What I Can and Can't Address about Rabbi Shmuley Boteach's Argument
I'm not Jewish, nor do I have an academic background in Judaism. I took Introduction to Judaism in university. It was very interesting. I enjoyed it. However, I'm in no way qualified to argue the theology behind Rabbi Boteach's argument, nor would I want to. He's entitled to believe what he wants.
However, I was disturbed by some of the real-world implications of his theological views. This isn't a new experience for me. Many religions have theological views that, in practice, leave me disturbed. I figure that I can talk about that.
What I Like About Rabbi Boteach
Rabbi Boteach is responding, with his blog, to another Jewish scholar's argument that children with intellectual disabilities are highly evolved souls. God has made it impossible to sin by putting them in them in their disabled bodies, making them innocent and worthy of our reverence. Rabbi Boteach sees this attitude as "justifying" the "suffering" of the ultimate in innocent children, and therefore wrong. Since Judaism works to eliminate suffering, he argues, it's wrong to pretend that children with disabilities have a "lofty or divine purpose."
I agree. Children with disabilities face different challenges and may different ways of expressing their gifts than children without disabilities, but there's nothing about them that makes them any "better" or "worse" than any other child.
Rabbi Boteach and I also agree that a comprehensive system of supports, both natural and agency-based, is vital if people with disabilities are to lead fulfilling lives. Good on him. However...
Rabbi Boteach and I Disagree...
Rabbi Boteach can't seem to get away from this idea that people with intellectual disabilities are innocent children that will never grow up. I think that this stereotype is particularly damaging for people with intellectual disabilities. They *do* become adults, and we don't do them any favours when we treat them like they're children whose innocence makes them unable to handle learning about how the world works. In fact, that can make them much more vulnerable to all kinds of abuse.
There's also an uncomfortable (for me, at least) slant towards "If it looks different, we should "cure" it" that runs through the whole article. Yes, Down's Syndrome has its own set of challenges for a child and for the family supporting the child. But many, many people with Down's Syndrome grow up to live happy, healthy lives - as do people with various disorders on the autism spectrum, cerebral palsy, spina bifida, etcetera. The problem isn't that these people need a "cure". It's assumptions like, "They *must* be suffering, so they must *want* a cure!" that bother me, assumptions about what the people with the conditions feel, and about what the families that support them feel. And the message through the article of children with disabilities having "life more infinitely precious than any explanation" is difficult to reconcile with "But we'd change a huge part of them if we could."
I don't doubt Rabbi Boteach's good intentions with his article. I think that he actually probably treats people with disabilities and their families with a great deal of respect and compassion. I just had a bit of trouble wrapping my head around this bit of writing. If it's clearer to someone else, and you think that I've misinterpreted, please leave me a comment.