The Story of Hebrew Braille
By HARRY J. BREVIS
Excerpted from American
I used the English translations. Volume Two
(Editor's Note: Rabbi Brevis for respondence with scores of individ- ! to
and slate and was, is devoted to 21 peoms, stories, and
years occupied the pulpit of Tent- uals in Palestine. Austria, Ger-
pie Beth GI in Batavia, N.Y. Since many and England, I accumulat- of course, forced to write front essays from modern Hebrew, in-
his retirement, he has been living • ed five embossed systems of He- left to right. Contrary to expecta- eluding a story by the recent Nobel
Prize winner for literature, Shmuel
brew Braille which were cumber- bon, I found this switch corn or
fie Los Angeles. He is a graduate
of the University of Michigan and some and unwieldy, and so much able from the very outset.
My most recent task in the field
I discussed the question with a
more difficult to learn and to use
practiced law in Detroit.)
Hebrew Braille was in response
than the English Braille code I number of liebraists, both Ortho-
a request from the Hadley
had recently learned. In sheer dos and Liberal in their religious
I was graduated from the Jew- desperation, I determined to crea.e orientation, and found that that School for the Blind of Winnetka,
ish Institute of Religion in June
which has a branch in Na-
my own code more suitable to my question had been thoroughly aired
1929, with the degrees of rabbi
in the Hebrew press some years tanya, Israel.
needs as a rabbinic student.
and master of Hebrew literature
I was commissioned to prepare
During my college and law earlier when Itamar Ben-Yehudah
after completing in three years
school days, I found that taking proposed the official adoption of a primer to be used in Israel's
the prescribed four-year course.
against illiteracy. Ac-
copious notes frequently
About a month later, I explained
fered with my understanding of traditional Hebrew. The switch cording to Dr. Shlomo Haramati-
the Hebrew Braille system I had
seemed inevitable and, in the 40 formerly with the Israeli Ministry
developed for the reading and the subtler points the lecturer years
during which I have been in- of Education, and at present Edu-
writing of Hebrew to a sightless tried to convey, and occasionally
in this new medium, I have cational Consultant to the Jewish
friend who had retained his inter-
Education Committee of New York
est in Hebrew and mathematics learned to follow the speaker as not hear a single word of prbtest
RABBI HARRY BREWS
against this phase of my City—the number of illiterates in
despite his blindness
Israel was 12 per cent in 1961, due his citation: "Creative scholar
After studying it for a week, he shalled examples and proofs' of work.
Called to tell me that I should legal cases, and at the end of the
Within six months, I developed a largely to mass immigration from whose development of a Hebrew
countries after the establish- Braille Code brings the light of
also have been awarded, at my lecture I was able to reconstruct code adequate to my needs. In the Arab
two years, I made several ment of the state in 1948. It is im- Jewish learning to the sightless.
graduation, the degree of
ning to end. This method of con- additional modifications as a result portant to recognize that the high His work will endure for genera-
Master of Hebrew Braille.
In 1923, the consensus among centration without transcription
of my work with a group of sight- incidence of blindnes and illiteracy tions to come."
me in good stead through- less high school children to whom may be ascribable to the same
my doctors was that I
I taught Hebrew and Bible. By cause.
herited an eye condition through , out my seminary days.
Since my retirment a few years
I used it successfully in history, that time I had smoothed out most
my mother, who, though unaffect-
the difficulties, and I began to ago, I was moved to develop a
of symbolic contractions for
transmitted it to me from her mud, however, was quite another regard the code as a workable
Hebrew Braille. In 1967 I spent two
father, Rabbi Zeev Wahl of Mogi- story. Prof. Hayyim Chernoitz, Hebrew Braille system.
a talmudic scholar of international I In 1930, the Jewish Braille Insti- months in Israel in an attempt to
1ev, White Russia.
My grandfather had lost his renown, loved to lecture on the tute of America, organized for the introduce this new system to the
sight at he age of 60. This condi- juridical, ethical and historic cur- , promulgation of education among sightless teachers and pupils of the
Lion of mine was severely aggrav- rents of the mishnaic and amoraic the Jewish blind in this country, Jewish Institute for the Blind in
ated by my having fallen victim, periods and the differences he Bis- brought to the attention of the Jerusalem.
My new addition to Hebrew
on three separate occasions, to the cerned between them. But he al- Synagogue Council of America the
1' 3171 ,'313'371
Spanish flu epidemic of 1917-1919. ways came back to the word or need for the adoption of a single Braille consists of three parts:
When I came home from the phrase he was trying to elucidate. Braille code for the use of sight- (a) contractions; (b) special use of
last visit to my Philadelphia It was evident that, in the face less people, both here and abroad, the hyphen to be employed largely
oculist in 1925, I gave my par- of such complexity, I would have interested in reading and writing in prayer books; and (c) word-
symbols. From lists of frequently-
ents a brief report and retired to have the text before me in order Hebrew.
occurring basic Hebrew words
to my room. It was nearly mid- to be able to follow his subtle rea-
The Synagogue Council under-
night but I didn't switch on the coning. It became apparent that I took to create a worldwide com- compiled by Dr. Eliezer Rieger,
Samuel Nachshon and Dr.
lights. I took a book off a shelf would have to transcribe the text mittee for the specific purpose of
Arye Spotts, all =recognized writers
and sat down at my desk. I into Braille.
adoptiong a unified embossed in Jewish education, I culled five
clasped it to my breast. It was ' Also, in his Talmud class, Prof. code to be used by sightless peo-
destined to remain a closed book Chernowitz used the Kitzubr Hatal- ple throughout the world. Leopold words for each letter of the alpha-
and let them be represented by
to me forever. It was a searing • mud, an abridged edition of the Dubov, executive director of the bet
the initial letter plus an additional
experience. I was 25 and had years earlier. After several lec-
JBIA, was appointed secretary dot or more to precede it. I believe
been practicing law for two
of this committee, and I was
years. I decided to leave the law we were introduced to our first named chairman. It was our task that this system reduces the bulki-
and become a rabbi. ; talmudic text, the tractate Sera- to enlist additional members to ness of Hebrew Braille by at least
30 per cent, i.e., spatially and tem-
Through correspondence with Dr. chot. Since I was not satisfied with
represent Palestine and other porally. My work in Israel was
Stephen S. Wise, president of the Talmud he had published some
countries with sizable Jewish
unfortunately interrupted by the
Jewish Institute of -Religion, it was any available embossed code, I populations.
Six-Day War, which necessitated
agreed that I would be admitted was forced to utilize phonetic
In 1933, after careful delibera- my return to the United States. -
as a student in the fall of 1926. I transliteration of the text into Eng- tion,
then I have been urging the
had a little less than a year to lish symbols. From the outset I agreed to approve and sponsor my adoption
of this advanced system
Wind up my law practice, to pre- recognized that, in order to make
pare for a new life and a new pro- the transliteration intelligible, I mode as the one most suitable for of Hebrew Braille through corre-
It was decided spondence.
fession—and to learn Braille. Of
that it be called the International
Although the sightless constitute
these three, the last was the sim- sounds not present in English as Hebrew Braille Code, and that it but a tiny part of American Jewry,
well as for Hebrew letters which
plest by far.
Jewish community has never-
After learning English Braille, I
then in use in the United States, in theless taken note of the develop-
proceeded to inquire about the resented by different symbols.
in this field. The New York
The word hachamim ("sages"—
existence of books in Hebrew
Braille. To my amazement, I the initial h is a guttural), in the authorized to compile and publish Board of Rabbis in 1958, and the
Jewish Braille Institute of America
,71:173 -1117 1332 18 9 0 -
found that there were only two very first misbna of the tractate, a reader in this new code.
Some years earlier, the United in 1967, presented to me testimon-
schools throughout the whole illustrates the problem. I used the
world where Hebrew Braille was X-symbol in English Braille for States government had undertaken ial scrolls expressing appreciation
taught to children on an organized the het, and the ch-symbol for the a massive program to publish for my activities.
In 1959, Dr. Nelson Glueck, presi-
basis—the Jewish Institute for the guttural chaf, undoubtedly showing Braille books for the blind and had
Blind in Jerusalem and the Blin- the Spanish and German influence. established a number of disturbing dent of the Hebrew Union College-
den-institut in Vienna. From these I similarly adopted new symbols libraries for that purpose through- Jewish Institute of Religion, in ,
two schools I learned that the only for consonants and vowels without out the country. Herbert Putnam, conferring on me the honorary de-
available texts in Hebrew Braille counterpart in English Braille. the scholarly librarian of the gree of Doctor of Divinity, said in
were prayer books and readers on After consulting several Hebrew Library of Congress, was keenly
scholars, I decided to delete the interested in the educational and Hebrew Column
a very elementary level.
There were also desultory at- final orthographic forms of the let- cultural development of all blind
tempts to develop Hebrew Braille tors chat, mem, nun, fay, and zadi. persons. I told him that I had corn-
Hebrew is read from right to piled a volume of choice readings
codes by sightless scholars in Eng-
The writer Mika Yosef Bin Gorton
land and Germany, but their ef- lett, and the problem of changing from the Bible, Mishna, and mod- was born in (the year) 1865 in the town rinn
7 : -
the direction to conform with ern literature and enclosed a table of 3lejbuj, the center of the Hasidic
forts failed to receive the financial
movement. When he was 7 'years old.
support necessary for such under-
his family moved to the town off
takings. After a great deal of cor- complicated. When I first began would be more than gratified to Dubova. There his father served as the
of the town. He studied Torah
authorize the publication of this Rabbi
and Gernarra, and was known as a
book under the imprimatur of the scholar. When he married for the first cr
at the age of seventeen, he be-
Library of Congress. This volume time,
came interested in the ideas of the
.a appeared in 1935 under the title "A Haskala movement. Because of the
conflict between him and his environ.
Hebrew Braille Chrestomathy." meat,
he had to leave his wife. Ile ••
Some years later, it was included went to study in the Valojin Yeshiva
the age of twenty, and later moved 1.1 .41/4 f.)
in the library of the United Nations at
to Odessa. The first things he published
in New York City.
in the Jewish press dealt with tradi-
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Marshall Lodge honors Ben Goldberg
In 1946, the Jewish Braille In-
stitute of America began the
monumental task of bringing out
the Hebrew Braille edition of the
masoretic text of the Bible in 20
At the Louis Marshall Lodge and Chapter, Bnai Brith, dinner-
dance which honored Ben Goldberg as Marshall Mart of the Year,
and resulted in $71,100 in Israel Bond subscriptions, are (from left):
Harry Koltonow, chairman; Max Sosin, presenting Goldberg with the
Tower of David Award; Mrs. Goldberg; and Joseph Feldman, presi-
dent of Marshall Lodge.
40 — Friday, December 26, 1969
THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS
;min ,nrizi 1327 4 5
tional Jewish subjects. In 1890 he • ilpt1)
studied in Bres-
lau and erlin,
wrote the thesis
for his doctorate on phliosophy d. Ile
took an interest in aesthetics an was
influenced by Nietzsche.
In the stories he wrote, he tried to
expose the unusual periods in the lives
of his heroes. He told of love, Jealousy
and the happiness of the colleci%e.
his articles he claimed that writ ers de-
scribed only one side of Jewish life.
He also asserted that writers of Jewish
history were interested only in some 61
of the events which occurre d.
Today, forty-five years after his
death, his stories are closer to our
hearts than the stories of other %writers.
At the university, many scholars co • *11
n his work. They know that it is
to study the mystic trends
(movements) and the literature on 1 .1.,.thix,
For the benefit of interested blind
persons who have no sighted read-
ers to assist them, and who have
no easy access to the 20 volumes
of the Braille Bible, the Jewish
Braille Institute published, in 1966,
my "Anthology of Hebrew Litera-
ture" in two volumes.
The first volume contains 16
lengthy passages from the Bible folklore.
—Published by the Brit Writ Olamit
and the full text of "Pirke Avot"
with the assistance of the Memo-
rial Foundation for Jewish Culture
("Ethics of the Fathers"), with
fia --ia n ,Dvnn
n0 ,0 ,13 ,311;3
-rin'7 : 1 • 5 mlenel
?in nrirmori'pruli ,turnri
• $ •
• ' •