Halacha Date: 13 Tevet 5777 January 11 2017
Answer: One who receives an Aliya to the Torah and recites the blessings before and after the Torah reading must read the Torah portion on his own. If he does not wish to read the Torah in public because he is not expert in the cantillation notes and the like, the Chazzan may read for the congregation but the individual receiving the Aliya must read the Torah portion of the Aliya along with the Chazzan in an undertone.
Regarding our question, a blind man cannot read from the Torah alone since he cannot see the Sefer Torah. As a result, many great Rishonim rule that a blind man should not be given an Aliya to the Torah. Indeed, Maran Ha’Shulchan Aruch (Chapter 139, Section 3) rules that a blind man should not be given an Aliya.
On the other hand, the Sefer Ha’Eshkol writes that a blind man may receive an Aliya to the Torah since he can fulfill his obligation of reading the Torah by hearing it read by the Chazzan. Nevertheless, as we have mentioned, Maran Ha’Shulchan Aruch rules in accordance with the opinions who maintain that a blind man may not receive an Aliya.
It seems that since we have accepted upon ourselves the rulings of Maran Ha’Shulchan Aruch, the Halacha should follow that a blind man may not receive an Aliya. Nevertheless, Hagaon Harav Binyamin Aharon Selnik, who lived not long after Maran Ha’Shulchan Aruch, discusses this issue at length in his Responsa Mas’at Binyamin (Chapter 62) since he himself became blind in his old age and he continues to rebuff the opinion of Maran Ha’Shulchan Aruch. He concludes that we do not follow the ruling of Maran Ha’Shulchan Aruch regarding this issue. Similarly, Hagaon Rabbeinu Chaim Palagi writes in his Sefer Chaim (Chapter 11) that in Izmir, Turkey, although the people customarily follow all of the rulings of Maran Ha’Shulchan Aruch, nevertheless, regarding this issue, they do not follow his ruling and they honor a blind man with an Aliya to the Torah. Other great Poskim rule likewise.
Halachically speaking, the great Rishon Le’Zion Hagaon Harav Yitzchak Yosef Shlit”a recounts that when he was younger a certain Chazzan by the name of Rabbi Mordechai Chalfon z”l, who happened to have also been blind, walked to the synagogue every Shabbat in order to hear Maran zt”l chanting Birkat Kohanim in his melodious voice. Maran zt”l would call him up to the Torah to receive an Aliya while relying on the aforementioned opinion of the Sefer Ha’Eshkol because not doing so would cause pain and insult to the blind man. It is well-known that blindness is one of the worst ordeals a person can endure and he is certainly suffering enough as it is and for this reason we must rely on the opinion of the Sefer Ha’Eshkol and allow him to receive an Aliya. Indeed, all congregations that follow the rulings of Maran Ha’Shulchan Aruch regarding almost all issues rely on this ruling of the Sefer Ha’Eshkol and the other Poskim we have mentioned regarding this issue because this relates to the blind man’s self-respect and in order to gladden his heart a little. This is especially true on the day of Simchat Torah when the entire congregation gets an Aliya that there is even more room for leniency.