“Do not curse the deaf, or place a stumbling block before the blind” – Leviticus 19:14
This quote was the initial inspiration for Ariel Gold’s pursuit of the question, “What does the Hebrew Bible have to say about disabled people and disability?” In her essay, “Judaism and Disability: The Hebrew Bible as a Basis for Advancing Disability Rights, Justice, and Activism,” Gold examines the Torah and related commentary to make a case for Judaism’s potential to radically include disabled people.
Throughout her analysis, Gold emphasizes the more positive representations of disability in the Torah. Gold acknowledges that there also are disparaging portrayals of people with disabilities throughout the Torah, but she writes that the text “offers what can be described as a relatively––and perhaps even surprisingly––comprehensive approach to matters concerning the disability community.” She discusses examples, ranging from the prohibition against priests with “blemishes” in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem to biblical hero Moses’ apparent speech impediment, to support her argument that the Torah provides a foundation for inclusion and accessibility within the Jewish community and elsewhere.
As a person with ADHD, Gold is a passionate advocate for disabled people, and she has extensive experience working with the disability community––specifically with autistic people. For over a decade, she has had periodic work with autistic people in educational, recreational, and vocational settings. At City University of New York (CUNY) Hunter College, she is a History major and a Jewish Studies minor, the latter of which sparked her interest in the Torah. Gold is also the Disability Inclusion Coordinator at Hunter College Hillel, which is how she became involved with RespectAbility.
Fundamentally, Gold believes that disability is often overlooked in academia, especially compared to other identities and identifying qualities. This motivated her to focus her Mellon Public Humanities Program project on disability. The public outreach portion of her project will be a webinar presenting her research alongside a panel of disabled Jews – Noa Etedgi, Peter Fox, Haley Moss, and Lee Chernotsky. The panel will discuss their experiences and offer their insights into how the Jewish community can become more inclusive and accessible. This event is co-sponsored by RespectAbility, ROSIES Foundation, CUNY Jewish Studies Department and Stephen Wise Free Synagogue.