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    A blind cantor – Ask the Rabbi

    Q. Is a blind person allowed to be a chazan?

    A. Yes (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayyim 53:14). Rabbi Ya’ir Chayyim Bacharach remonstrated with a congregation which dismissed a blind officiant and insisted that they reinstate him. Remember that in ancient days before printing was invented, prayer books were written by hand and were rare, and even a sighted person generally needed to pray by heart.

    But do the prayers not refer to the gift of light and acknowledge God as Yotzer HaM’orot ­- “Creator of the luminaries”? How can a blind person utter these words? The answer is that though he personally cannot see the light of the sun, he benefits from it in many ways (M’gillah 4:6).

    A major problem is, however, presented when it comes to reading the Torah, since this must not be done by heart, so a blind person cannot be a Ba’al K’riah. There have been blind chazanim; one of the most famous, from Cape Town, taught generations of Bar-Mitzvah boys and on a visit to Israel amazed the congregation at the Great Synagogue in Jerusalem with his Haftarah talents.

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