Studying Biblical Hebrew as a Person Who is Blind

About Sarah Blake LaRose

Sarah Blake LaRose is a freelance writer and a professor of Biblical Hebrew at Anderson University School of Theology in Anderson, Indiana. She is one of three blind academic scholars who received the Jacob Bolotin Award from the National Federation of the Blind in 2016 in recognition of innovative work in the field of access to biblical language texts and tools for people who are blind.

In the summer of 2007, I began to experience the fulfillment of a long-held dream: I began to learn to read biblical Hebrew. Writing this in one sentence is a bit like saying, “We sent a space ship to the other side of the galaxy the other day,” and letting that be the end of the story. It is best if you hear it in my own voice. Listen to my Hebrew story.

Braille transcribers do not always make the same choices when transcribing Hebrew. In my first-year Hebrew Grammar, the dagheshes and shevas were left out. In the Hebrew Bible, on the other hand, only the non-vocal shevas had been omitted. I have seen, in other braille transcriptions of Hebrew grammars and other items, even stranger things, e.g. completely invented symbols for characters when the transcriber did not know the correct ones. Incidentally, I had no advanced Hebrew grammar such as van der Merwe. I accessed advanced grammars and commentaries using Logos Bible study software..

My professors and I struggled on as well as we could. Since they did not know braille, we had no way of anticipating when or where problems would occur. I jumped in with both feet and decided that I would need to learn to use technology as one of my tools for Hebrew study in order to have access to dictionaries and lexica. It was the right decision; but it was not easy at first and remains challenging as software upgrades and screen reader technology are not always friendly to each other. While I was in the early stages of becoming familiar with the Logos interface, my professor read to me from the lexicon when I encountered an unfamiliar word. I felt that I was cheating until I remembered that without Logos I would have no choice but to ask someone to look up the word for me.

Since it is rare for people who are blind to study Hebrew, students in other seminaries encounter the same difficulties again and again. In a number of informal conversations throughout that first year as I sought information and assistance from people who had studied Hebrew successfully, I was frequently told things like, “I don’t know anyone who has done this. I know several people who have tried and dropped out. They went to Bible college so that they wouldn’t have to take Hebrew.” One person is quoted on Dallas Theological Seminary’s web site who took time to learn braille before beginning his Hebrew study. He says that initially he chose a course of study that did not require Hebrew; but learning Hebrew later enhanced his study and ministry. More recently, my contacts have begun to say, “If you find a way, please tell me what you did.” For the sake of enabling more people to complete their studies with positive experiences, I have documented my experience and solutions here in the hope that it can be of benefit to others.

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