Q. I am left-handed and this caused me problems at school many years ago, where they tried to force me to use my right hand and in fact the teacher hit me with her ruler if she caught me writing with my left hand. I just wondered if there was a Jewish angle on the issue.
A. Very much so. From Biblical times onwards there appears to have been a feeling that the right hand was more important. Taking a few examples almost at random, Jacob called his youngest son Benjamin, “son of the right hand” (Gen. 35:18). He put his right hand on Ephraim’s head (Gen. 48:14). Batsheva sat at Solomon’s right hand (I Kings 2:19).
The Psalmist says of God, “Because He is at my right hand, I shall not be moved” (Psalm 16:8). The famous oath says, “If I forget you, Jerusalem, let my right hand wither” (Psalm 137:5). In a metaphorical fashion, God is said to have a right hand; “Your right hand, O Lord, is glorious” (Ex. 156).
Halachah likewise attached greater significance to the right hand because it was regarded as the stronger hand. The wedding ring is placed on the first finger of the right hand. The mezuzah is placed on the right-hand doorpost. Tefillin are placed by the right hand (the stronger) on the left arm.
The prejudice against the left hand led the Kabbalah to believe that the sitra achra – the other (i.e. evil) side, was sitra smola, the left side. Obviously this prejudice was found in many cultures; the Latin word “sinister”, symbolic of hidden evil, literally means “left”.
However, Jewish tradition must not be used to justify well-meaning but unwise attempts to force children out of left-handedness, whether by smacking them with a ruler or otherwise. The Jewish rule is clear: if a person is left-handed, that, for them, is their stronger hand, and the stronger hand in that case is used to place tefillin on the weaker arm, the right one.
In Judaism, therefore, those who are left-handed are not regarded as left out.