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Why Do We Wear Sneakers on Yom Kippur?

Why Do We Wear Sneakers on Yom Kippur?

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Sneakers, sandals and slippers in the synagogue, oh my! Why on this holiest of days is our footwear so casual?

Well, in the book of Leviticus, the Torah commands us to “afflict” ourselves on Yom Kippur. Why? Two reasons:

  1. On this day, when our connection to G‑d is bared, we are compared to angels, who have no physical needs.
  2. We afflict ourselves to demonstrate the extent of our regret for our past misdeeds.

The rabbis determined that “affliction” means that we are to deny ourselves certain luxuries, including wearing leather footwear. Leather shoes were considered a comfort until recent times, when it became possible to manufacture comfortable shoes of other materials.

(We also afflict ourselves on Tishah B’Av, when we mourn the destruction of the Holy Temples. Leather footwear is not worn on that day either.)

On a mystical level, wearing leather is reminiscent of the primordial sin committed by Adam and Eve, after which G‑d outfitted them in garments made of skins (Genesis 3:21). On Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, we don’t want to do anything that recalls this sin. (Similarly, we also refrain from wearing gold on Yom Kippur, so as not to recall the sin of the Golden Calf.)

So, there is no “custom” to wear sneakers; any synthetic shoe will do. In fact, your sneakers may be made of leather, so check the materials before you wear them on Yom Kippur.

Click here to visit our comprehensive Yom Kippur section.

Best wishes for a sweet new year,

Chani Benjaminson,
Chabad.org

Chani Benjaminson is co-director of Chabad of the South Coast, coordinator of Chabad’s Ask the Rabbi and Feedback departments, and is a member of the editorial staff of Chabad.org.
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Discussion (5)
February 21, 2012
Hey
This is really cool I used your information for my project thanks
Maxie
Sanfransico, California
December 24, 2011
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Anonymous
xm, United States
October 8, 2011
shoes
One should then go barefoot?
Oshias
barcelona, spain
September 17, 2010
Sneakers
I wear sneakers eevery day due to some past injuries to my lower back . Sitting for a long time made me lose complete range of motion. I felt so good that day I forgot to get up to walk & stretch.

If I wear a high heel not a sneaker that is a glorification of the Lord because it is unusual . It is a remembrance of +past memories. The previous comment by HanK Bayer resonates in my soul. Helping your fellow man, being honest, ethical is more important than weatrng shoes or sneakers.
Rivka Nocha
Reston, VA
October 10, 2007
afflicting onesself on yom kippur
The translation in the Hertz chumash says "afflict thy soul" and that means to think of all the people that a Jew has lied to or cheated or stole from or not paid their worker on time, or took advantage of the widow or orphan or a multitude of other things such as renting out an apartment and not providing the service that the tenant is paying for etc. Afflicting one's soul and concience is worse than wearing or not wearing shoes and wearing sneakers is simply another ganevishe way to go around a decision which simply means nothing in the first place...
Hank Bayer
Seagate, New York