Musings From a Silent Torah Class: Teaching Torah to the Deaf


deaf-torahBy Joshua Soudakoff & Isser Lubecki

Isser and I are two deaf rabbinical students, roving in Rochester, NY, where there is a large deaf community. We are on a high from the Torah workshop that we held this evening. We and three others – all deaf – participated. It was a pleasure to discuss Torah in ASL, and we had great discussions on various topics related to the weekly Torah portion.

Here is an observation about how a deaf event differs from one in the “hearing” community:

The first ten to fifteen minutes of the event was spent on various snippets of conversation among the participants. It took more than waving hands to get everybody’s attention back to the main point of the gathering: to discuss the Torah portion.

And every fifteen minutes, the same thing would happen. The discussion would veer off into conversations about personal experiences in the Jewish community, various opinions on different topics, or sharing of photos. And every time, we had to lasso in the conversation and bring it back home. At a “hearing” event, everybody notices when the topic goes off course and they try to get it back in place. On the other hand, we tend to cherish every conversation, even when it has no relevance to the gathering itself.

Perhaps the very nature of the isolation in the deaf community results in such a strong need to talk to others. The participants who gathered for tonight’s class all knew each other, but they still had lots to share. They saw the workshop as an opportunity to talk to their friends and to express themselves. Since the deaf experience includes a lot of isolation from the “mainstream” hearing world, we seem to have an internal urge to compensate for all the missed opportunities by grabbing every opening to chat with a fellow deaf person.

The Talmud teaches us that “the main thing is the deed.” For our “hearing” readers, we have a message. If there is a deaf person in your community, please take the time to know him or her. Share some of your time with that person, and show that you care. Even the seemingly unimportant things you might have to say carry more weight than you may imagine. Also, learning a few words of sign language means worlds to us. It shows your interest in our language and culture.