BeInyan Kriat haHaftorah be’al Peh – On the Subject of Reading the Portion from the Prophets by heart, by Dayan Abraham Rapoport, London 1961.

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This small book, published in London in 1961, answers the question of whether a blind person can read the Haftorah (the portion from the prophets that is read every week after the reading from the Torah) if he knows it by heart or if he uses a Braille text.

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The author, Abraham Rapoport was born in 1907 in Pereyaslav in the Ukraine, and studied in eastern European Yeshivas before coming to Britain in the early 1930s. He was known as an outstanding Talmudic scholar, and also for uncompromising orthodoxy.

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His first post was as Rabbi to the Bedford Hebrew Congregation, and he eventually became the Rabbi of Agudat Achim, which was the Old Castle Street Synagogue in the East End of London.  I have previously written about this Synagogue

In 1949 he was appointed principal rabbinical supervisor to the Kashrus Commission, and he was appointed to the London Beth Din (Rabbinical Court) in 1953.  He also lectured at the Yeshivah Etz Chaim in London and wrote several important responsa (answers to questions) notably on kashrus and also the important issue of widows whose husbands had died in Nazi concentration camps and wished to remarry.

He had a principled opposition to non-religious Judaism, and purposely absented himself from the celebration at the Bevis Marks synagogue in London in 1956 to mark the Tercentenary of Jewish Resettlement in Britain, because Reform and Liberal congregants were present.  He died in London in 1973.

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This small book was one of a series published by the London Beth Din, in which the Dayanim (judges) answered various questions.  My copy has an unsigned letter from Dayan Rapoport tipped in.

The question that is answered in this book is caused by the custom to have the Barmitzvah boy, if he is able, read the Haftorah on his Barmitzvah day in Synagogue.  He reads this portion from a printed book.  Frequently he also previously reads Maftir – the final portion of the Torah reading for that week – himself, rather than have the Torah reader say the words on his behalf.

A blind person, of course, cannot read in the same way as a sighted person, but he may well be able to commit his reading to memory or read it from a Braille text. There is a general prohibition against the reading of a single word of the Torah (the five books of Moses) from memory.  It may be read or studied only from a written text.  Some rabbinical commentators say that this restriction is relaxed in the case of a blind person who would otherwise be prevented from studying the Torah. However, the public reading requires that the Torah be read from the scroll and not from memory. The Torah has to be written in a certain way and a Braille version is not acceptable.

However, the Rema, Moshe Isserlis, rules that a blind man may be called to the reading of the Torah as he does not read himself , but (as with sighted people) the Torah is read on his behalf. A blind person may therefore be called up to the Reading of the Law, pronounce the blessings and have the Torah read to him, just like everybody else.

A blind Bar Mitzvah boy called up for Maftir pronounces the blessings, but does not actually read the words from the Torah himself.  The question that Dayan Rapoport makes clear is whether the blind Barmitzvah boy may or may not recite the Haftorah (not the reading from the Torah) from memory or using a Braille text.

(This article is dedicated to my blind friend, David Stayer of Young Israel of Merrick, New York)

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