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Would one be allowed to use fingerspelling to communicate during pesukei d'zimrah (or other parts of davening where one is not allowed to talk)? Would it make any difference if one was hearing-impaired and always communicates using sign language?

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I don't understand the question. Why would you think that American Sign Language (or any other signed language) might be permitted when any language at all is forbidden? It is a language, after all, and constitutes just as much of an interruption as using one's voice. (I feel strongly about this since I am Deaf and use ASL.) – Shemmy Apr 29 '12 at 11:16
Can you write a note and pass it to someone during Davening? – Seth J Jun 15 '12 at 18:07
up vote 4 down vote accepted

The prohibition during Shma is in O"C chapter 63 law 6. See also Kitzur SH"A (17 6) that during the second parsha it may be permitted if needed for a mitzva.

See also Kitzur (18 14) that hand motions are not permitted during Shmona Esrei.

It is also prohibited to communicate via hand motions during bentching, and in between a bracha and the object of the bracha (e.g. after saying the blessing on tefillin until you finish putting on the tefillin shel rosh).

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(This isn't an answer but it might have implications for one.)

The consideration of non-verbal substitutes for verbal communication is discussed in the G'mara in Gitin, which says that in some circumstances one who lacks the ability to speak can satisfy speech-dependent requirements through writing or even manual (or cephalic) signing. This leniency is not granted to those whose speech faculties are intact.

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I believe it also comes up in Nedarim, in the context of responding to another's neder with something like a nod or thumbs up, which then obligates the nodder with the same neder (heh heh) – Jeremy May 3 '10 at 14:03
Signing is forbidden in every place where verbal speech is forbidden because it is language and not because of some people's mistaken notion that it is gesture. Signed languages have complex grammar, syntax, and vocabularies whereas gesture is just moving ones hands iconically and idiosyncratically. – Shemmy Apr 29 '12 at 11:21

I'll try to get an exact source, and confirm that it applies to Pesukei D'Zimira, but it is explicitly forbidden to use [even simple] hand gestures to communicate during tefillah. I believe there is some leeway given in order to silence a child but otherwise no.

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I definitely heard that during Shema (and I guess Shemona Esrei) you can't make any gestures. Since we learned that that's forbidden, I would guess that there are other places where it's permitted. – Tzvi May 2 '10 at 16:34

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