Pennsylvania Rabbi Creates First Braille Sefer Torah for the Visually Impaired
A Pennsylvania rabbi has taken on the task of producing Sefer Torahs for the visually impaired, with the Hebrew text written in braille.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported the story of Greensburg rabbi Lenny Sarko, who became visually impaired as a result of type 2 diabetes.
While Sarko has retained 80% vision in one eye and can still read, his disability gave him sympathy for those who cannot.
“I kind of have a foot in both worlds, both those who struggle with vision issues and the sighted,” Sarko told the Post-Gazette.
“Being that and a rabbi, it put me in a rather different position than most people might ever find themselves in,” he said, due to the importance of reading to a rabbi’s job.
“Not being able to read was a potential horror story,” Sarko stated. “As a rabbi, not to be able to have access to books was very scary to me.”
“That started me to say, ‘OK, as a Jew, you find solutions,’” he explained. “The first solution was to learn English braille. After that, you start asking other questions like, ‘If there’s English braille, is there Hebrew braille?’ Yes.”
“Then, I asked the question: ‘Is there such a thing as a braille Sefer Torah?’” he said.
Sarko discovered that no such book existed, and so he spent three years creating one.
The process was laborious, as Sarko had to develop a technique that would meet Judaism’s stringent requirements for accurate copying of the text, which do not allow for any errors.
Now, however, “My plates can be used to make hundreds and thousands of Torahs,” he said.
Although Jewish law forbids touching a Sefer Torah while reading, Sarko believes Judaism must adapt to the needs of the visually impaired.
“In one respect, you’re telling a blind or visually impaired person they’re a full member of the community; then you’re turning around and telling them they can’t do this,” he said. “To me, that’s an important part, and I started to ask questions. … Judaism across its millennia has always adjusted to context. How do we do a mitzvah in this situation?”
Erika Petach of the Blind and Vision Rehabilitation Services of Pittsburgh commented of Sarko’s creation “I think it’s awesome. … This is a way that this individual is making the reading of the Torah 100% inclusive.”
Sarko’s next step is to undertake mass production and distribution of his creation, as he believes there are over 300,000 blind or visually impaired Jews in the US.
“Come read the Torah!” he urged them. “This is a wonderful mitzvah. There’s nothing more thrilling.”