Basing himself of the halakhic idea that…
…deaf and dumb Jews are exempt from mitzvot, haredi Rabbi Avraham Sherman – a close follower of the haredi "gadol hador" Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv – ruled that people with severe hearing or speech problems cannot convert to Judaism.
In part, Rabbi Sherman's "logic" works like this:
- A deaf or dumb person is exempt from mitzvah observance.
- Converting to Judaism mean accepting on one's self the "yoke of the mitzvot" (commandments).
- Since a deaf or dumb person is exempt from mitzvot, he cannot accept on himself the "yoke of mitzvot" he is exempt from observing.
- Therefore, any conversion performed on a deaf or dumb individual is invalid.
Rabbi Sherman makes at least two clear errors:
- He ignores modern Jewish legal decisions – including decisions from American haredi rabbis – that allow deaf Jews to be called to the Torah, and deaf and dumb Jews to be counted in a minyan, be married, and perform other mitzvot. (These rulings are based on several things, one of which is the ability – lacking in the pre-modern world – to educate and communicate with the deaf and dumb.
- Secondly, "accepting the yoke of the commandments" does not mean a convert must observe every commandment. There are commandments few Jews will ever observe because the situation that calls for their observance does not exist for them. In other words, these commandments are situational – sending away the mother bird, for example or, for all of us today, offering sacrifices in the Jerusalem Temple. And women – who are also exempt from some mitzvot – can convert. They accept on themselves only the mitzvot women are required to keep. More fundamentally, there is no halakhic evidence that pre-haredi conversion meant observing every mitzvah that could be fulfilled. There was no concept of a convert observing every mitzvah from day one of his conversion.
A deaf or dumb person who converts does so because – like any true convert – he wants to join the Jewish people and share our common destiny.
In pre-haredi times, that meant walking away from idol worship and becoming a monotheist, accepting God and rejecting idols. Haredim have taken what was once a noble idea and trashed it.
Exempting deaf and dumb from mitzvot does not mean barring the deaf and dumb from Judaism.
The import of this ruling is much like the import of the ruling Sherman issued against Rabbi Druckman's conversions – and against Rabbi Druckman himself.
Because issues of personal status by Israeli law controlled by the Chief Rabbinate and the rabbinical courts, Jews who adopted babies only to find as the grew that the babies were deaf and dumb are now the adoptive parents of non-Jews. Deaf or dumb converts who married born Jews now must separate from their spouses, and, if the convert is a woman, their children are not Jewish.
Israel must immediately separate synagogue from state. There is simply no other choice.
Here is Rivkah Luvich's report:
Rabbi says deaf 'ineligible for conversion'
Those who cannot hear, cannot fulfill mitzvoth and therefore, believes rabbinical court in 2008, cannot convert to Judaism
Anyone inflicted with a severe hearing and speech impediment cannot undergo Jewish conversion. This harsh statement was recently made by Rabbi Avraham Sherman of the Chief Rabbinical Court, in a ruling now made public.
And so the story goes: 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.
Rabbi Shlomo Dichovsky, in the minority opinion, looked at the core issue of "accepting the burden of faith," and whether it should be considered a prerequisite for conversion or its essence. Dichovsky believes that the deaf can be converted. The woman's entitlement, he said, will not rest on the spiritual-practical plane of observing mitzvahs alone, but on the overall plane of being a part of the Jewish people.
"The appellant has every right to seek conversion since she resides and works among Jewish people," he wrote. "Conversion should be hers if she so wants it."
Rabbi Sherman, however, remained adamant: "Any conversion preformed on the deaf will have no spiritual bearing. Observing mitzvahs has nothing to do with the act of conversion, not should anyone refer to it as such. It is the impartation of being Jewish without the essence of Jewishness."
I was upset by his words. The thought that parts of Jewish law categorically prevent admission of the deaf into the flock sent shivers down my spine. What happens if a family wants to adopt a deaf child? The Rabbinical Court would not agree to convert the child. And what if a family wishes to convert and one of its sons is hearing impaired? Will the court convert all but one?
The thought that there are some among the nations who will not be able to become Jews because a physical impairment apparently renders them devoid of the spiritual capability to embrace Judaism's ordinance, shakes my Jewish world to its core.
This is not my Judaism.
Nor is it mine.
[Hat Tip: The Beadle.]