For the week ending 14 June 2003 / 14 Sivan 5763

Mental Retardation

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From: A. in Canada

Dear Rabbi,

What is the position of Judaism on mental retardation? I have a little girl with a rare syndrome and I wonder how Judaism interprets this situation. Thank you for your answer.

Dear A.,

First, please accept my prayers that G-d send a refuah sheleyma — a complete recovery — to your daughter.

One of the most painful mysteries of the world is our inability to understand how someone innocent of sin, suffers sickness. Our Rabbis taught that children, who never sinned, and yet were born with conditions similar to your daughters', are pure and great souls who were brought to this world to rectify a particular problem to reach their ultimate perfection and enter the World to Come. They do not need a "whole" body in the way that we do, and often G-d takes away their ability to function "normally" precisely because they are so spiritually aware and might otherwise communicate to others what is meant to be hidden.

I have spoken with people who told me that they saw the Chazon Ish, one of the most outstanding Torah luminaries of recent times, stand up each time he saw a retarded child because he was of the opinion that they were very lofty souls.

Eventually, depending on the degree of retardation, such a child may be obligated in mitzvah observance, and a local rabbinical authority should be consulted.

I hope that this is of some comfort to you, and pray that G-d "remove illness from your midst” (Exodus 23:25).

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