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Non-Leather Footwear on Yom Kippur


Rabbi Daniel Mann

Tishrei 4 5777
Question: Is it permitted and proper to wear comfortable non-leather footwear on Yom Kippur?
Answer: The Torah commands us to afflict ourselves ("initem") on Yom Kippur, and Chazal derived from p’sukim the forbidden activities this entails. The gemara (Yoma 77a) cites p’sukim describing people in states of mourning who went "yachef" and determine this meansshoeless.
The gemara (ibid. 78a) asks whether one can wear a shoe ofsha’am (a sort of plant) and answers with stories of Amoraim who wore such shoes. On the other hand, Rava implies that a wooden shoe is forbidden. As the Beit Yosef (Orach Chayim 614) summarizes: the Rif says that only leather (or leather lined) shoes are forbidden. The Ba’al Hamaor says that the gemara’s conclusion is that whatever functions as a shoe is forbidden, regardless of the material. Rashi says that only leather and wooden shoes (which are strong and protective) are forbidden. The Beit Yosef/Shulchan Aruch accepts the Rif’s lenient opinion. The Magen Avraham (614:2) reports that this is the minhag, and the Taz (614:1) criticizes anyone who forbids non-leather shoes, considering that Amoraim were personally lenient.
The Mishna Berura (614:5) confirms that the primary ruling permits all non-leather shoes. However, he also encourages those who want to be stringent to not wear (especially, while indoors) wooden shoes and even any shoe that protects the foot well and prevents the wearer from feeling the ground.
Unquestionably, the present-day widely accepted practice among observant communities is to allow any shoe that does not have leather. (Admittedly, it is hard to talk about a minhag regarding the uncommon wooden shoe). Let’s be as clear as possible. We reject any suggestion to change this standard ruling for our communities.
On the other hand, if there is any day when personal stringencies should not be criticized as "holier than thou," Yom Kippur is that day. Therefore, for the benefit of one who has such an inclination or conviction, let us discuss the relative logic of stringency for different footwear.
Comfortability of footwear is not an issue, as the gemara (Yoma 78b) makes clear. Thus, even if someone loves wearing fabric/thin-rubber-sole slippers or flip-flops, there is no reason to avoid them. (Although many people would take off their shoes in shul every Shabbat, if protocol allowed it, comfortable (non-leather) socks are permitted according to all opinions (see Yevamot 102b.))
Crocs are slightly more like shoes, and there was an uproar when Rav Elyashiv was quoted as saying that it is worthwhile to not wear them on Yom Kippur (he did not said they were forbidden). Crocs are pretty good at preventing wearers from feeling the ground, but, in addition to not being leather, they do not give the type of support and protection that normal shoes do, which are crucial for the main stringent opinions.
Sneakers are much more shoe-like than the above, which makes them a candidate for stringency according to the minority of classicposkim who say that leather is not the only factor. Even so, they are often thinner and flimsier (which has some advantages for sports), which make them less shoe-like.
Chumra is most logical regarding shoes that look and function like standard shoes, but for whatever reason (including production price) are made with a substitute material. It is possible (not necessarily correct) that even the majority opinions who forbade only leather shoes may be stringent here. First, some argue that there is a problem of marit ayin(Minchat Shlomo II:53; Rav Elyashiv is cited as being lenient on this point). Second, if leather shoes were singled out because their characteristics made them normal shoes, it is possible that in whatever time and place one is in, standard looking/feeling shoes are forbidden. (Analysis of this point is fascinating but beyond our present scope). Therefore, not wearing normal shoes that happen to be synthetic is the most logical of the stringencies on this matter for those inclined to stringency (see Dirshu footnotes 614:9).

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