After 70 CE the Halacha left the narrow confines of priestly cult and started a long process of regulatory thinking on disability in daily life that continues to this day.
In the wake of the explosion of interest in the relationship between biblical and cultural studies in the past decade, biblical scholars have started to engage disability studies. Some conclude that Jewish law labels the disabled as outsiders, and argue that Judaism needs to be rewritten to include people with disabilities. Others focus on the narratives and find a system supportive of vulnerable people, one that seeks to empower the disempowered, often informed by the Biblical injunction against placing a stumbling block before the blind (Lev 19:14) nor to ‘ridicule or curse the deaf, who could not hear the ridicule or curse, and therefore could not defend himself’ (Psalm 38:15). The actual behavior and various attitudes towards disability that exist and have existed in religious communities show again a very different story.
The conference 'Do not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block in front of the blind.’ Disability in Jewish thought and culture aims to bring people together who in their research address the theology, history and practical experience of disability and Judaism. We will focus both on rabbinical theological debates, on practical implementation of religious beliefs and on the genuine experience of disability in the Jewish community, in order to understand the many tensions that arise between the different traditional sources themselves and between orthodoxy and practice. The conference will be focused on – although certainly not limited to – the meaning of deafness, and disabilities connected to childhood and old age in these discussions.
In the history of thinking about disability, deafness has always challenged people to rethink their opinions within a context of extreme paradoxes. In a context of Judaism - as a belief and practice centred around of the spoken and written word and a strong culture of dialogue - we will give special attention to how Jewish thought are contributing to the contemporary discourse about medical and sociocultural models of disability and disability culture, and how the Halacha and Agadda can contribute to thinking the paradoxes which arise in the context of the recent technological (r)evolution of the 21st century.
Examples of questions
- To what extent is the Judaic approach to disability linked to social, historical, religious factors?
- How should we – according to Jewish law & narrative relate to disability?
- What does the development of new technology mean for the relation between disability and Judaism? Do we have the duty to except or to correct a disability? Under which conditions do we have to except or correct disabilities?
- Can Thora be read in sign language for deaf people? Does learning a spoken language override a visual language or vice versa? Is it enough to use language only for phatic communication or is Thora asking for higher order of communication?
- Can deaf parents choose for deaf children and vice versa?