by Anne Krisman

What images are there of disability within RE? Is it true to say that disability is always seen as a punishment for sin, or as a symbol of ignorance? Issues of disability have been thrown into the spotlight after Glen Hoddle's comments.

How should we treat the theme of disability? It is something that we in special schools cannot ignore. For some teachers, there is real discomfort in teaching about Jesus' healing miracles when children in the class are terminally ill, are visually impaired or deaf, or have suffered life-threatening operations. I have spoken to some teachers (not from Redbridge) who feel we should not touch these issues, as it might upset the children.

My experience is that this delicacy is not shown by pupils with special needs, many of whom enjoy exploring the area of miracles, and who see them as part of the wonder of life. I feel strongly that the issue of disability could prove a challenging but positive RE theme. What do you feel? It would be interesting to hear if any Redbridge teacher has tried any lessons that raise these questions.

I recently came across the Jewish story, from the Talmud, of the Blind Man's Insight. I felt this was spiritual, powerful and took a different slant on the images of disability that some feel are the norm in religion. It also reflected my own teaching philosophy for RE with special needs pupils - that often they have a deeper understanding of certain themes because of the difficulties that they have experienced.

The blind Rabbi Sheshet, waited among a crowd for the arrival of the King of Israel in his village. A cynic laughed when he saw the rabbi waiting, "What use is it to take a broken pitcher to the river?" The rabbi assured him that he could understand more than some who have vision.

At first, a legion of soldiers arrived. The cynic cried with the crowd, "The King is here!" The blind man said, "No, he isn't" and the legion passed by.

This happened a second time. The cynic shouted with the crowd, but the blind man knew the King was not coming yet.

A third legion marched by, and then the blind rabbi shouted, "Now the King is coming!" He was right. The cynic asks, "How can you tell?"

The rabbi answered, "Once, long ago, Israel waited for God to pass by. A powerful wind blew through the mountains, giant rocks were scattered, but God was not in the wind. Then an earthquake came. God was not there. Then a fire came, but God was not in the fire.

After the fire, a still, small voice was heard, and God was in that hush. It was the hush of the crowd that told me the King was coming."

The rabbi blessed the procession as it passed by, but the cynic understood that the blind rabbi was also blessed. (Talmudic source: Berachot 58).

This story and others can be found in the book Saving the World Entire, by Rabbi Bradley R. Bleefeld and Robert L.Shook. (Plume 1998)

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