Special Needs in the Bible


Did the biblical character Esau have ADHD? Did Isaac have a cognitive disability?

The new book Esau’s Blessing: How the Bible Embraces Those with Special Needs looks at our biblical ancestors through the lens of contemporary psychology and medicine.

When viewed this way, writes author Ora Horn Prouser, Esau “no longer appeared an evil man with misplaced priorities, but rather, a portrait emerged of someone with learning issues who had never received the gift of being understood.” Prouser theorizes that the strongman Samson may have had a conduct disorder. Isaac, whom the Bible portrays as docile and simplistic, had a learning disability, she posits.

Prouser also looks at anomalies in the other direction. According to her, Joseph is a gifted child, analyzing dreams with uncommon insight. He endures all the ensuing social difficulties and isolation.

Of course, these are all theoretical diagnoses. But Prouser, who received her Ph.D. from the Jewish Theological Seminary, provides essays that are adept, knowledgeable, and sensitive, compromising neither contemporary sufferers of these conditions nor her biblical subjects.

Ora Horn Prouser is the Executive Vice President and Academic Dean of The Academy for Jewish Religion, a Pluralistic Rabbinical and Cantorial School in Yonkers, New York.

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