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.