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For tachanun, al cheit, twice in selach lanu etc, we bang on our heart. My question is: if someone has Situs inversus, a condition where the heart is on the right side of the body instead of the left, would they bang on their right side (because that's where their heart is), or their left (because since nearly all Jews have it on their left, we don't look at his body personally, he just follows the Jewish custom to bang on the left)?

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    I think I saw this discussed in one of Raabi J DavId Bleich's books. – Bruce James Aug 24 '14 at 10:39
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Monica Cellio Aug 25 '14 at 19:54
  • Though my initial thought was that we go by rov here, these are such personal prayers that the individual deserves more attention. Good question. – Charles Koppelman Aug 26 '14 at 18:46
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In SA OC 607 the Magen Avraham brings two reasons for this custom:

1) The Ari Z"L says that one should pound on their chest

2) A Medrish Kohelet that says "We bang on our hearts to show that that it (the heart) is what lead us astray"

Now I think both sources are expressing the same idea BUT in this case perhaps we can say that -

According to the ARI Z"L then someone with Situs Inversus can bang on the left side like everyone else.

According to the Medrish then one should bang on the side the heart is on.

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    By that logic, according to the Ari anyone can bang on the right if they want. – Double AA Aug 26 '14 at 16:58
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    @DoubleAA That is correct. and according to the Medrish perhaps we should all get chest x-rays before Yom Kippur to make sure we score a direct hit ! I think they both are saying the same thing in spirit and the idea was to add a deed to help make the vidui more meaningful. I think we would both agree that it is more important to understand what you are saying and be sincere in your vidui than what side we "klop" on. – eramm Aug 26 '14 at 17:04
  • OK, I checked up that source in the Shulchan Aruch Harav. He first quotes what the midrash says, and then says: And some bang on the chest for the reason known to them. So there is definitely a difference, except that in an ordinary case, what would the difference be? Being that he writes that some have the custom, it seems that some ordinary people do it differently-i.e. on the chest. I think it means the middle of the chest. – user613 Aug 27 '14 at 21:41
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My wife heard a drasha from a chasidic source that may apply. The left side is considered din and the right side is considered Rachamim. By banging on the left side of the chest we are "suppressing" din and asking for rachamim.

I checked the Art Scroll machzor, the Art Scroll daily (Hebrew only and with translation), and the Koren (Rabbi Sacks) daily siddurim. They all say

"Bang the left side of the chest with the right hand."

Apparently they hold that it does not involve where the heart is located.

  • Or perhaps the siddurim just don't give the instructions for those few people with situs inversus? – Scimonster Oct 5 '14 at 7:22
  • @Scimonster If it mattered they would have said "bang on your heart". – sabbahillel Oct 5 '14 at 12:44
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Here is what comes to mind: Someone who is a lefty puts his Tefillin on his right arm, even though his Tefillin will not face the heart. Moreover, Nishmas Avraham Orach Chaim 27:1 brings down that someone who is right handed and who has dextocardia (heart on right side of the chest) still puts his Tefillin on the left arm, and the fact that his Tefillin doesn't face his heart does not preclude this person from putting it on his left hand.

Since we see that by Tefillin, the placement of the heart does not effect the outcome of where one puts on Tefillin, we can possibly extrapolate that by the Al Cheit's and matters of the like, the heart placement does not matter and should bang like someone with a normal heart position.

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    Why would you think heart placement and not handedness would be relevant to Tefillin? – Double AA Aug 25 '14 at 1:01
  • Because included in the Halacha of putting on Tefillin includes "...so that when the arm is extended downwards, the Tefillin will be facing the heart". – Bochur613 Aug 25 '14 at 1:06
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    Maybe the reason a lefty places the Tefillin on his right arm is because the דרשה from the פסוק of "ידכה - יד כהה" (weak hand) is more important than having it opposite the heart, even if the Gemara is referring to which hand to put it on... – SZH Aug 25 '14 at 1:45
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    I don't feel this answer answer's my question, because by tefillin, the mitzvah is to put it on your arm, the significance (significance-but not the mitzva) is that it corresponds to the heart. But by banging the heart, the minhag/halacha is to bang the heart, so it might be different. – user613 Aug 25 '14 at 12:48
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    @SZH You're probably right since yadcoh is a limud from a possuk, similar to that we skip over shel rosh even if we take it out first because of a limud from a possuk as discussed in shulchan aruch (definitely of the alter rebbe, not sure about other one) – user613 Aug 25 '14 at 12:57

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