Left Foot, Right Foot

Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow

Lefties have it hard in a world that is made for righties. Starting in school, students encounter desks that are made for righties. There are one-piece desks where the student enters the desk on the left side and is able to use the right side for writing. There are ergonomic scissors that are a pleasure to use, assuming the user is a righty. Spiral notebooks and ring binders are generally made for righties. The spirals and rings will not get in the way of righties. Unfortunately, lefties will have to write awkwardly to use those products. Even kitchen gadgets such as can openers are often made for righties. In professional baseball, being a lefty is generally an advantage. That is unless the player is a catcher; there are no lefty catchers in Major League Baseball. (The reason for that is debatable) The good news is that this article can be read by either lefties or righties. There is a related phenomenon to left-handedness, and that is left-footedness. Most people have a preferential foot. If someone needs to kick a ball or squash a bug, generally one particular foot will be preferred. Indeed, the Gemara bases one halacha of mezuzah on this fact. The mezuzah should be affixed to the right doorpost. The Gemara explains the reason for this halacha is that a person will reach the right doorpost first. Since most people are right-footed, they will enter a room by putting their right foot in the room first. Left-handedness and left-footedness do not go hand in hand or hand in foot. True, most left-handed people are, in fact, left-footed. Still, people can be left-footed and right-handed or vice versa. This has relevance to the laws of chalitzah. Chalitzah is performed in the tragic circumstance where a married man dies without children. The widow (Yevama) needs to remove a shoe off of her deceased husband’s brother’s (Yavam) foot to permit her to remarry. There are very specific halachos relating to exactly how this shoe removal or chalitzah is performed. The Gemara is quite clear that the Yevama must remove a shoe off the Yavam’s right foot. (Yevamos 104) According to the vast majority of poskim, the use of the Yavam’s left foot will invalidate the chalitzah even ex post facto. It should be noted that although the Yevama’s right hand is preferred for chalitzah, she may, in fact, use her left hand or even her teeth to remove the Yavam’s shoe. For the majority of the world, the use of the Yavam’s right foot is mandated for chalitzah. The question arises, what if the Yavam is left-footed? Should the Yevama remove the shoe off of his right foot or left foot? Not surprisingly, there are four opinions! The Tur suggests the Yevama remove the shoe of the Yavam’s left foot. There is a precedent for this in the laws of tefillin. Righties put tefillin on their left arm because the Torah mandates that tefillin be placed on the weaker arm. Lefties place tefillin on their right arm because that is their weaker arm. So, too, by chalitzah, where the Torah mandates the right foot be used, a left-footed Yavam should use his left foot because that is his stronger foot. However, the Yam Shel Shlomo and others strongly disagree. By tefillin, the Torah mandates that the weaker arm be used. By chalitzah, the Torah did not mandate that the stronger foot be used. The Torah simply identified the foot to be used as the right one. Who says it has to be the stronger one? Therefore, others suggest that a left-footed Yavam should use his right foot. The right foot should be universally used regardless of which foot is stronger. Still, the Ramban has serious reservations about this logic. Perhaps by definition, a right foot is the stronger foot. This is based on the fact that the right foot is the stronger foot in the vast majority of the populace. Still, the Torah doesn’t say for chalitzah one should use the stronger foot. The Torah says to use the right foot, which is understood to be stronger. The upshot is that a left-footed Yavam can’t use either foot! He can’t use his left foot because the Torah says to use the right one. He can’t use his right foot, because his right foot is dissimilar to everyone else’s right foot. He has no halachic right foot. Hence, a left-footed Yavam cannot be part of the chalitzah ceremony. The fourth option suggested by the Rashba is for the Yevama to remove a shoe off both of the left-footed Yavam’s feet! Indeed, the Rema says that this is the accepted custom. However, this option raises yet another issue. According to some, both shoes must be removed simultaneously otherwise she will need to perform chalitzah on every living brother-in-law. This is based on the concept of chalitzah pesulah, which is beyond the scope of this article. (As noted earlier, there is certainly no issue of the Yevama using her left hand to do chalitzah. She therefore may use both of her hands to be able to remove both shoes simultaneously.) What is the halacha for a left-footed person with regards to mezuzah? The Gemara says that the right doorpost is chosen because an individual uses his right foot to enter the room first. Should the halacha be different for a left-footed person? The Mordechai says it should not. A mezuzah protects everyone in the home and not only the homeowner. The placement of the mezuzah should follow the majority of residents in the household. The implication is that for a left-footed person who lives alone, or in the event of an unlikely household where everyone is left-footed, the mezuzah should be placed on the left doorpost. The Shach (YD 289:4) finds this suggestion untenable and clearly says that the mezuzah should always be affixed to the right doorpost, and he adds that such is the custom. Some suggest that Rebbe Akiva Eiger, the Taz, and the Beis Yosef disagree with the Shach. They all quote the Mordechai that one should follow the majority of residents without further comment. This leads some to conclude that they all would agree with the clear implication that when the majority of residents are left-footed, the mezuzah should be affixed to the left doorpost. Even if they actually do disagree with the Shach, the Shach himself points out that the custom is clearly to always affix the mezuzah to the right doorpost.

Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow is a rebbe at Yeshiva Ateres Shimon in Far Rockaway. In addition, Rabbi Sebrow leads a daf yomi chaburah at Eitz Chayim of Dogwood Park in West Hempstead, NY. He can be contacted at ASebrow@ gmail.com.

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