Can a Person Who Is Blind Receive an Aliyah?: A Teshuva of Maseit Binyamin

Can a person who is blind receive an aliyah?  The question, from a conceptual and analytic point of view, is how to understand the post-Talmudic practice of having one person (the one receiving the aliyah) making a brakha on the Torah, and having another person (the shaliach tzibbur) doing the actual reading from the scroll.  In Talmudic times, the person who would receive the aliyah would also read directly from the scroll, and thus it was obvious that a person who was blind could not read from the Torah (see Mishna Megillah 3:6, where this is taken for granted).  In post-Talmudic times, however, the institution changed and a designated reader was assigned to read for whomever had the aliyah.  This change actually was a move towards greater inclusion, allowing people who were less fluent and literate to still receive an aliyah.

The halakhic question is – how is this new arrangement to be conceptualized?  Do we consider it as if

(a) The institution is fundamentally the same, and the person receiving the aliyah is still doing the reading, but he is now doing it by reading along with the reader or through the agency of the actual reader (shomeya ki’oneh), or

(b) The institution has changed, and now the person receiving the aliyah is only making the brakhot and the reading is being done wholly by the assigned reader.

If (a) is true, then we should demand that the person receiving the aliyah read it himself with the reader, at least it an undertone. Even if we allow the reader to read it on his behalf based on shomeya ki’onah, hearing is like speaking (or here, reading), we should minimally require that the one receiving the aliyah have the ability to read it from the written scroll. Otherwise, it would not seem possible to consider him to have read it through the agency of the reader.  That would mean that he would have to be sighted and also be literate (although one could distinguish between the two, as an illiterate person at least could, at least in theory, learn to read the written word). This is the approach adopted by Rav Yosef Karo in the Shulkhan Arukh.  It is also the practice followed by many Sefardi communities, at least inasmuch as they lichatchila prefer for the one receiving the aliyah to read for himself if possible.

If (b) is true, however, it should be acceptable for a person to receive an aliyah even if he could not read printed (or scribed) text for himself, i.e., if he were blind or illiterate.  This opinion is cited by Rema and is the focus of an extended teshuva by Maseit Binyamin.  The teshuva is noteworthy not so much for its halakhic arguments, but for the impassioned articulation of how a mandate of inclusion should guide halakha in such cases.


Ruling of Shulkhan Arukh and Rema

Shulkhan Arukh {source 1} requires that the person receiving the aliyah read alongside the shaliach tzibbur directly from the written text.  He therefore does not allow an illiterate person or a person who is blind to receive an aliyah.  Rema cites Maharil who allows it, but does not state definitively that this is his ruling or the accepted practice.  In is important to note that Maharil includes a person who is blind on the same principle that the practice is to give an aliyah to a person who is illiterate.  This is being logically consistent (both people are unable to read from the written text), but it also shows how the including of one group of people brought along the including of another group of people in its wake.

  1. Shulkhan Arukh, Orah Hayyim 139   |    שולחן ערוך אורח חיים ס’ קל”ט
[ב] מי שאינו יודע לקרות, צריך למחות בידו שלא יעלה לספר תורה; ואם צריכים לזה שאינו יודע לקרות, לפי שהוא כהן או לוי ואין שם אחר זולתו, אם כשיקרא לו ש”צ מלה במלה יודע לאומרה ולקרותה מן הכתב, יכול לעלות; ואם לאו, לא יעלה.

[ג]… סומא אינו קורא, לפי שאסור לקרות אפי’ אות אחת שלא מן הכתב

(רמ”א: ומהרי”ל כתב דעכשיו קורא סומא, כמו שאנו מקרין בתורה לע”ה).

[2] Someone who does not know how to read must be prevented from taking an aliyah to the sefer Torah.  And if such a person who does not know how to read is needed, because he is a Kohen or Levi and there is no other [Kohen or Levi] besides him – if he can follow the shaliach tzibbur word for word, and read along with him directly from the written text itself, then he can receive an aliyah, but if not, he cannot receive an aliyah.

[3] … A person who is blind cannot read [from the Torah], because it is forbidden to read even one letter not directly from the written text.

(Rema: Maharil writes that nowadays a person who is blind may read from the Torah, just as we call up to the Torah a person who is illiterate.


Mishna Brurah {source 2} explains the position of Maharil.  Interestingly, he does not adopt position (b), that the person receiving the aliyah only needs to make the brakha.  Rather, he states that the person receiving the aliyah is considered to be doing the reading through the shaliach tzibbur based on the principle of shomeya ki’oneh.  This ignores the logical problem of how someone could be seen as reading written text if he is unable to do so himself.  

Mishna Brurah not only explains Maharil, but states that this is the accepted practice, although he voices some hesitation when it comes to the two aliyot a year that are considered to be a possible Biblical obligation.

2. Mishna Brurah, 139   |    משנה ברורה סימן קלט

[יב] דעכשיו קורא סומא – וטעמו דכיון שאנו נוהגין שהש”ץ קורא והוא קורא מתוך הכתב שוב לא קפדינן על העולה דשומע כעונה:

[יג] כמו שאנו וכו’ – ר”ל שאנו נוהגין להקל אפילו אם אינו יכול לקרות עם הש”ץ מלה במלה מתוך הכתב וע”כ מטעם הנ”ל וה”ה בסומא. ולדינא כבר כתבו האחרונים דנהגו להקל כמהרי”ל ומ”מ לפרשת פרה ופרשת זכור נכון שלא לקרותן לכתחלה:

[12] Nowadays a person who is blind may read from the Torah – the reason is that since our practice is that the shaliach tzibbur reads the Torah [for those who receive an aliyah], and he is reading from the written text, we are then not concerned that the one who receives the aliyah [should read directly], since his hearing is like he said it.

[13] Just as we call up [an illiterate person] – the meaning is, that it is our practice to be lenient to give an aliyah to a person who is not able to read alongside the shaliach tzibbur word for word from the written text, and this is because of the reason stated above [that it suffices that the shaliach tzibbur is the one reading directly from the text].   The same therefore is true in the case of a person who is blind.

As a practical matter, the Achronim writes that it is our practice to be lenient like Maharil.  Nevertheless, when it comes to parashat Parah and parashat Zakhor, it is proper that they should not read them (i.e., receive the aliyah) lichatchila.

In Beit Yosef, Rav Yosef Karo lays out his reasoning for excluding those who cannot read written text themselves {source 3}.  He does this following the rulings of a number of weighty authorities (although it should be noted that Rashba and Rambam are not talking about a case of one person making the brakha and another person doing the reading).  He rejects the authority (Eshkol) who states that it is sufficient for the one receiving the aliyah to just make the brakha and stand alongside the shaliach tzibbur (position (b), above).

3. Beit Yosef, OH, 141   |    בית יוסף אורח חיים סימן קמא

ומ”ש רבינו ומיהו אם יודע לקרות כשמקרין אותו שפיר דמי. כן כתב הרא”ש בתשובה כלל ג’ (סי’ יב) אם קורא עם החזן ויודע להבין ולחבר האותיות ולקרותם עם החזן מיקרי שפיר קריאה אבל שיברך הוא על מה שהחזן קורא והוא לא יקרא כלל לא יתכן עכ”ל והטעם מפני שצריך שידע לקרות מתוך הכתב מה שמקרין אותו שאסור לקרות בתורה אפילו אות אחת שלא מן הכתב וכמו שכתב רבינו ירוחם (נ”ב ח”ג כ.) בשם תשובת הרשב”א (ח”ז סי’ שסא) וכן כתוב בשבלי הלקט (סי’ לו) וכן משמע מדברי הרמב”ם בפי”ב מהלכות תפילה (ה”ח) שכתב שאסור לקרות שלא מן הכתב אפילו תיבה אחת וכן נראה (מההיא) מלשון תשובת הרא”ש שכתבתי וכן כתב הריב”ש בתשובה (סי’ רד) והביא ראיה לדבר וכן כתב מהר”י ן’ חביב ז”ל

ודלא כדכתב נמוקי יוסף (מגילה כד. ד”ה ר’ יהודה) בשם ספר האשכול (ח”ב עמ’ 69) דהא דתנן בפרק הקורא את המגילה עומד סומא אינו קורא בתורה היינו לומר דאינו קורא על פה אבל אוקומי אינש אחרינא שפותח ורואה והסומא מברך ועומד בצדו שפיר דמי והכי מצי עביד חתן סומא עכ”ל וכן מצאתי בשם ספר אגודה דסומא כהן קורא בתורה ואין לסמוך על דבריהם נגד כל הני רבוותא

What our master (the Tur) writes, “Nevertheless, if the person [receiving the aliyah who is illiterate] knows how to read along [from the written text], when he is read to (i.e., by reading along with the shaliach tzibbur), it is acceptable.  So writes the Rosh in Teshuva, section 3 (no. 12), “If the chazan reads, and the one receiving the aliyah can understand and can put together the letters and read them with the chazan, this would be considered an act of reading.  But for him to make the brakha over what the chazan is reading, and not to read at all, this would not be acceptable.”  The reason for this is that the person [receiving the aliyah] must know how to read what is being read to him directly from the written text itself, because it is forbidden to read from the Torah even one letter not directly from the written text, as is stated by Rabbeinu Yerucham in the name of a responsum of Rashba (7:361), and so writes Shibolei HaLeket (no. 36).  This is also implied from what Rambam writes in chapter 12 in Laws of Prayer (halakha 8), where he writes that it is forbidden to read not directly from the text even one word.  This is also what seems to be implied from the language of the responsum Rosh that I cited.  And Rivash in a responsum (204) writes similarly, and brings a proof to this, and so writes Mahari ibn Chaviv.

This [ruling] is against what is written Nimukei Yosef (Megillah 24a, s.v Yehudah) in the name of Eshkol (vol. 2, p. 69), who states that “that which we the mishnah in Megillah (4:6) states: ‘A person who is blind cannot read from the Torah,’ (this is implied in the mishna, but never actually stated – DL) only means to say that he cannot read from memory.  It would, however, be acceptable to have another person to open [the Torah] and see [and read directly from the written text] and have the blind person make the brakha and stand next to him.  And this is what can be done by a groom who is blind.”  I have found similarly in the Sefer Agudah, that a Kohen who is blind can read from the Torah.  But one cannot rely on these statements against all of the authorities [cited above].


Rema, in Darkhei Moshe, cites the Maharil, but he voices his own inclination to rule like Beit Yosef {source 4}.  This explains why he did not rule definitively like Maharil in his gloss of Shulkhan Arukh.

4. Darkhei Moshe, OH 141:1   |    ‘דרכי משה, אורח חיים, קמ”א:א

ובמהרי”ל (הל’ קריאת התורה סע’ ג) כתב דנוהגין לקרות סומא לספר תורה ולי נראין דברי ב”י:Maharil writes (laws of Torah Reading, no. 3) that our practice is to call up a person who is blind to the sefer Torah (for an aliyah), but to me the words of Beit Yosef appear correct.


Bach {source 5} cites both opinions, and states that the accepted practice, one implicitly condoned by great rabbis, is to give an aliyah to a person who is blind.  It is interesting to note his use of the word סמכו, “they relied,” indicating that this position may not have been the most logically compelling one, but that the need for greater inclusion warranted ruling this way.

5. Bach, OH 141   |    ב”ח אורח חיים סימן קמא

ומיהו צריך לקרות מתוך הכתב אבל אם אינו קורא מתוך הכתב אי נמי סומא כתב בב”י בזו יש מחלוקת יש אומרים שברכתו לבטלה אף על פי שהוא קורא מלה במלה אחר קריאת השליח ציבור ולא יעלה לס”ת כלל ויש אומרים דשפיר דמי כיון שהשליח ציבור קורא מתוך הכתב והוא קורא אחריו וכבר נהגו לקרות סומא לס”ת בפני גדולי עולם ולא מיחו כי סמכו על מהר”י מולין (קריאת התורה עמ’ קכב) שפסק כך ודלא כהסכמת ב”י דאוסר וכך נראה עיקר לפע”דNevertheless, one must read directly from the written text, but if one does not read from the written text, or if he is a person who is blind, Beit Yosef writes that there is a debate regarding this.  Some say that his blessing is for naught, although he reads word for word along with the reading of the shaliach tzibbur (since he is not reading directly from the text), and therefore he should never be called up for an aliyah.  And others say that it is acceptable for such a person to receive an aliyah, since the shaliach tzibbur is reading directly from the written text, and he [the person receiving the aliyah] is reading alongside him.  And the practice has already been established to call a person who is blind to the sefer Torah, [and this has occurred] in the presence of great rabbinic authorities, and no one has ever objected, because they have relied on the Maharil (Laws of Reading of the Torah, p. 122) who rules in this way, and not like the consensus of the Beit Yosef who forbids, and this ruling (to permit) seems to be the correct one in my humble opinion.


Maseit Binyanim

With this background in mind, we can turn to the teshuva of the Maseit Binyanim.  The author of Maseit Binyamin was R. Benjamin Aaron b. R. Avrohom Salnik.  Rabbi Salnik lived in Poland, ca. 1550-1620, was a student of R. Moses Isserlis (Rema) and R. Shlomo Luria (Maharshal).  Although Rema had already cited the ruling of Maharil to allow a person who was blind to receive an aliyah, Rabbi Salnik felt compelled to write the following responsum demonstrating the acceptability of such a practice.  As we have seen, Rema did not rule definitively that this was allowed, and Beit Yosef had cited many authorities that seemed to disallow it, so it was important that a teshuva like this be written to give more weight to the position that such a practice was permitted.

In looking at the teshuva, we will not be focusing on the technical halakhic arguments, as much as his articulation of why he feels compelled to rule in this more inclusive way, and how he is clear that this cannot compromise the integrity of the halakhic process.  I have numbered the paragraphs for easier reference.


The opening of the teshuva {source 6} is both poetic (notice the rhymes) and highly personal.  Take note how he expresses the impact of exclusion and what his identifies as his motivations are for writing the teshuva.  Do you think the teshuva is stronger or weaker because of his personal connection?

6. Responsa Maseit Binyamin, 62   |   שו”ת משאת בנימין סימן סב

[1] אם שלמים וכן רבים דרכו ועברו בתורה ונכנסו בעובי הקורה. וכל א’ קולע השערה סביבם מאוד נסערה. זה להתירא וזה לאיסורא בענין אם סומא יכול לעלות ולקרות בתורה. והמאסף לכל המחנות דגלי אהבה לאורו יסעו כל עם קודש הגאון והמופלג בדורו מוהר”ר יוסף קארו נ”ע בספר הב”י שלו. ליקט ואסף לכל הדעות ושקל וערך והעלה לאיסורה שאינו רשאי לעלות בין המנויין.   

[2] ואני אמרתי אף אם רוח המושל יעלה עליך מקומך אל תנח. כי לעולם לא יזנח.   ומימות אבי זנוח. התורה בקרן זויות מונח. כל הרוצה יבא ויטול. ומצוה אחת לא יבטל.  

[3] כי זה עתה לעת זקנתי חשכו הרואות בארובות. ותכהנה עיני מראות. ולפי אשר עלתה במחשבה של הרב ז”ל יגרשני מלהסתפח בנחלת ה’ ותורת אמת חיי עולם. לבלתי אחשב במספר המנויין לעלות. לכן אמרתי וגמרתי בלבי חלילה לי מלעזוב את דרך עץ החיים ומלאחוז בענפיה אהבתי זאת התעודה מימי קדם קדמתה. משפטה ודתה. וגם לעת זקנתי בל אשליכה. ובה אתהלכה. ואפתח בדבר הלכה.  לראות על מה עשה לי הרב ככה. והנה אשא עיני אל ההרים הרמים גבעות עולם ואצא לעזרת השם בגבורים אוכיחה ואערכה דברי אברר דבריהם כשמלה אתיצבה ואדברה בעדותיך נגד מלכים ולא אבוש…

[1] Many great sages have debated whether a blind person can receive an aliyah and read from the Torah, this one permitting and this one forbidding.   And the gatherer of all the camps together, the one whose light leads the entire nation, the gaon and the greatest sage of his generation, Rav Yosef Karo, in his work the Beit Yosef, collected and gathered all the opinions and weighed and evaluated them, and came to the conclusion that it is forbidden, that a blind person is not permitted to be called up for an aliyah among those who are counted.

[2] And I said, “If the spirit of the ruler rises against you, leave not your place” (Kohelet 10:4), for you should not be cast off forever (Eicha 3:31).  For from times of Avi Zanoach (Moshe, cf.  Chronicles I, 4:18), the Torah has always been placed in a corner (accessible to all, see Kiddushin 66a), so that whoever wishes may come and take it.  And even one mitzvah should not be negated.  

[3] For behold, now in my old age, the sight from my windows has darkened, and my eyes have grown dim from sight (cf., Breisht 27:1).  According to what the Rabbi (Yosef Karo) opined,  I will be driven away this day from seeking refuge in the inheritance of the Lord (I Samuel 26:19), in the Torah of truth and of eternal life, that I shall not be included in the number of those who are counted to rise up (and read).  Therefore, I said and decided in my heart, “God forbid that I should abandon the way of the tree of life, and from my youth I have grasped onto its branches, its laws, and its rule.  Even in my old age I shall not cast it off.  On its path I will tread.”  And I will open with the matter of halakha, to see for what purpose the Rabbi has done such a thing to me.  And behold, I will lift my eyes up to the high mountains, the ancient hills, and I will come out to the help of the Lord against the mighty men (Judges 5:23), I will prove and put forth my case… I will establish and “speak regarding Your laws in the presence of kings and not be embarrassed”. (Ps. 119:46)…

The author first presents the fact that this is a matter of dispute, and that the Shulkhan Arukh has ruled against giving a person who is blind an aliyah (paragraph 1).  He then goes on to articulate what has compelled him to write this teshuva (paragraph 2).  He begins by expressing the sense of abandonment (יזנח) that can be felt by being excluded.  Significantly, he invokes the sense that the Torah – as opposed to the priesthood or the kingship – is, and is supposed to be, available to all (see Sifrei Korach, 119 and Rambam, Talmud Torah, 3:1), and to be excluded from the ritual of receiving an aliyah is symbolically to be told that one is excluded from a connection to Torah and Torah study.  Implicitly responding to those who would say that “why is exclusion from one mitzvah so important?” he states that every mitzvah is weighty and we should not allow someone to lose the opportunity even to do one mitzvah.

In paragraph 3, he becomes much more personal.  We now find out that he himself has become blind (or extremely hard of seeing – it is not clear which).  Note how he takes the ruling of Beit Yosef personally (“why has the Rabbi done such a thing to me?”) – an impersonal, dispassionate ruling for a group of people is taken personally and passionately by those whom it affects.  He once again speaks as to how this one exclusion will make him feel rejected from the world of Torah.  This is reinforced by the phrase “not to be counted” among those who get an aliyah – when one isn’t counted, the message is that one does not count.  

His statement that “And in my old age I shall not be cast aside,” reflects the disempowerment that often comes with the infirmities of old age, and in this case, with the reality of being blind.  When such physical disempowerment is coupled with halakhic exclusion – for halakha sometimes makes requirements, like standing, speaking, hearing, and seeing, that cannot always be performed at this stage of life – the sense of disempowerment and rejection can be profound.

All that being said, it is quite remarkable that given his stature as a major posek of the time, one who had many people turning to him for halakhic guidance and teshuvot, the author would still feel so rejected “merely” because he could not receive an aliyah.  This makes us realize how hard it is to fully appreciate, to have full empathy for, those who are being excluded when we are not in their shoes.  

The issue of empathy is driven home by the fact that he was only moved to write this teshuva when the matter affected him personally.  Undoubtedly, there were people who were blind who were feeling excluded and could have been helped by such a ruling, and yet he did not feel compelled to write his teshuva before he himself became blind.  There is a major lesson here about empathy, and about how hard it is for a posek to always feel the other person’s reality, especially when he has not experienced it himself.

Others will object and say that the author’s personal interest should invalidate him from writing such a responsum, due to his bias and lack of full objectivity.  There is, in fact, literature regarding whether a posek can rule on something that impacts him personally, and the consensus is that he can.  Here, of course, it does not just affect him, but he makes his bias clear.  Shouldn’t this invalidate his psak?

The answer is that it often takes someone who has personally been impacted to be driven enough to make change.  This is certainly true in the social and political arena (think of who are the people advocating for agunot, or inclusion for people with disabilities or special needs).  In the area of halakha as well, being personally impacted may allow a posek to truly understand the moral weight of an issue.  At the end of the day, if the argument is sound, his motivation should not matter.  The ruling should and will be judged based on its own strength.

There is also something tremendously empowering about the act of writing this teshuva.  Feeling a sense of exclusion and rejection, the author responds by standing up to stronger powers and fighting back (notice the imagery at the end of paragraph 3) for what is right.  



In the continuation of the teshuva {source 7}, the author lays out three approaches to rendering a decision in a matter that is debated by earlier authorities (paragraph 4).  He then goes on to show how his decision is supported through all three approaches (paragraph 5, we have cut out the actual halakhic argumentation).  He thus concludes that a person who is blind, and an illiterate person, can receive an aliyah even lichatchila.

7.   Responsa Maseit Binyamin, 62, continued   |    שו”ת משאת בנימין סימן סב, המשך

[4] ומעכשיו אבא אל הענין בעצמו ואומר כי כל הרוצה לפסוק הלכה ולהכריע היכא דאיכא פלוגתא דרבוותא זה לא יתכן כי אם באחד משלשה דרכים

a. שיוכיח בראיות גמורות מתוך התלמוד או מתוך פסקי הגאונים: 

b. אפילו בלא הוכחה וראיה אלא כיון דחזינן דאיכא רוב מנין ורוב בנין פסקינן הלכתא כוותייהו דיחיד ורבים הלכה כרבים: 

c. דבכל מקום פסקינן הלכה כבתראי נגד קמאי מאביי ורבא ואילך

[5] והנה הנדון שלפנינו בכל אלו הג’ דרכים הלכה כדברי המתירין…

הא’ מצד הוכחות וראיות יש לנו להוכיח כי דברי האוסרין אינן מחוורים…

הדרך השני לילך אחר רוב מנין ובנין הרי לפניך ספר הזוהר שהוא שקול יותר מכל המחברים.. וק”ו בנדון שלפנינו דאיכא רבוותא טובא ורבים שמסכימים לדברי הזוהר…

הדרך הג’ שכתבנו לילך אחר דעות האחרוני’ הנך רואה בעיניך שהמתירין הם בתראים המה מהר”י מולי”ן ז”ל ובנימין זאב ושלטי גבורים ובפרט מהרי”ל שהיה גדול בדורו מאד עד שכמעט כל מנהגי ארצות אשכנ”ז נתייסדו על פיו…

[6] ומאחר שמתוך כל אלו ג’ דרכים הנזכרים הדברים נוטין לדברי המתירין הכי נקטינן אפילו לכתחילה קוראין לס”ת עם הארץ וסומא. ובימי חורפי ראיתי ג”כ בארץ רוסי”א דשכיחי ע”ה טובא שלא היו יכולין לקרות בתורה אפי’ אות אחת וקראו אותן לס”ת וכל רבותי היו רואין ולא מיחו ש”מ דס”ל כדברי המתירין.

[4] Now I will deal with the heart of the matter itself, and I will say that whoever wants to give a halakhic ruling and to make a legal decision in a case where there is a debate between the great authorities, this cannot rightly be done, save for three ways:

[a] That he proves [his case] with definitive proofs from the Talmud or from the rulings of the Gaonim.

[b] Even without a definitive proof, if we see that the majority in number and weight of the authorities are on one side, we rule like them, for the ruling follows the majority.

[c] We always rule like the later authorities against the early ones, from the days of Abaye and Rava onwards.

[5] Now in the matter in front of us, based on all three of these ways the rule is like those who permit…  

First, from the perspective of proofs and evidence, we can prove that the position of those who forbid is not cogent…

The second approach, to go after the majority and weight of the decisors, behold the Zohar weighs more than all the other authorities… and certainly in our case where many important authorities agree with the words of the Zohar…

And the third approach, which is to go after the later authorities, behold you see with your own eyes (sic!) that those who permit are the later authorities: Mahari Mulin, Binyamin Ze’ev, Shiltei Geeborim and in particular Maharil, who was an extremely great authority in his generation, to the extent that almost all of the practices of Ashkenazic lands were founded on his rulings…

[6] Given that from all these three paths the matter inclines according to those who permit, that is how we rule, even ab initio, that a non-literate person and a blind person may read from the Torah scroll.  And in my youth I saw also in Russia, where there are many illiterate people who are unable to read from the Torah even one letter, and they were called up to the Torah (for an aliyah), and all my teachers saw this, and no one protested.  From this we can infer that they held like those who permit.

We now turn to the closing section of the teshuva {source 8}. The author here makes a critical point about the mandate of inclusion and the role that it plays in the halakhic process.  While never compromising the integrity of the process, as seen above, it is clear that the author felt pushed to come to a certain conclusion. What themes do you see emerging?  Does he see finding an inclusive solution as a moral imperative or a religious one?  Would you characterize his approach as strict or lenient?

8. Responsa Maseit Binyamin, 62, continued    |     שו”ת משאת בנימין ס’ סב, המשך

[7] עוד תמיהני על דברי האוסרין דהיאך החליטו הדין לפרוק עול מלכות שמים מעל האנשים ובפרט במצוה רבה מפורסמת כזו ולא כן למדנו מרז”ל חכמי המשנה והתלמוד שהרי אמרו… אשתו של יונה היתה עולה לרגל ומביא קרבן ראייה.   וההוא עובדא שהיו מביאין לעזרה וסמכו… דכל מצות עשה שהזמן גרמא הרשות ביד הנשים לעשותן ולברך עליהן. וההיא דערבי פסחים מאן אמר אגדתא בי רב יוסף רב יוסף בי רב ששת רב ששת.  והיו מוציאין אחרים י”ח וגם היו מברכין ברכת אשר גאלנו. וגם ר’ יהודא דאית ליה סומא פטור מכל המצות מודה הוא דמדרבנן הוא חייב בכל המצות ומברך עליהן.   

[8] הרי לפניך שחכמי המשנה והתלמוד הניחו להם לבנים ולבנות ישראל לעשות ולקיים המצות ולברך עליהן אקב”ו ואע”ג שלא נצטוו ע”כ.   וגם בקצת המצות שלכאורה מכוער הדבר ואינו הגון כגון… עולת ראייה של אשת יונה נמי מחזי כחולין בעזרה ואעפ”כ ויתרו חז”ל על הדבר מטעם דקבלת עול מלכות שמים עדיף טפי ומטעם נחת רוח כדאמרינן בפרק אין דורשין לא מפני שסמיכה בנשים אלא כדי לעשות נחת רוח לנשים.   

[9] וא”כ ה”ה נמי בנדון שלפנינו שיש לוותר לע”ה וסומא שאין למחות בידם לעלות לס”ת ולברך כדי שיהיו בכלל קבלת עול מלכות שמים וכדי לעשות להם נחת רוח

[10] ואחר שכתבתי זה מצאתי בדברי שני גדולי הדור שבזמנינו. האחד הוא החכם הגדול מהר”ר משה איש חי אשר נתבקש בישיבה של מעלה זה ארבעה שנים בשנת שס”ו. וכתב בספרו שחבר ונקרא מטה משה שדעתו כדברי המתירין והשני הוא החכם הגדול הזקן המופלג מהר”ר מרדכי יפה נר”ו השם יוסיף ימים על ימיו ובחיבורו הנקרא לבוש מלכות סי’ קמ”א כתב בפשיטות כדברי המתירין והעיד בשם רבותיו שקוראין לסומא לס”ת. אמנם הוא חוכך קצת לאיסור לענין ע”ה. ואני אומר כדאי הוא מהר”י מולי”ן ז”ל לסמוך עליו ועל דבריו גם בע”ה. וכן ראיתי נוהגין לפני רבותי לקרות ע”ה לס”ת כאשר כתבתי בסמוך הנלע”ד כתבתי.

[7] I remain astounded regarding those who forbid – how have they decided the law [with the effect] of casting off the Heavenly yoke from people?  How much more so regarding an important and public mitzvah such as this!  This is not what we have learned from our Rabbis, the authors of the Mishna and the Gemara!  For behold they said… that Yonah’s wife would go up to Jerusalem for the Pilgrimage Festival (olah la’regel) and bring the burnt offering for appearing in the Temple.  And then there is the story of how the sages would bring a sacrifice brought by women into the Women’s Courtyard so that the women could do the laying of the hands… and regarding every positive time bound mitzvah – women are permitted to perform them and bless over them.   And then there is the case in Pesachim: “Who recites the hagaddah in the house of Rav Yosef?  Rav Yosef.  In the house of Rav Sheshet?  Rav Sheshet [even though  they were both blind].”  And they would discharge others of their obligation, and make the blessing asher ga’alnu [over the hagaddah].   Even Rav Yehudah who is of the position that a blind person is exempt from [positive] mitzvot, agrees that he is Rabbinically obligated and that he would make blessings over them.  
[8] Behold, it is before you that the Sages of the Mishna and the Talmud allowed the sons and daughters of Israel to perform mitzvot and to make the blessing “that You have sanctified us and commanded us” even though they were not commanded in this mitzvah.  In regards to certain mitzvot, even though there were elements that were unbecoming and inappropriate, such as … the wife of Yonah who brought the sacrifice [that she was not obligated in], which had the appearance of non-sanctified offerings in the Temple Courtyard, nevertheless the Rabbis waived these concerns, because the value of accepting the Yoke of Heaven was more important and also for the sake of giving religious satisfaction, as we said in Hagigah, “not because laying of the hands on sacrifices applies to women, but or the sake of giving religious satisfaction to women.”
[9] The same, then, is true in our case.   We should waive [any concerns] in the case of the non-literate person and the blind person, and we should not prevent them from being oleh to the Torah and from making the blessings, so that they may be included in the accepting of the Yoke of Heaven and to give them religious satisfaction.
[10] After I wrote this, I found [a similar ruling] in the words of two of the great rabbis of our generation.  One is the great sage, HaRav Moshe Ish Chai, who was called to heaven four years ago, in the year 5366.  He writes in the book that he authored, entitled Mateh Moshe, in accordance with those who permit.  The second one is the great sage, the hoary elder, Rav Mordechai Jaffe – God should increase years to his life – and in his work entitled Levush Malkhut, no. 141, he writes as an obvious thing, that the law is in accordance with those who permit.  And he testified in the name of his teachers that we call a person who is blind to the sefer Torah.  However, he is a little hesitant in the case of a person who is illiterate, but I say that Maharil is a great enough authority to be relied on even in the case of a person who is illiterate.  This is also what I have seen practice in the presence of my teachers, to call a person who is illiterate to the sefer Torah, as I have written above.  I have wrote What appears correct in my humble opinion,

The author now turns to those who would disagree with his conclusion.  Many might say, “Although he is not clearly incorrect, this issue is not ironclad and it remains  debatable.  Therefore, we should be strict, and not allow such a person to have an aliyah, since we wouldn’t want to make a brakha li’vatalah or not have all the aliyot done properly.”  

The author turns the tables on this argument (paragraph 7).  Rather than responding to “how could you be so lenient?” the author challenges those who would restrict, and say, “how could you be so lenient?!”. This argument could be made on the moral, ben-adam-li’chaveiro level.  To rule restrictively means to hurt another person and is a compromise of our moral responsibilities. In other words, this would be being too lenient in the realm of ben-adam-li’chaveiro. This argument would parallel the statement by Rav Chaim Brisker who was known to be extremely lenient on Shabbat regarding any health issue, even one that a normal posek would never have considered to constitute a case of risk.  Rav Chaim said, “Don’t say that I am being lenient on hillul Shabbat; no.  I am being very strict on sakanat nefashot, risk of life.”  This is a calculus of weighing religious-moral obligations against religious-ritual ones.

Rav Salnik, however, makes a different argument.  He states that to exclude someone is to be irresponsible in the religious-ritual realm as well.  A person who is excluded feels rejected and alienated, as we saw above.  Exclusion, then, can often lead to a general feeling of alienation and can lead to a rejection of the Jewish community or a life of observance.  Many, many cases such as this have occurred in the past and continue to occur today.  This is then Maseit Binyamin’s challenge to those who would restrict and exclude: “How have you decided the law to cast the Heavenly yoke from this people?!” To be strict about full mitzvah observance demands that we maximize inclusion.

The author then goes on to present places in the Talmud where a mandate of inclusion is articulated. Two principles are articulated here: (a) nachat ruach, religious satisfaction, addressing the subjective sense of exclusion, and (b) ol malkhut Shamayim, casting off the divine yoke, the objective reality of someone not being a part of this aspect of religious life.

Some of the cases that the author cites do not rise to the level of full equality – for example, giving “religious satisfaction” to women and allowing them to do a pseudo-ritual, women making a birkhat ha’mitzvah although their obligation remains at a lower level – a point acknowledged by the author (paragraph 8).  

What emerges from this section is three distinct ways that need for inclusion can impact the halakhic process:


  • It can push a posek to find a path within the halakhic system that will allow him to rule that no exclusion exists. This is what the author first did, ruling that there is no need for the person receiving the aliyah to read from the written text, and thus a person who is blind can receive an aliyah even li’chatchila.
  • It can push a posek to find a practical way to allow a person to participate, even though the law still excludes him or her on a technical level.  These are the cases in the Gemara cited by the author: a woman doing a pseudo-semicha on the sacrifice, or the making of a brakha even though the person is not obligated in the mitzvah.
  • It can indicate to the posek that although he may not personally agree with a ruling that allows for greater inclusion, he should not object – or perhaps even support – those who wish to rely on this more inclusive ruling.  This idea emerges from (2) – it does not fundamentally change the law, but it allows for a practical solution to be found.


The author here (paragraph 9) moves from approach (1), where he ruled that a person who is blind can receive an aliyah even li’chatchila, to approach (3) advocating that people should not object to those who wish to rely on such a ruling.  This is far from an enthusiastic endorsement of this practice, and it is not clear why the author moved to this position.  Perhaps he was attempting to persuade those who would not convinced of his argument that it is fully permissible according to halakha for a person who is blind to receive an aliyah.  To those objectors he is saying – the mandate of inclusion should at least compel you to allow such a practice to take place and to allow those who want to rely on the more inclusive position to do so.




In his signing off, Rav Salnik does something strange.  He references the parasha of the week by referring to it as “For the entire community is all holy.”  This is, of course, none other than parashat Korach.  Although those words were articulated by Korach, and could be claimed to represent an ideology of full equality that is in opposition to that of the Torah, Rav Salnik implicitly states that Korach’s statement was correct.  Korach may have been using this ideology cynically and in a self-serving way, but in the end, what he said was true: everyone is holy, and everyone therefore has a right to have access to that which is holy.

9. Responsa Maseit Binyamin, 62, closing   |    שו”ת משאת בנימין ס’ סב, חתימה

נאם בנימין אהרן ב”ר אברהם סלניק ז”ל יום ה’ ג’ תמוז ש”ע לפ”ק לפרשה כי כל העדה כלם קדושים:Binyamin Aharon ben Avraham Salnik, Thursday, 3 Tamuz, 5370 (1610), Parshat “For the entire community is all holy.”
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