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What is the point of putting on your right shoe and then your left? (And if you're a righty to tie your left shoe and then your right.)

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Related: judaism.stackexchange.com/q/28639 –  msh210 May 10 '13 at 5:33
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2 Answers

The source for it is in the Gemara (Shabbos 61a), and it is codified as halachah in Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 2:4).

The basic idea behind this practice is:

  • We find that the Torah generally privileges right over left - in this week's parsha, for example, a metzora's purification rites include having some of the blood of one of his sacrifices, and some of the oil accompanying it, applied to his right ear, thumb, and big toe (Lev. 14:14-17 and :25-28). Furthermore, the various mitzvos that involve handling something (such as taking the lulav) are done with the right hand.

  • On the other hand (sorry!), when it comes to tying the tefillin, the left is privileged over the right.

So to accommodate both preferences, we start with the right side when it comes to putting on items of clothing (it's not only shoes - Mishnah Berurah 2:4; it also applies when bathing - ibid. 2:7), and with the left when it comes to tying.

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see also my analysis here: parsha.blogspot.com/2007/08/… "a way of fulfilling both R' Yochanan's instruction that the left goes on first and the brayta that the right goes on first. One can consider the shoe to be "on" at two distinct stages -- either once it is on, or once it is tied. Thus, put on the right sandal first but do not tie it. That way, the right shoe is on first. Then put on the left sandal. This completes this first stage, and so the brayta has been fulfilled. Next, tie the left sandal... the left shoe has been "put on" first. –  josh waxman Jul 20 '11 at 16:33
    
@josh: makes sense. We do find with chalitzah, too, that the shoe has to be untied and removed for the act to be complete. –  Alex Jul 20 '11 at 18:19
    
on tefilin the left is not privileged over the right, the rule is the same. the right hand is the hand that puts the tefilin. where? on the left hand. the ben ish hai brings that we should clean ourselves on the bathroom with the left hand because the right is the hand that puts the tefilin –  Avraham Jul 21 '11 at 11:53
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It also reminds us that even the little things can be done in a Torah fashion. It is reminiscent of the halakha that states a Jew must even give up his life rather than tie his shoes in the non-Jewish manner, in a time of acute persecution.

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The "non-Jewish manner" there refers to a different color of shoelace that everyone could see. Not sure it would apply to the order of tying (whose results would be indistinguishable). –  Shalom Apr 14 '10 at 17:02
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