Tradescantia Zebrina .:. The Wandering Jew


tales and opinions of the wandering Jew

Did you hear?

Posted to Jewschool. I’m a blogging machine tonight.

Previously in the High Rabbinic Court: WTF file, we talked of revoking conversions. Today’s story is about Deaf conversions.

Many years ago a deaf woman appeared before the Conversions Court and declared her desire to become a Jew so she could marry her Jewish love. The court ruled in the majority that there was no point in converting her, since the Halacha exempts the deaf from performing mitzvahs; and since the conversion would be rendered insignificant, there was no way to perform it.

The court’s reasoning was that since the Halacha says that “one who is deaf, one who is young and one who is a simpleton shall be exempt form ordinance,” the woman in deemed incapable of observing mitzvahs, thus incapable of accepting the burden of ordinance, which is the cornerstone of conversion.

I’m saddened that they’ve taken such a position. Especially when their logic does not hold: “one who is young” is “exempt,” but children are converted all the time (when adopted, when their parents convert, etc). Exempt does not mean forbidden. They also could have looked at this from the point of view of her potential husband (and future children) – by allowing her to convert, he could have Jewish offspring. Without her conversion, most communities will not consider her children to be Jewish.

Are people who are Deaf from birth lesser Jews? Of course not. Until a century ago (and, sadly, even more recently), it was believed that “deaf = dumb.” We know now that it’s not the case – individuals just have a more difficult time learning in a hearing/aural/oral environment when they’re Deaf (big surprise, eh?). There are schools for the Deaf, universities, different sign languages around the world. In the Jewish world, there’s an international Orthodox yeshiva for Deaf students; Chabbad regularly hosts events for Deaf Jews; Our Way offers resources for religious Deaf Jews to participate more fully in their home religious communities (and is funded by NCSY and/or OU, I think); and more. There are even Orthodox Deaf rabbis. Why would they be ordained if they were forbidden, err exempt from mitzvot?

With our updated understanding of the intelligence of Deaf people, shouldn’t this exemption be reexamined? Shouldn’t this woman have been allowed to convert?

[ETA: Interesting comments on this over at Jewschool.]

Filed under: judaism

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