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Question: The Kitzur Shulchan Aruch states that a person should put on his right shoe first but tie his left shoe first. The reason is that the right side is generally considered more important except when it comes to tying (since tefillin are wrapped on the left arm). Perhaps, though, the right is more important even for tying and tefillin is an exception since we can only wrap tefillin with one hand (and thus halacha dictates that we use our right one). We tie our shoes with both hands, though, so perhaps it makes sense to tie our right shoe first.

Y. Malinsky

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Answer: The ruling you cite is recorded in Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 2:4). It really is a compromise of two views in the Gemara (Shabbos 61a) – one requiring that a person put on his right shoe first and the other requiring that he put on his left shoe first. R. Nachman b. Yitzchak concludes, “One who fears heaven should satisfy both [opinions],” citing the practice of Mar b. Rabina, who “put on his right shoe first, but did not tie it, and then put on his left shoe and tied it and then returned to his right shoe and tied it.”

The Aruch HaShulchan (Orach Chayim 2:8) notes that this halacha is not found in the works of such Rishonim as the Rif, Rambam, Rosh, Mordechai, and Smag. This omission, argues the Aruch HaShulchan, is based on the Gemara’s conclusion, which quotes R. Ashi saying, “I have watched R. Kahana who was not particular in this matter.” Nonetheless, writes the Aruch HaShulchan, we should follow the Tur (and Mechaber and Rema), who records the practice of R. Nachman b. Yitzchak as normative halacha.

Let’s examine several sources on the primacy of the right side over the left. The Mishnah (Yoma 43b) states that kohanim would walk on the right side of the altar’s ramp in the Beis HaMikdash when ascending and descending it. It also states (Sotah 15b) that the kohen who collected earth from the Heichal to put into the water given to the sotah turned to his right to take this earth when he entered the Heichal. He turned specifically in this direction, says the Gemara (Yoma 45a), because of the principle, “Any turn you make shall be to the right.”

The Gemara (Zevachim 62b) infers this principle from II Chronicles 4:4: “Omed al shnayyim asar bakar, shelosha ponim tzofona, u’shlosha ponim yama, u’shlosha ponim negba, u’shlosha ponim mizracha v’ha’yam omed aleihem – [the pool of Solomon] stood upon 12 oxen, three facing north, three facing west, three facing south, and three facing east, the pool was on top of them.” Rashi explains that a person turning in these directions will constantly be turning rightward.

Based on this Gemara, the Rambam (Hilchot Tefillah 14:13) rules that when the kohanim turn to face the people for the Priestly Blessing (and when they conclude and turn away), they should turn to the right.

A different Gemara derives the primacy of the right from Leviticus 14:16: “Ve’taval ha’kohen et etzba’o ha’yemanit – And the kohen shall dip using his right forefinger.” This Gemara is concerned with the primacy of the right while the earlier one we quoted is concerned with turning to the right.

More conclusive to our question is the following Gemara (Yoma 58b-59a) concerning a kohen sprinkling sacrificial blood toward the Golden Altar. The Gemara wonders if he should do so with a turn of his hand or with “a turn of his leg.” The question is whether turning to the right applies only when the entire body (“a turn of the leg,” which causes the entire body to turn) is involved in an action or even when just a movement of the hand is involved.

The Chatam Sofer (Responsa, Orach Chayyim 187) rules that even when a matter only involves a turn of the hand, the turn should be toward the right. Thus, for example, we light Chanukah candles by starting on the left and moving toward the right.

Tying is the one exception to the rule that the right comes first. We wrap tefillin on our left arm and tie our left shoe first. (The Mishnah Berurah [Orach Chayim 2:6], however, writes that a lefty should wrap tefillin on his right hand and tie his right shoe first [but put on his left shoe first].)

May it be G-d’s will that the redemption come soon and so we can experience the glory of our Holy Temple in Jerusalem.

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Rabbi Yaakov Klass is chairman of the Presidium of the Rabbinical Alliance of America; rav of Congregation K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush, Brooklyn; and Torah Editor of The Jewish Press. He can be contacted at yklass@jewishpress.com and Rabbi@igud.us.