The comfort of wearing leather shoes is denied the mourner during shiva. As on Yom Kippur, when leather footwear may not be worn, the stockinged feet or the wearing of soft shoes during bereavement is symbolic of personal mortification and a disregard of vanity and comfort, in order better to concentrate on the deeper meaning of life. Thus, the prophet Ezekiel is told to remove his shoes while he is mourning. This act symbolizes for the Jew the formal acceptance of mourning.
Shoes made of materials other than leather may be worn, and it is not necessary to walk in stockinged feet. Shoes of cloth, reeds, hair, or wood, are permitted so long as they are not covered with leather and the soles are not made of leather. Rubber or synthetic plastic shoes may be worn even if the lace be made of leather, as it is not used to cover the foot. While shoes made of corfam or other imitation leather with rubber soles are theoretically permitted according to Jewish law, the appearance is similar to that of leather and, hence, might mislead people into believing that the mourner is not properly honoring the deceased. Such shoes should, therefore, be avoided if possible.
A pregnant woman, or a woman shortly after delivery, a sick person or one subject to illness because of the cold, certainly one who suffers from ailments of the feet, skin diseases, or one who has chronically weak feet so that he requires the support of structured leather, may wear leather shoes. Even in such cases it is preferable, if possible, not to wear shoes in the presence of those who come to visit during shiva.
One who is permitted to leave the house during shiva for official government business, or must make other important public appearances, may wear leather shoes while outside, but must remove them when he returns home. One who has no minyan at home, and wishes to travel to services, may wear leather shoes in transit, if no other socially acceptable, permissible shoes are available, but must remove them at the synagogue and upon returning home. In all these cases, a bit of earth should be placed inside the leather shoes to keep the bereaved ever mindful that he is in mourning.