Tuesday, August 13, 2019

All That’s Left

August 13th is annually celebrated as “Left Hander’s Day.”

Most Lefties, also known as “southpaws” due to the orientation of baseball stadiums in regard to the sun, are proud of their “condition,” one that “afflicts” about 10% of the world’s population. 8 of 45 U.S. presidents (Garfield, Hoover, Truman, Kennedy, Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Clinton and Obama) were lefties. Lefties have become accustomed to certain common inconveniences: scissors, vegetable peelers and the computer mouse often do not work for lefties; lefty golf clubs and baseball gloves are more expensive and/or harder to obtain (good luck obtaining a lefty catcher glove in a sports equipment store); lefties are practically banned from playing 4/9 baseball positions; pencil sharpeners were always placed on the left side of the blackboard and novelty mugs place the photos to face forward with the handle on the right. Words such as sinister and gauche, both modifiers describing negativity, are connected to the left side (gauche in French means left). For many centuries, people believed that lefties were indeed possessed or developmentally scarred.

Judaism also has much to say about those whose left hand is dominant.

Whenever hands are involved in the performance of a mitzvah, is it performed with the dominant hand, which for most humans, is their right hand, or must it be done with a specific hand irrespective of one’s strength? Jewish law considers the lefty’s “right” as his or her left. So when it comes to holding a wine cup (whether for Kiddush, Havdallah, a wedding, a brit, or to lead the Grace After Meals with a cup of wine), reciting tachanun, (the supplication prayer that follows the Amidah recited leaning on one’s arm), placing a ring on a bride’s finger, breaking the glass at the conclusion of a wedding, tying the arm tefillin, waving the four species on Sukkot, and leaning on Passover, there are discussions which hand lefties use, their objective right hand, or their subjective right hand, i.e. the left hand.

Jewish law also invalidates lefty priests from performing the public Temple service (Talmud B’chorot 45b). The rabbis debate if this is because of an inherent disqualification (the context of the Talmudical passage above), or because the lefty does not “have” a right hand, which is required to perform the Temple service.

If you are left handed, enjoy the day.

If you are not, wish a happy Left Handers Day to those who are. They will identify themselves – with their left hand, of course!

NOTE: As with all Treats dealing with halacha (points of Jewish law), one should consult one's local rabbi for practical application.

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