The Niddah Difference

By Jewish Deaf Motorcycling Dad

Since most of you probably aren’t familiar with Deaf culture, let me begin by explaining that the Deaf community is a very touchy (physically) community. I’ve heard various reasons for this. Part of it seems to be the loss of one sense, sound; so we make it up by using more of another sense, in this case touch. There are lots of hugs, pats, nudges, etc. Another reason for this is that we, of course, can’t hear. Say you need to get by John Doe, but he’s in your way. A simple “excuse me” won’t do much good, it’s noisy and his hearing aids are overwhelmed (or he can’t hear anything at all). How do you get by? Sometimes it only takes a light tap on the shoulder, sometimes it’s a little bit more of a moving of the other person’s body (giving a slight push to the side, or putting hands on the shoulder and moving them over a little). Now, all this isn’t to say that the Deaf are a community of people constantly groping at each other, not by a long shot. But I’ve seen that people who aren’t comfortable with touching are often unnerved when around a lot of Deaf people. For Deaf folks though, this is the norm.

Now let’s add in the Jewish concept of Niddah. Ah, now things become more complex! I see this often with one rabbi I know. He’s a Baal Teshuva, a hearing, religious son of deaf, non-religious parents. But he’s very active in the deaf community. I sometimes see that he makes a slight move, as if he is about to hug someone, then suddenly remembers and stops himself.

That’s the general picture. Now it’s on to my own experiences. Before we were married, my wife (modern orthodox her whole life, also deaf) and I really didn’t get into a deep discussion on Niddah issues; and after the wedding, sort of fumbled a bit to figure it all out. During the times of Niddah, we still touched to alert each other to things, plus a quick hug hello and good bye, and after a, shall we say, heated discussion, to signal that we are okay again.

But as I began to become more religious myself, we started re-evaluating things, and decided to try and completely keep from touching during this time period. There were some small challenges. For example, I could no longer just tap on her shoulder if I wanted her attention and she didn’t have her hearing aids on. Instead, I would now stomp on the floor (for the vibrations), or reach around and wave to her if I was close enough. Those were easily overcome.

No, the place where I noticed it took the most analyzing and adjusting, for me, was the “after heated discussion hug.” I came to realize that I was using this as a crutch to calm my wife (and myself) down. Maybe even unfairly. It seemed that if I hugged her tight enough, or long enough, the tears would soon dry up and she’d be feeling better. But now there were times I couldn’t give the hug. Now what to do??

I soon learned that when the occasional flare ups would occur (nothing MAJOR, just the usual issues here and there that all married couples with active kids face) that I would need to talk and discuss the issue completely in full length and depth until it was truly resolved for both of us, and we were both feeling better. While this approach takes much longer than the “hug-the-problem-away,” I think the solution we come up with is better and longer lasting, not another temporary patch. Now even when it’s not a period of Niddah, we do spend more time talking about the issues in detail until they really are resolved, and only then do we close things up with a hug. (After all, they are still nice!)

8 comments on “The Niddah Difference

  1. Interesting that the hearing aid issue came up. An older gentleman here was recently told that they are a problem on Shabbat. I don’t want to contradict the psak given by a local rav, but I think that doesn’t have to be the case at all. As JDMDad points out, the OU published a booklet on this a few years ago (really should get a copy). The Tzitz Eliezer and others paskened that they can be used on Shabbat, with certain conditions such as JDMDad mentioned. It may vary a little depending on the type.
    Cara, maybe ask your rabbi to look at this review of the topic:

    mordechai y. scher
    kol beramah
    santa fe

  2. Cara, I just saw your post, and I’m about to leave to get ready for Shabbos. According to the book I mentioned in comment 5, hearing aids ARE allowed. (this book is backed by the Orthodox Union). I just do not turn my hearing aids on or off on Shabbos, I leave them on the whole time (I change the batteries before Shabbos begins). There are some differences in handling the volume control if the hearing aid is digital or analog. If you e-mail me, I’ll give you more specifics, as well as sources that hopefully will help you, your rabbi and conversion mentor to come up with solutions. You can find my e-mail address through my blog (linked through my name, then go to the profile), or if for some reason you can’t find it that way, I authorize the BeyondBT guys to give you my e-mail directly.

    There are organizations out there to help assist deaf Jews (of all levels), I can certainly give you pointers to those as well.

    Good Shabbos,


  3. Hi. I’m in the process of converting to Judaism, and I’m also hard of hearing, so I’m really glad to have found this essay.

    I have a question: what do you do on Shabbos? Do you leave your hearing aids out, or are you allowed to use them for pikuach nefesh or something? I have been trying to figure out what I should do about this and don’t really have an answer. My rabbi and conversion mentor tell me not to use them at all, but then they don’t have a solution to how to hear/socialize/interact with people (for what it’s worth, it sounds like my hearing is better than yours, as I can certainly hear a shofar blast and can carry on one-on-one conversations if the other person is speaking loudly and there isn’t much background noise). I’d be interested in hearing how you deal with this. Thanks :-)

  4. My wife is about to put dinner on the table so I’ll send out a quick reply. First, off, thanks for the great comments, I’m glad you all like my write up. I hope to write more.

    To answer Leah L, there is a whole booklet put out by the OU to discuss deafness related issues. It’s called “The Toras Hacheresh Guidebook” by Rabbi Mordechai Shuchatowitz (Rav, Agudath Israel of Greenspring, Baltimore, MD).

    With my hearing aids, I can hear well enough to know when to say “Amen.” If I can’t hear it, then when everyone else says it, I say it as well. (I do try to get near the front to hear it though). For those things that you are “required” to hear, some, who can hear a little bit without hearing aids (e.g. for the loud shofar blast) take their aids out and listen unaided. I wouldn’t be able to hear that though (I tried), so I keep the aids in, and hear it indirectly. The interesting thing that Rabbi Shuchatowitz states though, is that for people with a Cochlear Implant (sort of a hearing aid that connects directly to the auditory nerves in the brain) it does count as hearing directly, unaided, rather than what I do, which is listening through standard hearing aids, which amplifies the sound, and shoots it down my ear canals. I’ll have to pull out the book to see the halactic reasoning. However, Cochlear Implants (CI) require surgery, and I’ve used hearing aids since the age of 3, so I doubt I’ll be getting CI’s any time soon. I won’t say “never” though.

    If you have more questions, please fire away. I have the book in my bookcase so can look up answers as well. :-)

  5. Thanks for some insight into this issue. Also, thanks for sharing your inspiring dedication to finding solutions. I hope you keep writing in.

    I’m guessing that Nidda and Shomer Negia issues are more frequently on the minds of BT’s than is reflected in shiur topics or in other supportive discussion forums.
    Especially in the MO world, and especially with teenagers.

  6. Shalom JDMD,

    Tres strange, but I’ve tried twice to reply to your post and both times the comment disappeared into cyberspace. I’ll try one more time.

    1. Great on finding a way to observe the halacha despite your physical challenges. You’ve also managed to find a way strengthen your relationship with your wife in the process. Excellent!

    2. I have some questions: How do you deal with your challenges as a deaf person in terms of davening in a minyan, making brochos/saying amen/saying kaddish and how do you manage situations where you are “required” to hear things, ie., Megillas Esther and the Torah portion dealing with remembering amalek.

    Thank you!


  7. Terrific post JDMD! You not only figured out a way to handle your challenges in staying within halacha, but also a way to strengthen your relationship with your wife. Excellent!

    I’m curious about other challenges for you as a deaf person. How do you cope with davening with a minyan and so forth? How about brochos? Saying amen and the like? What about the requirement of having to hear certain things, i.e., the Torah portion that tells us to remember Amalek, or hearing Megillas Esther?


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