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October 20, 2005 - Image 18

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2005-10-20

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To Life!

True Visionary from page 17

"Mathematical tricks and puzzles
always intrigued me he said.
"But I was advised in college
that mathematics was not a pru-
dent field for the blind," he said. So
he studied psychology and
received a master's degree from
Columbia University in New York
City, while filling his elective
requirements with math courses.
"And at night, when other guys
thought having fun was going out
and playing pinochle or going
bowling, I took math classes at
Brooklyn College," he said. "One
day, my wife told me, `You don't
have a job anyway. Wouldn't you
rather be an unemployed mathe-
matician than an employed psy-
chologist?"' So he went back to
Columbia, this time to study math.
"As the work became more
advanced I devised a system of
Braille in my head that would
work with all different levels and
branches of mathematics," he said.
That system later became the
Nemeth Code, still used today in
countries as far away as New
Zealand after four revisions. Dr.
Nemeth currently is working on
what he calls "a done of the code
the Nemeth Uniform Braille
He has been a Detroiter since he
and his late wife, Florence, relocat-
ed to Michigan in 1955, when he
was offered a job at the University
of Detroit (now U-D Mercy),
where he is currently professor
emeritus of mathematics. He
began his work there teaching
math. Later, he also founded and
headed the Graduate Department
of Computer Science, after study-
ing the subject at Pennsylvania
State University with a program he
wrote himself that turned his
study materials into Braille.
During his early years teaching
in Detroit, he received a doctorate
in applied mathematics from
Wayne State University, where he
was named alumnus of the year in
the 1970s.

An Inspiration

An Adat Shalom Synagogue mem-
ber since 1955, Dr. Nemeth said, "I
know the prayers so well by heart
that I don't use the prayer book
when I go there on Shabbat!'
A frequent haftorah chanter at
Adat Shalom, he reads from a

Dr. Nemeth works
Braille Tanach, which syna-
on the editing of
gogue Rabbi Daniel Nevins says
the Artscroll Siddur
"is always an extraordinary expe-
with the use of his
Dr. Nemeth also was the inspi-
ration behind Rabbi Nevins' paper
titled, "The Participation of Jews
who are Blind in the Torah
Service." The paper was approved
by the Conservative movement's
Rabbinical Assembly's
Committee of Jewish
Law and Standards, of
which Rabbi Nevins is
a member. The paper
discusses whether
Jews who are blind
can participate in the
Torah reading service
through the use of
technology or the
assistance of a sighted
"I cite Dr. Nemeth
several times in my
paper," Rabbi Nevins
said. "He is an inspir-
ing person who dav-
ens mostly by heart
but also from enor-
mous Braille siddurim
(prayer books) and .
machzorim (holiday
prayer books) he
helped to edit. I have
learned a great deal
Dr, Nemeth
from conversations
relaxes near
with Dr. Nemeth. He
the bust of
really is a remarkable
Louis Braille
human being, and he
he displays
certainly did motivate
on his piano.
me to study this issue
In his paper, Rabbi
Nevins concluded that
who are blind to be included in
because the Torah must be read
the act of publicly accepting and
for the congregation directly from
revering the Torah:'
a Torah scroll, and not from a
These results were not disap-
printed text or from memory, Jews pointing for Dr. Nemeth."' don't
who are blind have no way of
need physical accruements to be a
reading Torah. He encourages
meaningful part of the service he
them to participate in the Torah
reading in other ways including
receiving an aliyah or by reading
the haftorah from Braille, in addi-
New Projects
tion to leading the congregation in
Nemeth's current work — the
conversion of the Orthodox prayer
"Should new technology that
book, The Complete Artscroll
allows blind people to read direct-
Siddur (by Nosson Scherman) into
ly from the scroll become avail-
Braille — came about at the
able, our options would expand','
request of JBI International.
he wrote in his paper. "Meanwhile,
Dr. Nemeth was called upon
these solutions all preserve our
because of his vast knowledge in
reverence for the sacred act of
various areas.
chanting Torah from a kosher
"We have had a very, very long
scroll, while also allowing Jews

and, for us, a very
meaningful associ-
ation with him','
said Dr. Ellen Isler,
JBI International
president and CEO.
"He has had an
association with
JBI International
for more than 50
years, when we
produced its first
Hebrew Braille
The Bible was
Dr. Nemeth's first
project involving
Hebrew Braille.
"My father and I
helped proofread
it',' he said. "It was
the first book to be
written in Hebrew
Braille, a system
created by a com-
mittee headed by
Rabbi Harry J.
Brevis, who was
from Detroit. I gave
a lecture on it,
titled, `The Oldest
and Newest
Languages: referring to the oldest
language of Hebrew and the
newest one: Braille."
When the Braille Bible was com-
plete, JBI International enlisted Dr.
Nemeth to work on the
Conservative movement's:High
Holiday Prayer Book (edited by
Rabbi Morris Silverman), the one
he himself uses in synagogue.
Next, he edited and compiled the
Conservative Siddur Sim Shalom
(edited by Rabbi Jules Harlow) for
them and is now about half way
through a four-year-long project
working on the Artscroll.
In addition to the Braille texts
worked on by Dr. Nemeth, the
library also houses Reform prayer
books, Gates of Prayer and Gates of
Repentance, and the Orthodox

Ha-Siddur Ha-Shalem Daily Prayer
Book and Ha-Mahzor Ha-Shalem
High Holiday Prayer Book both
translated by Philip Birnbaum.
The JBI International library
serves 35,000 individuals world-
wide and all of its services and
materials are free to eligible users.

Converting Texts

"What Dr. Nemeth does requires a
lot of knowledge of the text but
also requires a perfect knowledge-
of Hebrew Braille," Dr. Isler said.
"There aren't many people who
have that combined knowledge to
do this editing and compilation.
He's a unique resource for us."
Dr. Nemeth begins the process
by receiving, from JBI
International, both a print version
of the book he is working on and
a copy that has been transcribed
into Braille. The Braille version is
stored on two computer disks —
one in Hebrew and one in English
— that he places in his computer,
which prints it out for him in
"But because the height of the
dots in Braille books makes them
bulky and thick, no one can carry
around the entire Braille tran-
scription," Dr. Nemeth said. One
book of print may become as
many as 19 volumes in Braille, as
is the case with the Ha-Siddur Ha-
Shalem Daily Prayer Book.
But because many prayers in
the print versions of prayer books
are not read in the order in which
they are printed, a blind worship-
per might have to take numerous
Braille volumes to synagogue to
have all the necessary prayers for
a single service.
"If I'm on page 59 and the rabbi
says, `Everybody turn to page 360!
I can't do that in Braille, because
page 360 wouldn't even be in the
same volume Dr. Nemeth said.
So he spends an enormous

October 20 . 2005


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