During the last two centuries there has been a methodological struggle over teaching the deaf. Do deaf people learn to communicate by means of gestures and signs (the "manual method") or is it important for them to learn speech and lip-reading (the "oral method")? In the second half of the nineteenth century, many schools for the deaf made the transition from the manual to the oral method, which the Milan conference of teachers of the deaf decided to promote in 1880. In this conversion, Jews played an important role. Yet there appears to be a clear link between their efforts and Jewish tradition, including its perception of the deaf. © 2008 The Author(s).