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Pass the cheese spread, it's time for revolution.

by David Holzel

It was during the 1960s, that time of great social ferment, that my left-handed consciousness was raised. It began when my parents gave me a copy of "The Left-Handed Book" by James T. de Kay, a tongue-in-cheek radical manifesto that traced the history of discrimination against southpaws.

The Latin word for "right" is dexter, I learned. The word for "left" is sinister. My eyes were opened to the institutional bias against us: pots and pans with lips suited only for right-handers, the impossibility of playing a saxophone left-handed and the menace of operating certain power saws.
In the spirit of Left Is Beautiful, the book assured me that we are more artistic than right-handers, who don't need special scissors to cut a clean line. And in a call for solidarity, I was directed to "develop a taste for Borden's Cheese Spread, one of the few products with a tear strip that works for left-handers as well as right."

Like all liberation movements, this one included more than a little wishful thinking. The sad fact is that although Paul McCartney is left handed, so is Ringo Starr -- and John Lennon was right-handed.

 
As a Jew, I belong to a double minority. Until recently, I found solace with the Hebrew language which, unlike English, I can write without getting blotches of ink on my hand because it is always in front of what I'm writing. And it has always seemed to me that, like lawyers, artists and rabbis, a disproportionate number of left-handers are Jews.

After consulting neurologists and anthropologists, it appears that I have been weaving fantasy. There is no proof that we lefties comprise more than 10 percent of the Jewish population -- the same as our percentage in the world at large.

  A low blow to left-handers came a few years ago from University of British Columbia psychologist Stanley Coren. It was his widely contested assertion that left-handers have a shorter life expectancy than right-handers -- because of accidents and a weaker immune system.

Dr. Coren, who is Jewish and right-handed, told me that traditional Judaism -- despite thousands of years of persecution -- treats its left-handers with the same disdain as other cultures do. Left-handers are the Jews' Jews.

The medieval codifier Rambam, for instance, drew up a list of blemishes that disqualified a priest from serving in the Temple in Jerusalem. Along with imperfections such as being blind, lame and lisping is being left-handed.

What's more, says Dr. Coren, the yetzer hara, Judaism's evil inclination, is associated with the left side, while its opposite number, the yetzer hatov, is based on the right.

The bias against left-handers has prehistoric origins, he believes.

"The early theory of disease was that it is caused by a demon. For the average right-hander the left hand does not work very well -- it must be because of a demon. So everyone who is left-handed must be in league with the devil. It's a universal belief."

The Jews' Jews shall
build
and be rebuilt.

But as Zionism sought to eradicate the image of the passive Jew, I wish to banish the ghetto mentality of my co-handists and replace it with a new breed of proud, fighting left-handers.

Our model is the biblical book of Judges, wherein the tribe of Benjamin is described as disproportionately left handed. In one episode, a left-hander named Ehud took gifts to the king of Moab, who had conquered the Israelites. With his left hand, Ehud pulled out a dagger and killed the king, allowing the Israelites to regain their land. The king's guards assumed Ehud was right-handed and didn't think to check for a weapon on the other side.

Another time, 700 left-handed Benjaminites slew 40,000 soldiers drawn from the rest of the 12 tribes in two days of fighting. The slaughter might have continued if the hand of God hadn't intervened.

No record survives on which hand that was.

 

Hand photo-art by Damon Hart-Davis. Hand gif from Barry's Clip Art Server.


What's Left?

The Left-Handed Advantage 

Book of Judges, chapters 3 and 20

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On Stanley Coren
Left-Handed Tour
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