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Why are we forbidden to wear leather shoes on Yom Kippur? Is it because leather shoes are a sign of wealth, or comfort; or does it have some thing to do with cruelty to animals?

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We are supposed to afflict ourselves according to the Torah, and leather shoes are typically comfortable, so the halacha was made that we may not wear leather shoes on Yom Kippur. It doesn't have anything to do with cruelty to animals. –  Aaliyah Sep 3 '13 at 5:08
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If it had to do with cruelty with animals then it would not be allowed all year. –  Gershon Gold Sep 3 '13 at 14:20
    
Though the straight halakha, AFAIU, is from Talmud (which identifies leather shoes as a status-marker), the meta-halakhic drash I've heard on this is that it's to allow animals to rest on a day when they, too, are judged. –  Charles Koppelman Sep 3 '13 at 17:25
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@GershonGold, cf. pas palter in aseres y'me t'shuva. –  msh210 Sep 3 '13 at 18:48
    
@Aaliyah, if you can source that, you have a good answer. Why not post it as such? –  msh210 Sep 3 '13 at 18:49

1 Answer 1

The Talmud (Yoma 73b) lists the five obligatory "afflictions" (i.e. forbidden pleasures) of Yom Kippur:

  1. Eating and drinking

  2. Bathing

  3. Anointing

  4. Wearing shoes.

  5. Marital relations.

Maimonides, in his commentary on the Mishna, summarizes the Talmudic discussion saying:

The Torah does not explicitly state the requirement to abstain from these things on the fast of Yom Kippur, but it uses the language of affliction (עינוי) five times... and tradition tells us that this is to prohibit these five forms of physical pleasure... for in Scripture we find that [refraining from] each of these five things is described as affliction....

With regard to the specific prohibition against wearing shoes, while there is some debate on the topic (see Minchas Chinuch 313:14), the dominant opinion is that "shoes" means specifically leather shoes (כל מנעל שאינו של עור לא מיקרי מנעל, see Beis Yosef OC 614), and therefore the prohibition applies only to leather shoes.

For the most part, in virtually all older sources, the discussion ends here, as there was apparently no perceived need to provide a special explanation for the the inclusion of wearing shoes (leather or not) among the required afflictions of Yom Kippur.

Among later sources, however, we do find some additional insights on this topic. Perhaps the most basic explanation is that given by Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch in Horeb (in his discussion of the laws of mourning (314:2), which he refers us to in his discussion of the laws of Yom Kippur (158)):

In the view of our Sages, the wearing of shoes on our feet betokens equipment for self-supporting activity. Thus, taking off one's shoes on holy ground is ordered several times in the Tenach as a sign of surrendering all one's self and of a complete submission to what is holy.

Unfortunately, R' Hirsch does not provide a source for this insight. However, the basic idea, i.e. that shoes symbolize the human capacity for self-sufficient action, can be found in several earlier sources (such as the Abudarham's commentary on the blessing, "שעשה לי כל צרכי").

Like R' Hirsch, a number of other commentaries associate the prohibition against wearing shoes on Yom Kippur with the prohibition against wearing shoes in the Temple, arguing that on Yom Kippur the entire earth is sanctified akin to the Temple and we are therefore required to walk barefoot. (R' Moshe Chagiz, cited in many sources, and R' Menachem Mendel of Rimanov, cited in Agnon's Yomim Noraim and in Artscroll's Yom Kippur)

The Arizal (in Shulchan Aruch HaAri, cited in Taamei Haminhagim) gives an esoteric kabbalistic explanation for why specifically leather shoes are forbidden. The basic point he makes is that leather shoes are associated with the "garments of skin" that God gave Adam and Eve after they sinned (Genesis 3:21) (which, according to medrash, were made from the shed skin of the serpent). Leather shoes therefore symbolize sin and impurity, which have no power on Yom Kippur. Thus, we are required to remove these shoes.

Finally, in a work titled Siddur HaMinhagim written by Rabbi Shlomo Tzvi Shik in the late 1800's, Rabbi Shik gives two original explanations for the prohibition against leather shoes.

The first, based upon a concept found in the commentary of the Shelah Hakadosh on the blessing "שעשה לי כל צרכי", is that leather shoes symbolize man's dominion over all of creation. However, R' Shik argues, a sinner has no such claim of dominion. Thus, on Yom Kippur, when we engage in repentance and confess our sins, we remove our leather shoes to demonstrate our recognition of our sinfulness.

R' Shik's second explanation is based on a custom that when a person would wear a new garment, people would bless him that, "You should wear it out and get a new one." However, some write that one should not say this with regard to a leather garment, as this would require killing an animal and Scripture (Psalms 145:9) states, "His mercy is upon all His creations." Similarly, when slaughtering an animal for the first time, while one does recite the blessings of Shehecheyanu on the mitzva of kisui hadam (covering the blood, assuming it is required, as with a bird), one does not recite Shehecheyanu over the actual slaughtering because, according to some, it involves harming a living creature. Similarly, R' Shik argues, being that Yom Kippur is a day of Divine mercy, it is improper to wear leather shoes.

This latter explanation (which, despite its rather obscure origin, has gained remarkable popularity, mainly because of its inclusion in Agnon's Yomim Noraim (and in the very popular, and heavily abridged, translation, Days of Awe), and, in turn, in many other such collections (including Artscroll's Yom Kippur)) is actually rather difficult in that it would imply that all leather garments should be avoided on Yom Kippur, and there is no such practice (although Agnon does cite a source that the Terumas HaDeshen, R' Yisrael Isserlein, preferred to avoid wearing any leather garments on Yom Kippur).

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Is this a "because God said so" answer? –  Double AA Sep 3 '13 at 23:14
    
@DoubleAA I'm not following your question. It's about defining terms. The prohibition is נעילת הסנדל. The word סנדל is not a generic term for any kind of foot covering (or else socks would also be forbidden), but for a specific kind of foot covering. The dominant opinion is that it refers to a leather foot covering. As I indicated, there are those who understand it in a broader manner (the broadest of which which would forbid most of the non-leather shoes and slippers that we conventionally wear on Yom Kippur), so there is room to more stringent if one wishes. –  LazerA Sep 4 '13 at 0:09
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The question was "why do we do this". You answered "because it says to do so". That's frankly the most boring Taam haMitzva I've ever heard. –  Double AA Sep 4 '13 at 0:46
    
@DoubleAA I didn't understand the question as being Taamei HaMitzvos, but as simply explaining the halachic reasoning for why the prohibition only applies to leather shoes. –  LazerA Sep 4 '13 at 1:00
    
@LazerA, it seems pretty clear to me that the question here is "why," not "what is the source." The hypothetical answers proposed in the question are clearly trying to get at ta'amim. –  Isaac Moses Sep 4 '13 at 14:47

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