I’m not sure this subject qualifies as a chronicle of crisis, but in the interest of all the people affected by this syndrome, I am hoping you will view my letter as worthy of publication.
I am B”H a mom and grandmother and so now have the leisure of observing nuances that may be missed in the course of child-rearing by an overwhelmed mother.
As I sit at the Shabbos table and delight in my extended family, I am reminded of my childhood and recall my younger sister being endlessly badgered by our father to eat with her right hand. I remember thinking at the time that it was a bad-luck habit my poor sister had picked up and apparently got stuck with, since she seemed to revert to using her left hand again and again, though she had to know she’d be scolded for doing so.
It is none other than my son-in-law who triggers my déjà vu recollection, by his insistence that his young son eat with his right hand, even as my grandchild demonstrates favoring his left.
My sister today blames many of her ills on the trauma she suffered as a result of being hounded in regard to her left-handedness. She is convinced that her natural inclination being messed with has left her physically and mentally impaired. She says, for instance, that her entire left side suffers from weakness and is more prone to achiness, pain and injury.
My point is that there seems to be quite a number of successful individuals who are by nature left-handed and that favoring left over right or vice-versa is not a choice. Education and a better understanding of the makeup and nature of the human being has enlightened our generation, but that nagging preference for right-handedness is still prevalent — especially when it comes to our own children, as indicated by my otherwise astute son-in-law.
Any light you can shed on this subject would be much appreciated and I’m certain would serve to further educate young parents who turn to your weekly column.
A Concerned Grandma
There is no question that throughout history favoritism has leaned towards right-handedness across the board. To begin with, a left-handed Kohen was disqualified from serving in the Bais HaMikdash for his left-handedness was considered a blemish that would interfere in the carrying out of specific duties.
Among our people, even the father who would not necessarily be bothered by his child’s tendency of favoring his left over his right hand still needs to ascertain the actuality of such an inclination early on due to the effect this will eventually have on his son’s performance of certain mitzvos. Some examples: the placement of Tefillin (always on the weaker hand); the order of the three steps taken upon the start and conclusion of the shemoneh esrei (left-handers starts with the right versus left foot); the way the lulav and esrog would be held; etc.
In addition, ambidexterity (equal proficiency of left and right) needs to be ruled out or confirmed in order to make the proper determination as far as religious rites are concerned.
Statistically, about ten percent of the population is believed to be left-handed. In view of the fact that nine U.S. presidents fit the bill (James Garfield, Herbert Hoover, Harry Truman, John F. Kennedy, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, George HW Bush, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama), there may be something to the test results arrived at in one study at St. Lawrence University in New York that found higher IQs (over 140) in left-handed people.
The fact is that some of the world’s greatest talents and intriguing personalities happen to be members of the left-handers league. To mention just a few: Queen Elizabeth; Queen Victoria; Winston Churchill; Julius Caesar; Napoleon; Alexander the Great; Benjamin Franklin; Mark Twain; Albert Einstein; Charlie Chaplin; Jerry Seinfeld; Art Garfunkel; Paul Simon; Danny Kaye; John Lennon; Dick Van Dyke; Paul McCartney; Vincent Van Gogh; Bach; Rachmaninoff; Sandy Koufax; Babe Ruth; Benjamin Netanyahu; Nelson Rockefeller; Colin Powell; Oprah Winfrey and Michael Bloomberg.
The following are some fascinating tidbits on the topic of left-handedness: Women are more likely than men to be right-handed. The left-handed may be more allergy or asthma prone.
Older mothers (past 40 at her child’s birth) are much more likely to have a left-handed child than a woman in her 20s. Left-handers have a flair for math and architecture, while right-handers tend to be verbally talented. Left-handedness runs in families, as manifested by the British royals, which include the left-handed Queen Mother, Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Charles, and Prince William. Left-handers are seen as pushier, more dominant, manipulative, and self-centered individuals (the makings of a good politician).
Research links an increased chance of being left-handed with trauma during gestation or birth. Connections between the right and left sides of the brain are faster in the left-handed, making them more efficient at using both sides of the brain more easily and in dealing with multiple stimuli.
Stuttering and dyslexia occur more often in left-handers (particularly when they are forced to change their writing hand as a child).
Last but not the least intriguing: Four of the five original designers of the Macintosh computer were left-handed.
In the course of gathering data for this column, I puzzled over being unable to unearth the trait of left-handedness in any of our eminent tzaddikim — and was duly informed that such detail was considered too insignificant to highlight or pay heed to.
The consensus is that a parent should not unduly force a child to use his or her right hand when it becomes apparent that s/he has an innate propensity for left-handedness. It is for sure a shame to create friction between parent and child over something the latter has no control over.
And, Grandma, if I were you, I would stay out of it where my son-in-law is concerned. If your daughter is a JP reader, she can show him this column.
* * * * *
We encourage women and men of all ages to send in their personal stories via email to firstname.lastname@example.org or by mail to Rachel/Chronicles, c/o The Jewish Press, 4915 16th Ave., Brooklyn, N.Y. 11204. If you wish to make a contribution and help agunot, your tax-deductible donation should be sent to The Jewish Press Foundation. Please make sure to specify that it is to help agunot, as the foundation supports many worthwhile causes.