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.