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    Being deaf – Ask the Rabbi

    Q. The Mishnah has a very negative attitude towards the cheresh, the deaf person. Does this apply in modern times when such good hearing aids are available?

    A. The cheresh spoken about in rabbinic literature is a deaf-mute who is considered unable to accept legal responsibility.

    The rules about the cheresh did not apply, even in those days, to a person who was either deaf or dumb but not both (Ter. 1:2). In addition, the Talmud recognises that there are degrees of incapacity and that the cheresh is not on the same level of incompetence as is an imbecile (Shab. 153a).

    Over the centuries there have been tremendous advances in “artificially” acquired hearing and speech and it is highly doubtful whether a cheresh in the original sense still exists. Modern halachic authorities hold that someone who can speak, however unclearly, is legally competent (e.g. Rav Moshe Feinstein, Ig’rot Moshe, Even HaEzer 3:33).

    No-one would deny even a profoundly deaf person the opportunity to participate in religious life, and the introduction of the loop system in many synagogues enables many people to hear the service. For more detailed halachic material on the subject of the cheresh, see Tradition 16:5, Fall, 1977.

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