A unique conference took place in Tel Aviv last week regarding all aspects of the needs of the developmentally disabled sector.
The conference is held biannually, under the auspices of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Services’ Wing for Treatment for Persons with Mental Retardation.
For two days, experts in all fields having to do with those with special needs discussed and presented their findings and hypotheses.
Results of a survey carried out by the Welfare Ministry show that media coverage in the hareidi-religious sector of the developmentally disabled is generally more positive than in the general media. In the written media, coverage is generally positive, while Internet articles are generally more neutral.
The hareidi sector’s articles on the topic dealt primarily with the integration of retarded individuals into hareidi schools, followed in second places by articles on diagnosis, research and treatment. These issues were covered twice as widely as in the general media.
Another issue discussed in depth at the conference was that of marriage of the developmentally disabled.
The Jerusalem-based Alei Siach organization, famous for having developed a framework of sheltered apartments for special-needs teens, presented a short slide show outlining a practical step-by-step guide to help the developmentally disabled marry. The detailed and thorough program, five years in the making, is based on the following basic principles:
- Every person has the right to marry;
- support and accompaniment must begin before marriage;
- every couple is unique, and should be accompanied based on its specific needs;
- parenthood is not discussed at first, in accordance with rabbinic opinion and Welfare Ministry policy.
Thanks to the pioneering work of Alei Siach, some couple have already gotten married, and with great success.
Just a few months ago, the Orot Yisrael College in Elkanah, in Shomron (Samaria), published a compendium of 12 Torah-based articles (Amadot, Vol. II, ed. by Moshe Rachimi) on the correct approach to special-needs individuals and their integration in society. Among the topics covered there are integration of special-needs children into regular classrooms; mental diseases according to Jewish Law; mental diseases according to Hassidic thought, and the Jewish-legal status of disabled married couples.
In the last-mentioned article, Rabbi Shai Peron reaches the following conclusions, among others:
- Legislation on the matter is sorely lacking;
- A Halakhic [Jewish legal] position must be formulated in accordance with leading rabbis;
- A professional-rabbinic council must be formed to decide whether “borderline” cases should be permitted to be married – with the only consideration being the measure of danger and harm faced by the potential couple.