October 13, 2019

After The Angel

As Jews, we are told to take the Torah and “turn it and turn it again.” This can result in the proverbial, “2 Jews and 3 arguments” experience, but can also provide a whole new perspective on an old text.

For example, I recently learned that Jewish tradition teaches us that Jacob, as a result of his wrestling with an angel, ends up with a dislocated hip and was physically disabled for life with a permanent limp. Who knew? I always thought it was a description of a metaphysical experience, with Jacob confronting his “darker” side and having emerged victorious, is given a new, stronger name, “Yisrael”

In a new book titled, Esau’s Blessing: How the Bible Embraces those with Special Needs by Ora Horn Prouser, the author explores how this disability impacts the rest of Jacob’s life, resulting in a more passive and vulnerable personality.

She writes:

“…Jacob seems far more subdued than his (new) name might suggest. When Jacob’s daughter, Dinah is raped, a devastating affront not only to Dinah but to the honor of her whole family, Jacob refuses to take any stand without his sons present (Genesis 34:5)”

As a Jewish educator, Prouser has worked with many Jewish children who had special needs and hopes that by using a disability lens to re-examine the lives of such Biblical notables as Moses, Esau and Samson, it will result in a kinder, more compassionate Jewish community.

One of most intriguing profiles she writes is the chapter devoted to Isaac, and her hypothesis is that he was mildly mentally retarded, the same conclusion drawn by Rabbi Judith Z. Abrams in her 1990 article in the Reconstructionist magazine, “Was Isaac Disabled? “

Here’s the facts:
• Isaac is born to older parents (Sarah was supposed to have been 80!) who are themselves close relatives.
• When his father, Abraham almost sacrifices him, why doesn’t he protest or fight back? Why does it take him so long to figure out was going on?
• He is easily tricked by Joseph into giving him the blessing instead of to Esau

I’m not fully convinced that these facts, plus other textual nuggets, truly add up to a definitive DSM diagnosis, but it’s pretty intriguing to think about.

I urge Jewish professionals and parents raising children and teens with special needs to take the time to read this new book, available at www.BenYehudaPress.com