Right and Left: Wrong

I saw this posted on Facebook last year and it raised my eyebrow:

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This spread like wildfire around conservative circles, but unfortunately its an oversimplification based on a misunderstanding.

The original Hebrew text of Ecclesiastes 10:2 is “לֵב חָכָם לִימִינוֹ, וְלֵב כְּסִיל לִשְׂמֹאלוֹ” (lev hakam lemino ve lev kesil lesmolo), or “wise heart to right, and foolish heart to left.” The historical meaning of right and left to the Jewish nation is more complex than the intructions to World of Warcraft, but if you’re really interested, a good summary is at the Jewish Virtual Library; long story short, from a biblical standpoint, the right has always been the place of honor or wisdom.

We see this concept reflected in many New Testament references (Matthew 25:33 states “And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left,”) but even biblically the analogy is not consistently used. In Mark 10:37, two presumptuous disciples asked Jesus, “Grant unto us that we may sit, one on thy right hand, and the other on thy left hand, in thy glory.” [1] Thus in this reference, both right and left were considered places of privilege and esteem.

A further disconnect of the biblical usage with modern politics arises when we realize that current usage of left and right began with the French revolution; Wikipedia states that “The terms ‘left’ and ‘right’ were not used to refer to political ideology but only to seating in the legislature.”

Unfortunately, vast numbers of people who see an image like this will say “Oh, wow, that’s cool, I never knew that,” and spread the message far and wide without bothering to question its validity.

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It’s hard for me to independently verify everything I see, and these days elections are won and lost with the votes of people who don’t even make the effort. We deserve better.

The Old Wolf has spoken.


[1] “It was regarded as a boorish lack of etiquette to walk on the right of one’s teacher; but when he was accompanied by two, he walked in the middle and the greater of his companions walked on the right (Yoma 37a).”

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