Deaf Jews forming bonds through multiple Web sites

One of the areas in which the Internet excels is its ability to allow people with relatively specialized needs to exchange information and even forge virtual communities around the world. That is particularly true for people who are Jewish and deaf, as they may feel excluded or even alienated from the larger Jewish community. The Internet has some excellent resources.

The Mutual Assistance for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing is an Israel-based site that offers a wealth of information in both Hebrew and English. It's at There are links to resources for the Jewish community and general articles on hot topics like the debate over cochlear implants. There's even a diagram for you if you want to try your hand at Hebrew fingerspelling.

Another excellent resource is the Jewish Deaf Community Center at The JDCC was established in 1992 in Southern California to empower deaf and hard-of-hearing persons to be full participants in the Jewish community at large. You can read both the latest newsletter and back issues of the JDCC News. The site has a community e-mail meeting place and a good set of links to related Web sites.

An excellent way for someone trying to learn more about the resources available to Jewish deaf people is by meeting others who are facing similar challenges. You can join that worldwide community through e-mail lists such as the one established by the Wolk Center for the Jewish Deaf in Rochester, N.Y. Check it out at

For personal insight into some of the challenges facing people who are Jewish and deaf, I highly recommend the writings of Jon Kalish, at Kalish is a hearing reporter who has written extensively about issues concerning the Jewish deaf. He writes about efforts to counter the work of messianic organizations that target Jewish deaf people; he also speaks to the first deaf person enrolled in the Jewish Theological Seminary and he shares his own experiences of being married to a woman who is partially deaf.

What are some of the halachic issues surrounding people who are deaf? Several years ago, Rabbi Mordechai Shuchatowitz, spiritual leader of Congregation Agudas Israel of Greenspring, Md., wrote a paper called "Halacha Concerning the Deaf and Hearing Impaired." I couldn't find the entire article on the Web, but it has been summarized in the Jewish Week, at

Some excerpts: "Deaf Jews who are unable to say daily prayers, the Sh'ma and blessings before meals with their mouths 'should think them in their hearts instead.'"

Shuchatowitz notes that in the Midrash it is mentioned that King David asked of God, "When I am able to speak, please listen to my words. When I am not able to, please understand my thoughts and accept them instead."

He also writes: "The use of hearing aids is permitted on Shabbat even though they are technically considered miniaturized, portable microphones which are usually prohibited on the day of rest. But because hearing aids don't produce sound audible to the public, they're kosher."

Shuchatowitz also says "the deaf and hearing impaired can be counted on to complete a minyan, as "this special closeness" that results when 10 Jews daven "is the result of God's relating to ten Jewish souls, and does not depend on their hearing ability." Shuchatowitz's four children all have either severe or profound hearing loss.

How do you say mazel tov, bentsh licht or Rosh Hashanah using sign language?

David Bar-Tzur has a good idea. A visiting professor at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf in Rochester, Bar-Tzur is working on creating a glossary of religious terms for ASL (American Sign Language) interpreters. In addition to religious phrases from other faiths, Bar-Tzur includes many Jewish words and terms in his glossary. Check it out at Ben-Tzur's translation into sign language notation may look cryptic to most of us. But when these words are animated into sweeping arm movements and gestures, non-hearing Jews can share in the phrases that are so loved by the rest of the community.