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The Rambam in Hilchos Teshuvah 1:1 tells us that saying vidui (confessing) is an integral part of the teshuva process:

כָּל מִצְוֹת שֶׁבַּתּוֹרָה בֵּין עֲשֵׂה בֵּין לֹא תַּעֲשֶׂה אִם עָבַר אָדָם עַל אַחַת מֵהֶן בֵּין בְּזָדוֹן בֵּין בִּשְׁגָגָה כְּשֶׁיַּעֲשֶׂה תְּשׁוּבָה וְיָשׁוּב מֵחֶטְאוֹ חַיָּב לְהִתְוַדּוֹת לִפְנֵי הָאֵל בָּרוּךְ הוּא שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (במדבר ה ו) "אִישׁ אוֹ אִשָּׁה כִּי יַעֲשׂוּ" וְגוֹ' (במדבר ה ז) "וְהִתְוַדּוּ אֶת חַטָּאתָם אֲשֶׁר עָשׂוּ" זֶה וִדּוּי דְּבָרִים. וִדּוּי זֶה מִצְוַת עֲשֵׂה. כֵּיצַד מִתְוַדִּין. אוֹמֵר אָנָּא הַשֵּׁם חָטָאתִי עָוִיתִי פָּשַׁעְתִּי לְפָנֶיךָ וְעָשִׂיתִי כָּךְ וְכָךְ וַהֲרֵי נִחַמְתִּי וּבֹשְׁתִּי בְּמַעֲשַׂי וּלְעוֹלָם אֵינִי חוֹזֵר לְדָבָר זֶה. וְזֶהוּ עִקָּרוֹ שֶׁל וִדּוּי. וְכָל הַמַּרְבֶּה לְהִתְוַדּוֹת וּמַאֲרִיךְ בְּעִנְיָן זֶה הֲרֵי זֶה מְשֻׁבָּח וְכֵוּ'

All the commandments of the Torah, whether mandatory or prohibitive, if a person violates any one of them, either on purpose or by accident, when he repents and returns from his sinful ways, he is obligated to confess before Hashem, as it is said: "When a man or woman shall commit any sin..… Then they shall confess their sin which they have done (Num. 5.6–7), which is a confession of words. Such confession is a positive commandment. How is the verbal confession made? The sinner says: "I beseech Thee, O Great Name! I have sinned; I have been obstinate; I have committed profanity against Thee, particularly in doing thus and such. Now, behold! I have repented and am ashamed of my actions; forever will I not relapse into this thing again." This is the essence form of teshuvah; but whosoever elaborates in confessing and extends this subject is, indeed, praise-worthy.

With this in mind (and since he can't verbalize it) is it possible for a mute person to do teshuva?

  • Where do you see in Rambam that if one doesn’t confess he hasn’t performed teshuvah. All he says in the passage you quote is that when one does teshuvah, he is obligated to confess. – Joel K Sep 17 at 5:35
  • @JoelK why would one be obligated to confess then? It would appear that verbally confessing is an integral part of doing teshuva – alicht Sep 17 at 11:53
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    To modify Yevamos 14:1, כשם שהוא חוטא ברמיזה, כך הוא שב ברמיזה. – Meir Sep 17 at 13:32
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    What would a Cheresh be doing Teshuvah for? Isn't he exempted from all Mitzvos anyways? judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/53164/… – Salmononius2 Sep 17 at 13:48
  • @Salmononius2 someone mute isn't a cheresh. A Cheresh is אינו שומע ואינו מדבר. A mute is שומע ואינו מדבר – robev Sep 19 at 18:29
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The sefer LeDofkei BaTeshuva by Rabbi Uri Teegar on Rambam's Hilchos Teshuva 1:1, in Biurim s.v. על לשון כל ישראל (near § 65, it's too far to see for free on Otzar HaChochma) brings the Sefer HaChinuch § 364, who explains the reasons for vidui (verbal confession): (1) expressing one's sins reveals one's thoughts and beliefs, such that it's clear they don't think their sin went unnoticed by Hashem. As well, (2) through expressing it they'll regret their actions more and will refrain from transgressing again. Although a person can have regret even without verbalizing it, explicit vidui will make a stronger impression.

The former brings from the sefer Hirhurei Teshuvah ad. loc. § 5 that according to the first reason of the Chinuch, someone who is mute, their lack of verbalizing the vidui shouldn't detract from their thoughts. It's just that someone who could speak and doesn't will be lacking.

LeDofkei BaTeshuva suggests that even according to the second reason, since the mute person can't speak, we shouldn't say that verbalizing in order to make an impression is מעכב/inhibitive.

He also brings (Sha'ar HaTziyun ad. loc. § 143, 144, 146, 150 - 153, 156) those who say a person's atonement is completely dependent on verbal expression of vidui, and without it their teshuva wasn't effective (Minchas Chinuch 364:1). However, if they were shogeg/accidentally negligent or oness/without fault, their teshuva should be effective (Derech HaMelech ad. loc. peirush he'aruch § 2, not like the Minchas Chinuch. Rav Chaim Kanievsky shlita in the margin comments: "ודאי"). Based on this, it would seem someone who is mute, who is clearly an oness, would be fine.

However, the person needs to think the entire vidui text as they would have verbally (LeTeshuvas HaShana p. 106. Rav Chaim Kanievsky in the margin comments: "יפה").

Some go further that if any person performed teshuva in their heart and didn't verbally express vidui, it's still considered teshuva (Yad Ketana ad. loc. § 6. Minchas Chinuch loc. cit. seems to concur in the end), and they receive atonement (Shu"t Beis Avi 2:53). It's just that they didn't fulfill the mitzvah of vidui.

Others say that teshuva and vidui of the heart is enough, (Shu"t Lev Chaim 1:10, 3:136. Beis Elokim Sha'ar HaTefilah Chapter 12. Imros Tehoros Chapter 5), just it's better to express vidui verbally.

Finally, there are those who say that if a person's teshuva was sincere and complete, then the vidui isn't inhibitive (Shu"t Mishneh Sachir Orach Chaim 162:1). As Micha Berger pointed out, immediately once a person thinks in teshuva they considered like they're completely righteous, regardless of their atonement status (Minchas Chinuch loc. cit. Koach HaTeshuva 11:2 points out that this is already explicit in Ohr Zaruah 1:112).

Note: The above author and Rav Chaim Kanievsky both stressed that their presentations of the different opinions are entirely their own and should not be relied upon. A person should always consult their local Orthodox Rabbi.

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Quoting the Rambam again, he actually says something more radical. "כְּשֶׁיַּעֲשֶׂה תְּשׁוּבָה וְיָשׁוּב מֵחֶטְאוֹ חַיָּב לְהִתְוַדּוֹת -- ... when he does teshuvah, he is obligated to confess..."

The mitzvah is vidui (the confession), teshuvah is the context in which vidui would be said.

There is a dispute among acharonim as to whether the Rambam counts among the 613 mitzvos anything that is purely thought. This is part of a wider question about how we can be commanded to think or feel a certain way. The free will involved is certainly different; in the moment, we have very little control over what we believe or feel. It takes weeks to years of preliminary work to be in the right place in the moment.

In either case, Briskers believe that the Rambam does not count mitzvos of thought. R YB Soloveitchik in particular points to this Rambam as one example where he recasts the "maaseh mitzvah" to be an action, saying vidui, even though the chalos, the state-change we intend the mitzvah to cause, is in the heart.

So, it would seem to me that a deaf person cannot do the mitzvah of vidui.

As to whether they can do teshuvah...

Many a Shabbos Shuvah sermon invokes the case of a man who says "Behold you are wedded to me on the condition that I am righteous." The gemara rules (Qiddushin 49b) that even if he was [until then] a rasha gamar (totally wicked person), the marriage is binding. Because he could have had hirhurei teshuvah -- thoughts of repentance. And if so, the condition would be met.

(By which the gemara means means, binding enough to require a gett. If they want to remain married, we would still require a second wedding, because maybe he didn't have that thought. The whole thing is in a safeiq [maybe] state.)

The Alter of Slabodka, and those many rabbis in their sermons, note that even a thought of teshuvah can successfully clean the slate of even the most wicked.

So, it would seem that as long as a person can think, they can do teshuvah.

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