Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Deaf? Don't Bother Applying For Conversion

Ynet is reporting that Rav Avraham Sherman, of the Chief Rabbinical Court, has issued a ruling stating that someone who is deaf cannot convert to Judaism. The reason for the ruling is the idea that the deaf cannot keep the mitzvos, they also are incapable of accepting upon themselves the obligation of keeping the mitzvos.

The idea that a deaf person cannot (or is not required to) keep the mitzvos is not new -- it goes back at least as far as the times of the Talmud. Back in those days, there was no way to educate someone who was deaf. Sign language did not exist, nor did modern methods of teaching the disabled. While they certainly had the mental faculties (absent any other defects) to understand right and wrong, there was no reliable way of teaching them and informing them what the Torah expects of us. As a result, the deaf were truly marginalized in society and could not really be expected to be able to properly observe the mitzvos.

However, that is not the case today. In today's world, the deaf can be taught to be productive members of society. Today deaf children can be taught Torah and can observe the mitzvos. With current educational techniques, deafness no longer has to mean a life of isolation. The reasons to exclude a deaf person from the obligations of mitzvah observance no longer apply. Today we have deaf boys becoming Bar Mitzvah -- accepting upon themselves the obligation of mitzvah-observance. Would Rav Sherman tell a deaf boy of fifteen that he doesn't have to put on tefillin today because he's exempt? Would he tell a deaf boy not to bother eating matzah on Pesach? Would he tell the parents of a deaf boy to put the kid in public school since he's not obligated to learn Torah?* I highly doubt it. Jewish-born deaf people today are held to the same standard as the hearing. And that being the case, then why shouldn't the deaf be capable of accepting observance of the mitzvos? If the sole reason to bar the deaf is because they are considered incompetent (like the mentally disabled), then there is no reason to bar them today, as they are now capable of being full members of society.

The Wolf


* Assuming, of course, there is a yeshiva locally capable of catering to the child's educational needs.

8 comments:

Six Month Malkie said...

Is this for real? Someone is actually looking to prevent deaf people from becoming geirim in this day and age?

No wonder it seems more and more like I'm ready to leave frumkeit altogether.

aaron from L.,A. said...

I hear you loud and clear. And you are 100 % right.Rather than find excuses for excluding potential gerim,let us find ways to welcome them in.All that should be required is real commitment.

jewinjerusalem said...

You have absolutely no understanding of the halachik process. You wouldn't argue with a doctor or lawyer if that wasn't your field of expertise. So who gives you the chutzpa to argue with a major league dayan. This man is on the high court in Jerusalem - the city with arguably the most talmidai chachamim in the world. He made it. Please express your empathy for those who are affected. Please let us know if some other posek disagrees. Please research if this is really true, because I don't trust Ynet and other secular papers to understand halacha. But don't talk about what you don't know. This is what causes people to hate Torah See the tochacha (last week's parsha) and think if you're not guilty of causing others to hate the chachamim and the Torah.

BrooklynWolf said...

JewinJerusalem,

You're right in that I'm not a dayan. But you are absolutely wrong in that I would not argue with a doctor or a lawyer in their field of expertise.

If a lawyer told me that something was illegal, I would ask them why. They could show me the relevant case law. They could show me how it concurs with common practice. And, if I disagree with him then, then I'll let him know and ask him to show me again where I'm wrong. I don't have a problem arguing with people in other fields... provided I can get the information that is necessary.

Admitedly, in this case, I'm relying on the Ynet reporting. If you think the Ynet reporting is wrong, then by all means, please show me where and how and I'll update my post accordingly. However, based on the premise that the reason Rav Sherman won't accept deaf converts is because they are incapable of keeping the mitzvos, I can very much argue on it. Again, if I'm wrong in my comparison to born-Jews, please show me where. I'm not averse to being corrected, but you haven't made a single point.

The Wolf

Garnel Ironheart said...

Okay, now the facts:

The Igros Moshe deals with this subject specifically and notes:

The Torah considers "cheresh" exempt from mitzvos. So this would lead to problems with marriage, divorce and conversion.

Furthermore, he notes that the prohibition is not specifically due to mental incompetence. That's just the reason ascribed to it by the sages. It's the same old argument as the one about pork. The Torah didn't forbid it because it's unhealthy. It just forbid it period. Same thing here. A cheresh, even one that might be proven mentally competent is exempt from mitzvos.

Ah, but what's a Cheresh? Someone who cannot hear AND is mute. In other words, the Igros Moshe specifically notes that deaf people who can speak in an intelligent fashion are NOT considered to fit the definition of Cheresh and are therefore oblidged in mitzvos.

Thus the only people affected by these rulings are those who are so profoundly disabled that it is doubtful whether they could ever appreciate the tzurus they're getting themselves into by wanting to become Jewish.

Anonymous said...

Deaf people speak quite well and in eloquent terms- with their hands, expressions and bodies. ASL is a complex language with a syntax and grammar very much similar to hebrew. The fact is that most Deaf people can read and write "english" quite well and often speak it tolerably. This Rabbi is an ignoramus who has no competence to judge the ability of Deaf people to communicate.

ProfK said...

It always bothers me to hear about a blanket psak about things that are too complex for a "one size fits all" ruling. Surely deafness is one place where what should have been said is that a competent rav needs to be consulted. Note the word competent here. Deafness is not all that simple to define. Legally deafness can apply to someone who does have some hearing but is below a certain threshold. Hearing impairment is not always complete. Hearing impaired people may be competent in more than one language--ASL and English and Hebrew, for instance. Some can vocalize better than others. Most can read just fine. What bothers me is the assumption that because one has a hearing impairment they must perforce be mentally challenged as well, not the case for most. Surely the case of someone who has a hearing disability who wants to be a ger is one that needs individual attention by a rav.

As to the comment " But don't talk about what you don't know. This is what causes people to hate Torah See the tochacha (last week's parsha) and think if you're not guilty of causing others to hate the chachamim and the Torah" it is precisely when pronouncements seem to fly in the face of what people DO know that problems begin. It is when "chachamim" make public announcements that contradict readily available public knowledge that problems arise. If you make public statements then define the terms you are using and give your sources. And expect that there might be others who are defining the term differently, who may have different sources that say other than what you are saying. There will be some that look at the same facts that you have looked at and come to a different conclusion, both conclusions possible from the data given. And that is not hating chachamim--that is engaging in the type of discussion and disagreement that is part of our tradition going way back. The gemorah is rife with examples of public disagreement, with pronouncements that were not held to be the "be all and end all" of discussion on a subject. "Experts" disagree all the time. It is not Jewish tradition that holds that a chacham is infallible; that is Christian theology.

jewinjerusalem said...

Hey profk it's not the rabbonim making the public annoucements. It's the stupid newspaper articles.
And Wolf, now I read tha article. There is a big problem here. I'll explain. Let's say one wants to convert but he's a hemopheliac and can't have a bris mila. He's super- altruistic. Mamesh leshem shamayim! What can you do? Having a bris is a prerequisite. Sorry. We follow the rules in Shulchan aruch. But he's a little boy adopted by good people who just want to have a child. Everyone feels bad. But what can you do? There is a halacha.
Regarding someone deaf the gemara says he's exempt from mitzvos. There is a contemporary halachik question: Today that we have new ways to reach the deaf and they can be educated as anyone else, are they therefore obligated as anyone else in mitzvos or not. usually this isn't an issue as they of course try to do all mitzvos. However, this is relevant when kabbalas mitzvos is a preequisite, such as for geirus. I haven't studied this issue in depth. it seems that it is a debate among real poskim.
Let us view things through the prism of halacha. I was very upset by the article in Ynet. It's written by a religious woman, but she uses secular concepts. And shows contempt for those who try to arrive at the dvar hashem.