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Priests afflicted with physical deformities were barred from officiating in the Temple: ‘Whoever hath a blemish, he shall not approach: a blind man, or a lame, or he that hath any thing maimed, or any thing too long, or a man that is broken-footed, or broken handed, or crook-backed, or a dwarf, or that hath his eye overspread, or is scabbed, or scurvey, or hath his stones crushed’ (Leviticus 21: 18–20). The usual explanation is that the dignity of the sacred spot is impaired if those who officiate there are deformed. Whether the disqualification applies to a Cantor, who leads the prayers in the synagogue, was discussed in the Middle Ages. The German authority, Rabbi Meir of Rothenburg (d. 1293), was asked whether a cripple can act as the Reader in the synagogue. The Rabbi replies that no conclusions can be drawn from the disqualification of a cripple from service in the Temple. Apart from in the Temple, he observes, God wishes particularly to be served by the physically deformed. A human king uses only whole vessels whereas the King of kings prefers to use broken vessels. The Rabbi quotes the verse: ‘A broken and contrite heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise’ (Psalms 51: 19). The man broken in body has the broken heart that God wants.

Subjects: Judaism and Jewish Studies.

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