As a rabbinical student at the Jewish Theological Seminary, Lauren Tuchman aspires to change the way the school approaches inclusivity. Tuchman, who is blind and perhaps the first-ever blind female rabbinical student, said her own experiences contribute to her decision to fight for change.
“I’ve been the only person with a disability in Jewish spaces many times before,” said Tuchman. “There has been some progress made in terms of physical access — though not nearly enough. I’m interested in advocating for access in a holistic sense. How can we work to shift assumptions around inclusion being only about providing accommodations such as ramps and Braille siddurim, when inclusion is far broader than that?”
It’s that question that prompted Tuchman to choose to become a rabbi, a position in which she feels like she can have the best chance at effecting change for people who feel like they are on the margins of the Jewish community.
“It’s also about whether a person feels truly welcome as their whole self in their community, and, in a way, almost like feminism,” explained Tuchman. “It’s one thing to include women as rabbis … but another thing to change the culture to value women’s diverse perspectives and experiences. I want disability-informed perspectives on tradition to inform our understanding just as much as I want a feminist lens to do so.”
Tuchman also works to address what she feels as problematic Biblical texts that speak about people with disabilities, like in Parshat Toldot (Genesis 27), where Rebecca and Jacob conspire to trick Isaac who was blind. “I engage my professor and peers in a dialogue about why that might be morally problematic for some readers,” said Tuchman. “My hope is that next time around, they might teach it in a slightly different way or keep that perspective in mind.”
As an intern for T’ruah, a rabbinic network for social justice, Tuchman has worked on various human rights initiatives, and, as a scholar-in-residence at various shuls, she highlights what Jewish texts can teach us about creating inclusive communities. Once ordained, Tuchman hopes to work for a non-profit that promotes social justice and inclusivity.
Double whammy: Tuchman has a twin brother.