Menachem Mendel

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Halichot Olam-Parashat Hayyei Sarah

For this week’s parashah the Ben Ish Ḥai continued his discussion about the laws of tefillin. (here) One issue that he addressed was on which hand a left-handed person should lay his tefillin. The accepted halakhah is that a person person who does everything with his left hand should lay tefillin on his right hand, which in some rabbinic sources is called his left hand, since “left hand” meant the weaker hand. Yosef Karo wrote the following in the Shulḥan Arukh OH 27:6:

ואטר יד ימינו אם עושה כל מלאכתו בשמאלו מניח בשמאלו שהוא ימין של כל אדם.

A left-handed person who does everything with his left hand lays [tefillin] on his left hand, which is the right hand of everyone else.

After quoting the Shulḥan Arukh, the Ben Ish Ḥai wrote the following:

[הרב] המקובל מהר”×™ צמח ×–”ל בספר זר זהב האריך והרבה בראיות דאיטר יד ימינו אינו רשאי לשנות משאר כל אדם שלא לשנות הסדור העליון…על כן העליתי…דלעולם איטר יד יעשה כסברת מרן ×–”ל וכל הפוסקים הפשטנים דס”ל אם עושה כל מלאכתו בשמאל ×™× ×™×— תש”×™ בשמאלו שהוא ימין כל אדם ויתפלל בתפילין ×–×” אך אחר התפלה ילבש תפילין בשמאל כל אדם ולא יברך עליהם בשם ומלכות אלא יהרהר שם ומלכות בלבו ויקרא ק”ש בלא ברכות ויכוין לצאת ×™”×— סברת מהרי”×¥.

In the book Zer Zahav the Rabbi and Kabbalist Yaakov Tzemaḥ wrote at length and brought much evidence that a left-handed person is not permitted to behave differently from other people and to change the upper order…Therefore I raised…that a left-handed person should always follow Maran’s (Rabbi Yosef Karo) opinion and that of all of the straightforward halakhists who are of the opinion that if one does everything with his left hand he should lay tefillin on his left hand, which is the right hand of everyone else. He should pray with these tefillin, but after prayers he should wear tefillin on the left-hand of everyone else without a blessing that includes God’s name and kingship, rather, he should think about God’s name and kingship in his heart, read the Shema without blessings and intend to fulfill the opinion of Rabbi Yaakov Tzemah.

Rabbi Yaakov Sofer in his Kaf Ha-Ḥayyim (OH 27:31) also discussed this opinion:


In Halichot Olam Rav Ovadiah rejected the acceptance of a Kabbalistic teaching over an explicit halakhah and said the following about the Ben Ish Ḥai’s ruling.

ובמחכ”ת אין דבריו נכונים להלכה, דלא שייך לומר כאן שסברת המקובלים תכריע, מאחר שדברי מהר”×™ צמח הם נגד הש”ס והפוסקים, והויא סברא יחידא שאין לחוש לה כלל. וכ”ש שהאר”×™ לא כתב בזה כלל, ורק מהר”×™ צמח חידש סברא זו, בודאי שאין לזוז מפסק מרן ×–”ל.

With all due respect to his Torah, his words are not correct according to the halakhah. It is not appropriate to say here that the Kabbalist’s opinion is decisive, since the words of Rabbi Yaakov Tzemaḥ contradict the Talmud and later halakhic authorities. It is a lone opinion that should be ignored. All the more so since the Ari (Rabbi Isaac Luria) did not write about this at all, and it is only Rabbi Yaakov Tzemaḥ who came up with this opinion, of course we should not deviate from Maran’s (Rabbi Yosef Karo) opinion z”l.

According to Rav Ovadiah, when the Kabbalah contradicts halakhah, the halakhah wins out. For a discussion of the relationship in the writings of Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef to the Kabbalah see here (Hebrew) and Benny Lau’s book on Rav Ovadiah, pp. 269-324.

2 Responses to “Halichot Olam-Parashat Hayyei Sarah”

  1. 1

    There must be a typo here. Everyone is saying to put on the left?

  2. 2
    Menachem Mendel:


    Thanks for point it out, I clarified that “left-hand” means the weaker hand, i.e. the right hand of a left-handed person.




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