Jews and Shoes

Edna Nahshon
  • Review
By – January 13, 2012

Would the wan­der­ings of the Jews in the desert have been any less oner­ous if only they had had com­fort­able walk­ing shoes? In Jews and Shoes, an anthol­o­gy of arti­cles exam­in­ing the rela­tion­ship between the cho­sen peo­ple and the, at times mun­dane, and at times holy indis­pens­able item of dress, we learn of the role of the shoe through­out Jew­ish history.From ear­ly bib­li­cal ref­er­ences, to the icon­ic san­dal of the mod­ern Jew­ish kib­butzniks, we learn that the shoe is indeed a reflec­tion into the soul” of the Jew. 

From bib­li­cal times, shoes have played an inte­gral role in the rela­tion­ship of the cho­sen peo­ple to their God. It is the com­mand that Moses remove his shoes that pre­ced­ed God’s con­vey­ing his plan to deliv­er his peo­ple out of slav­ery. The role of the shoe in Jew­ish tra­di­tion­al rit­u­als is also exam­ined in the course of sev­er­al arti­cles. The hal­itzah cer­e­mo­ny invoked in the book of Deuteron­o­my requires that a child­less wid­ow remove the shoe of the broth­er of her deceased hus­band if he refus­es to mar­ry her. The strange shoe shaped tomb­stones that appear through­out Jew­ish ceme­ter­ies in the Ukraine are viewed by the author as sym­bol­ic of the desire for mes­sian­ic redemption. 

Shoes have also been a way for Jews to dis­tin­guish them­selves from the Gen­tile pop­u­la­tion amongst whom they lived for gen­er­a­tions. Whether self imposed or forced upon them by the peo­ple in whose midst they dwelt, the dis­par­i­ty in footwear was used to mark the Jew as the oth­er.” In Mus­lim lands, for instance, footwear and at times bare­foot ness were imposed upon Jews to humil­i­ate them as non-Muslims. 

Memo­ri­al­ized in prose and lit­er­a­ture, the Jew­ish cob­bler of the Euro­pean shtetl is an omnipresent fig­ure through­out the peri­od of the Dias­po­ra. The uncer­tain­ty asso­ci­at­ed with earn­ing a decent liv­ing is a theme present in all such lit­er­a­ture. Yet, the hum­ble shoe­mak­er nev­er bemoans his fate, but keeps work­ing to the light of the dim­ming candle. 

After read­ing Jews and Shoes, one will no longer view that essen­tial part of the wardrobe as a mere item of neces­si­ty. One will mar­vel at the piv­otal role the shoe has played in the psy­che and com­mu­ni­ty of the cho­sen people.

Paula Lubin is a human­i­ties teacher at the North Shore Hebrew Acad­e­my Mid­dle School. She has writ­ten for a vari­ety of pub­li­ca­tions, most recent­ly the New York Health­care Law Update.

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