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This week’s Torah portion, Emor, lists disqualifications of Cohanim. “No man of your offspring [Aaron] throughout the ages who has a defect shall be qualified to offer the food of his God.” The defects include blindness. The equivalent of the sacrifices is the Aliyah to the Torah.
The Rosh (Rabbeinu Asher ben Yechiel, who lived from 1250 to 1327), said that the blind must not read Torah from memory. This was an interpretation of the Talmud, “words that are written must not recited from memory.” Rabbi Joseph Karo (who lived 1488- 1575) echoed the prohibition: “the blind cannot read [Torah] for it is forbidden to read even one letter that is not from the written text.” Later sages said that the blind person was prohibited from Torah blessings even if a sighted person would read the Torah.
There are two views about blind people being prohibited from saying Torah blessings. A narrow view is the oleh reads the Torah assisted with a trained reader. The broader view is the Torah reader serves as an agent for the oleh; the oleh need not be capable intellectually or physically to read the Torah. Nowadays, blind people come to the Torah as an oleh.
Nowadays, braille Chumashim exist. The obstacle is that the reader needs to read (chant) from a Kosher scroll.
Many congregations don’t have a Kosher scroll. The congregations that don’t have a Kosher scroll read from the Chumash, without blessings. If the congregations do have a Kosher scroll, but they don’t have a trained reader, one of the congregants softly reads from the Chumash, and another congregant repeats verse by verse from Torah. The congregation’s obligation to read the Torah at its prescribed time is met only when a reader chants from a Kosher Torah scroll. This is a formidable obstacle to a blind person wanting to read Torah.
The Maftir portion on Shabbatot (excluding Rosh Hodesh, regelim, and special Maftirs) can give a chance to a blind person. Since, the Torah portion would have already been read from the beginning word through final word, the blind person could chant from braille Chumash.
There are three ways for a blind person to read Torah.
I am indebted to Rabbi Daniel Nevins, who wrote a Teshuvah about participation of Jews who are blind in the Torah service in 2003, through the Rabbinical Assembly.