Here's a great tip:
Enter your email address and we'll send you our weekly magazine by email with fresh, exciting and thoughtful content that will enrich your inbox and your life, week after week. And it's free.
Oh, and don't forget to like our facebook page too!
Contact Us

Jews and Shoes

Jews and Shoes

 Email

Shoes have always played a role in history and culture. Everyone knows the story of Cinderella and the glass slipper, or the tale of Puss and Boots. Remember Dorothy's magic ruby shoes in the Wizard of Oz?

Language is littered with references to shoes. We wait for the other shoe to drop, or try to experience life in another person's shoes. One has big shoes to fill when he takes on a new challenge. There is the phrase, "if the shoe fits, wear it."

Shoe design can indicate a person's wealth and social position, as reflected in the quality of material or the complexity of the workmanship used to make shoes. Shoes can show membership in a particular group, like cowboy boots or motorcycle boots. High heels make a social statement, as do a sensible pair of Oxfords. Celebrities are known for the number of pairs they own.

What one does with shoes also makes a statement. For example throwing shoes at someone is an insult.

What about Jews and shoes? The Song of Songs 7:2 reads, "How beautiful are thy feet in sandals." Shoes were considered to be so important that Rabbi Akiva instructed his son Joshua not to go barefoot. They were signs of sensuousness, comfort, luxury and pleasure.

The Talmud (Shabbat 129a) declares: "A person should sell the roof beams of his house to buy shoes for his feet."

According to the Code of Jewish law (the Shulchan Aruch), when putting on shoes, the right shoe goes on first. When tying shoes. the left shoe is tied first. When shoes are taken off, the left shoe comes off first. This custom is based on the belief that the right is more important than the left. Therefore, the right foot should not remain uncovered while the left is covered. Shoes should be tied from the left since knotted teffilin is worn on the left arm.

Since the tying of shoes is a reminder of the tying of teffilin, for those who are left handed, and who place the teffilin on their right arm, the right shoe should be tied first rather than the left, so that the tying of shoes matches the tying of teffilin.

There are times in Jewish life when the wearing of shoes is forbidden. When the priestly blessing is given in traditional synagogues, the kohanim remove their shoes outside the sanctuary before their hands are washed by the Levites and before giving the priestly blessing. Removing the shoes avoids the possibility of embarrassment in the event that one of the kohanim has a torn shoe lace and remains behind to tie his shoes while his brethren are blessing the congregation.

There is also a custom amongst certain chassidic groups to remove their (leather) shoes before approaching the gravesite of a holy person. This tradition goes back to the command to Moses when he approached the Burning Bush (Exodus 3:5), "Remove your shoes from your feet, for the place on which you stand is holy ground"

On the historic day of mourning, Tisha b'Av, Jews are prohibited from wearing leather shoes. The same prohibition applies on Yom Kippur to show remorse and penance.

In the Book of Isaiah (20:2), Isaiah is commanded to remove his sandals as a sign of mourning. Shoes also play a part in the mourning period after a death. During the period of shiva, the seven days of mourning, leather shoes may not be worn. In Talmudic times, both the pall bearers and the mourners went barefoot.

If the support of a leather shoe is necessary for medical reasons, the preservation of health overrules the prohibition. If someone has to leave the house, leather shoes may be worn, but they should be removed when the person returns home for shiva. If the mourner is going to synagogue for services during shiva, leather may also be worn, though the shoes should be removed at the synagogue.

In all of these exceptions, an unusual practice is required. When the wearing of leather is permitted, a little earth or pebble is placed in the shoes to remind the wearer that they are in mourning.

The question of shoes also arises in Jewish burials. The body of the deceased may be wearing shoes, but only if the shoes are made of linen or cotton. Most Jews are buried in a shroud which covers the feet, so the issue never arises.

Of all the Jewish customs involving shoes, the most unusual and fascinating is that of the laws of halitzah. Going back to Deuteronomy (25:5-9), when a married man dies childless, leaving an unmarried brother, the brother is obligated to marry his widowed sister-in-law. The rationale for what was called a levirate marriage was to continue the name, the assets and the soul of the deceased brother through the subsequent marriage and children.

Reference to this practice is also found in the Book of Ruth 3:4 when Naomi instructs Ruth to go to the granary at night, lie next to Boaz and to uncover his feet.

The brother could also opt to release her to marry someone else. This is the ceremony of halitzah. The widow and her brother-in-law appear before a rabbinical court, a beth din, consisting of five members. The brother-in-law wears on his right foot what is known as the halitzah shoe. This special shoe is made from the skin of a kosher animal and consists of two pieces sown together with leather threads. It must not contain metal and is designed like a moccasin with long straps.

The widow declares that her brother-in-law refuses to marry her, and he confirms it as directed in Deuteronomy (25:7 and 9). She then places her left hand on his calf, undoes the laces with her right hand, removes the shoe from his foot, throws it to the ground, and spits on the ground in front of him. The beth din then recites the formula releasing all obligations.

The shoe is a symbol of the transaction. This tradition is part of the color and romance of Jewish tradition and life.

It is also part of the spiritual tradition. The Kabbalists describe the body as "the shoe of the soul." Just as shoes protect feet from the dirt, so too does the soul require the body as a shoe to protect it during its journey in the physical world.

Lorne E. Rozovsky (1943-2013) was a lawyer, author, educator, health management consultant, and an inquisitive Jew.

This article is based on the author’s article which originally appeared in The Jewish News, Richmond, Virginia.
© Copyright, all rights reserved. If you enjoyed this article, we encourage you to distribute it further, provided that you comply with Chabad.org's copyright policy.
 Email
Join the Discussion
Sort By:
32 Comments
1000 characters remaining
phamlett June 22, 2013

A real chalitza shoe is at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto Reply

Judy Freedman Hashmonaim, Israel October 7, 2012

Cohenim in Shul As the wife of a Cohen and BH mother of sons, I know that before prayers they loosen their shoes, then wash hands. At the appropriate time, they just slip off their shoes without touching them, give the blessing (duchen), and then slip them back on. After shul they fasten the shoes properly. We live in Israel, so this is a daily procedure for them. Chag sameach! Reply

Leslie Green London, England October 6, 2012

Shoes As a child I was taught that one must never touch their shoes in shul! The Cohanim in my shul take their shoes off and put them on again in shul? Is this allowed? Reply

Peter Spiro Stevenson, WA February 2, 2012

The soles and balls of the feet The shoes are like a leather sack for the sole and the balls of the feet.

Unsheathed, the soles burn from the hot sand and the balls become brittle. The result of this is that it knocks one off his pedestal.

You can buy new shoes but can you replace the feet you were born with?

So buckle up those sandal straps and keep the leather sack that guards and protects the sole and the balls from the burning heat of the hot sand.

Peace to all. And: amen. Reply

cheap bras xm, United States December 24, 2011

cheap bras Amazing write-up! This could aid plenty of people find out more about this particular issue. Are you keen to integrate video clips coupled with these? It would absolutely help out. Your conclusion was spot on and thanks to you; I probably won’t have to describe everything to my pals. I can simply direct them here! Reply

Patsy MacLeod Lubbock, TX May 18, 2011

halitzah I loved this article....especially the part: "Just as shoes protect feet from the dirt, so too does the soul require the body as a shoe and the shoe is the protection the soul needs." Beatific article. I enjoyed it immensely. Thank you! Reply

Lori merion March 6, 2011

wearing other's shoes Is it forbidden to wear an other person's shoes, or does this only apply to the shoes left behind by the deceased? Reply

Susan Levitsky February 24, 2011

leather shoes and mourning If a mourner, who wears leather shoes to synagogue, has to put earth or pebbles in his shoes to remind himself he's a mourner, he shouldn't bother. If he needs that kind of reminder then he isn't in mourning. True mourners can't forget,
Does it affect the memory differently if a mourner has fake leather on his feet? Reply

Rabbi Adam Cutler Toronto, Ontario August 12, 2010

There's actually a book about this. Check out Jews and Shoes by Edna Nachshon Reply

Lorne Rozovsky Bloomfield, CT, USA May 12, 2010

Chalitza shoe image Contact the Collections Manager (Suzanne McLean) at the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto, Canada. The Bata is the largest shoe museum in the world. Reply

Judy Freedman Hashmonaim, Israel May 12, 2010

Chalitza shoe I found this article fascinating, a different angle on the every day material.
I am giving a class on Shavuot on the subject of Yibum, I would love to find a photo of Chalitza shoe. Could you tell me where I could find one?
Thank you and have a happy festival, Reply

Anonymous Pasadena, CA May 3, 2010

To the Gematria of 26 Are toenails considered bones as well, I wonder? If so, there would be 26+ 10. I do not believe G-d needs our protection.To wear the shoes of the dead is not wise because; a) we are not born wearing shoes. b) Perhaps where G-d intends for us to go after we leave this life, we probably don't need shoes, and c) If the person were righteous we could desecrate their memory, and if unrighteous we risk inviting their shame. Life for a widow in those days was no picnic. If her spouse had a brother to care for her she was very lucky. Remarriage was almost non-existent. In most cultures they usually left her to fend for her self, in others they would banish the widow rather than provide for her. Egypt stigmatized them out of superstitions of ignorance. In the case of multiple deceased brothers, I'm certain that G-d would provide the means and necessities. Reply

Anonymous May 1, 2010

see: shoes on the danube promenade. a holocaust memorial by gyula pauer and can togay Reply

June Green Lynnville, TN April 15, 2010

marriage of brother to his deceased brother's wife Did the brother keep up two families...his own and his brother's if his brother died childless leaving a widow? For how many of his deceased brothers' widows was this required? He could possibly have several wives under such circumstances? And all the children of these were legally his deceased brothers' children? He could still marry his own wife, however? Reply

Anonymous Pasadena, CA March 21, 2010

Shoes The path determines the shoe. "The Torah is a lamp unto thy feet." Should I wear oxfords if there is 4 feet of snow? What of the Hindu practice of walking on hot coals? What of walking on water? Waterbugs do it why not you? Remember to wash between your toes and change your socks regularly as well. But I do notice that I sense the mood, and motions of this earth more when I am barefoot than when I wear jackboots. Blessings. Reply

Anonymous January 25, 2010

jews and shoes very interesting and very informative Reply

Anonymous Pacific Palisades, ca September 22, 2009

Shoes of a dead man.... My step father died and he left beautiful Italian shoes that happen to fit my children, is that a bad thing? What can I do to make it right if it is?
My children are half Jewish, I am not but they consider themselves Jews. I just don't want to do anything that would bring bad luck or anything! Thanks for your time. Reply

Lorne Rozovsky Bloomfield, CT November 6, 2008

shoes of the deceased In response to Marlene Lewis (Nov.3, 2008), there seems to be very little discussion of the issue. One reference however, is noted in my posting of March 11, 2008. I would also refer to the response by Rabbi Naftali Silberberg in www.askmoses.com/2061695. I would be very interested to know if any of our readers have any other references to share. Reply

Marlene Lewis montreal, quebec, canada November 3, 2008

shoes Where is it written that we cannot wear the shoes of a dead person? Reply

David Komer Giva #468, Israel June 17, 2008

26 bones I once heard (from a reputable, Torah-observant foot doctor in Israel) that there are 26 bones in the foot. 26 is gematria of HaShem - therefore there's another good reason for shoes. We have to protect our foundation, which is not only physically our feet- but also the 26 bones which are representing HaShem who carries us everywhere we go. Reply