Aviva Cohen
Darrell Friedman Institute

A bat mitzvah girl debuts a new way for blind Jews to participate in an ancient tradition

 In Personal Perspectives

Batya Sperling Milner, who is blind, spent months preparing for her orthodox Jewish bat mitzvah. She rehearsed her ceremony on Jan. 9, thanks to new technology. 

It turned out that reading Torah in a service — and reading from the holy book for your community is a central ritual of a bat mitzvah — presents challenges for a blind person. The NW Washington family thought innovations might be needed, so they went on a journey to find them. By the end, Sperling-Milner’s mother, Aliza Sperling, wound up writing a 40-page paper that made the case for blind Torah readers and lectured from it in synagogue, launching a new conversation in the D.C. area’s Modern Orthodox community. And a software engineer created encoding and a computer program that may wind up transforming the Torah-reading experience for visually impaired people.

It all began last year, when Sperling-Milner, then 11, began to study the prayers and Torah section connected with the date of her bat mitzvah. She is already accustomed to often needing to get special school materials created — — on topics from Judaics to math, because they aren’t always available for the visually impaired. And to learn the nearly one hour of services she’d be leading in Hebrew, an organization called the Jewish Braille Institute was creating for her big fat, wide books of Braille Hebrew scripture.

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