Owen M. Power
A D/deaf Queer Jew, Passionate about Inclusion

A d’Var Torah on Excluding Disabled People

I had the honor of doing the d’Var Torah at the start of Liberal Judaism’s Board meeting on 30th May 2023, this is what I said.

Liberal Judaism’s beit midrash is an excellent resource which inspires Torah study. I particularly love the Pirkai Avot classes in the weeks following Pesach. Pirkei Avot is made up of story like material and maxims known as Aggadah. It contains no halachah binding legal material. It is quite extraordinary the statements attributed to the rabbis in Pirkei Avot express the basic concerns and central ideas that occupied the rabbis as far back as the destruction of the second temple and it is quite marvelous these statements are just as relevant to us today. This year I approached the classes concerned about Disability Exclusion which troubles me.

Over the weeks we considered many thoughtful and interesting statements but none of them spoke to me on disability exclusion partly I think because I felt so excited about so many ideas the class discussed at the time! Then on Thursday evening after participating in a class at BKY Liberal Jewish Community I suddenly remembered what the most well-known statement of all in Pirkai Avot Chapter 1 Verse 14 is arguably!

“If I am not for myself, who will be for me? And, if I am for myself alone, then what am I? And, if not now, when?” (Rabbi Hillel).

This suggests to me disabled people need to find their voice and speak up and be an instrument for good. The statement clearly indicates I am obligated to speak up for all disabled people including people with hidden disabilities (and indeed for all who feel excluded) and not just people with sensory disabilities which concerns me personally. “If not now, when?” is the key question. Most people like to believe they are committed to inclusion, no one wants to think due to their thoughtlessness or decision making (or lack of it) their actions result in disabled people being excluded.

I feel this verse can be interpreted we are all called to action, and we have social obligations. Just in case there is any doubt I will finish with Pirkai Avoit Chapter 2 Verse 21 which needs no explanation!

“You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.”

About the Author
Owen Power is a life long campaigner on social justice and against antisemitism. He is the current chair of This Is Me Salford, Deputy York Liberal Jewish Community & a member of the Board of Deputies of British Jews Disability & LGBTQI+ working groups. Owen is also a member of Liberal Judaism Board of National Officers with the Communications & Social Justice portfolios.