Halacha Date: 25 Shevat 5773 February 5 2013
Question: May a deaf-mute who was taught by licensed teachers to act like a normal, healthy person and speaks a little bit, albeit not so clearly, be included in a Minyan (quorum) of ten men for any matter of holiness which requires a Minyan?
Answer: Young children and the mentally-incapacitated (who act irrationally) cannot be included in a Minyan of ten men necessary for reciting Kedusha, Kaddish, and the like, for they are considered of minimal intelligence.
The Opinion of Our Sages Regarding a Deaf-Mute
We find many times in the words of our Sages the combined term, “A deaf-mute, mentally-incapacitated individual, and a young child” who are each not included in a Minyan and are not obligated to perform Mitzvot. Nevertheless, the Gemara (Chagiga 2b) states that a deaf man who can speak or a mute man who can hear are considered completely fully-functioning regarding Mitzvah observance. Our Sages were only referring to a man who is both deaf and mute (for they compared him to a mentally-incapacitated individual who is not of right mind).
This means that based on this Gemara, those individuals labeled nowadays as “deaf-mutes” have the same halachic status as the mentally-incapacitated. However, if one is only deaf or mute, he does not share the same halachic status as the mentally-incapacitated and he is included in a Minyan of ten men and is obligated to perform all of the Mitzvot. Maran HaShulchan Aruch (Chapter 55, Section 8) rules likewise.
The Variation Along the Generations
Indeed, in previous generations, deaf-mutes were of minimal intelligence, for teachers were not aware how to instruct them properly; thus, there was no doubt that they shared the same status as the mentally-incapacitated. However, in more recent generation when deaf-mutes began being taught to act like normal, fully-functioning people, did the Poskim begin discussing whether they should still share the same halachic status as the mentally-incapacitated or not.
The Opinion of the Tzemach Tzedek
The Responsa Tzemach Tzedek (Chapter 73) writes regarding a deaf-mute who was an amazing tailor and conducts business like a normal, fully-functioning person that he nevertheless shares the same halachic classification as a mentally-incapacitated individual and a child, for since our Sages established that his status is similar theirs, there can be no distinction between the various levels deaf-mutes function at and he can never be included in a Minyan. Similarly, the Maharam Schick writes that one may not eat from an animal which was slaughtered by a deaf-mute even if he acts like a normal, fully-functioning person.
The Opinion of the Ketav Sofer
On the other hand, the Responsa Shevet Sofer quotes Hagaon Harav Mordechai Ha’Levi Ish Horowitz who writes that if a deaf-mute is educated in a special institution for such individuals and learns how to speak somewhat through hand-gestures and signing as well as learning to pray and interacting with others, he will certainly be obligated to perform the Mitzvot like all other Jews.
The Shevet Sofer adds that he heard from his father, the saintly Ketav Sofer, that after being amazed when visiting the institution for deaf-mutes in Vienna and being updated about their curriculum and education, he requested that the heads of the institution obtain a pair of Tefillin for all of the students so that they may don them along with the rest of the Jewish nation.
Based on this opinion, along with other rationales, other great Poskim rule, among them Hagaon Harav Yitzchak Isaac Ha’Levi Herzog, late Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel, that it seems that deaf-mutes in our times are obligated to perform the Mitzvot. In any event, it seems that they should indeed be included in a Minyan.
The Bottom Line
Halachically speaking, Maran Harav Ovadia Yosef Shlit”a rules (in his Responsa Yechave Da’at, Volume 2, Chapter 6) that according to the letter of the law, one may rely on the opinions which allow a deaf-mute who was educated in a special institution to be included in a Minyan. Nevertheless, if there are exactly ten men including the deaf-mute, it is preferable that the Chazzan not recite the repetition of the Amida and merely recite the Amida prayer once along with the Kedusha in order not to enter a doubtful situation of multiple blessings in vain.
He concludes by saying: May Hashem have mercy on the entire Jewish nation and may He send His word and heal everyone’s body and soul. May the land be filled with the knowledge of Hashem.