Although they are worn at the bottom of one's body and usually left to be put on last - shoes occupy a prominent place in rabbinic and halachic literature. In fact, among the many blessings of thanksgiving which are recited each morning is a special blessing which refers specifically to shoes.[1] Indeed, the unique wording of this blessing, "Blessed are you…who has provided me with all my needs" conveys to us the distinguished status which shoes command in Torah thought.[2] The commentators teach that the reason the blessing is worded in this manner is because shoes are ultimately responsible for us being able to accomplish all of our daily needs. Without shoes we wouldn't even be able to leave the house.[3]

Nevertheless, even if for whatever reason one is not wearing shoes when reciting the morning blessings, such as in the case of one who is in mourning, the blessing is still to be recited along with the other blessings.[4] Some do not recite this blessing on Tisha B'av or Yom Kippur.[5] Although one will often be required to recite the blessing of "shehecheyanu"[6] when purchasing new clothes, it is not recited when purchasing or wearing new shoes no matter how fancy or expensive they are.[7]

When Avraham Avinu declined the opportunity of pillaging the spoils from the war against the four kings, he specifically singled out the "threads and shoe straps" in order to convey how uninterested he was in reaping any personal benefit from the war.[8] As a reward for his humility, the Jewish people were awarded the "threads" of tzitzit and the "straps" of the tefillin.[9] One should even sell "the beams of one's house"[10] in order to ensure that one is wearing quality shoes. Other authorities extend this idea further and suggest that one should sell absolutely everything one owns in order to acquire good shoes.[11] One should never put one's shoes on the wrong feet.[12]

When getting dressed, one is to put the right shoe on first and then immediately put on the left one, before tying any laces. Even if one presently only has the left shoe, one should wait for the right shoe and put it on first, rather than put the left shoe on first.[13] After the left shoe has been put on, one then ties the left shoelace and only then the right one.[14] This is because with the exception of "tying," the right side is to take priority in all matters.[15]  This even includes showering, in which we are to wash the right side of the body first![16] The reason tying is an exception to this rule is because whenever we tie something we are to be reminded of the tefillin which are tied to the "left" arm. Some authorities limit the priority awarded to the left side with regards to tying, reserving it only for shoes,[17] while other authorities extend it and award the left side priority in all situations of tying, whether it be shoes, clothing, or otherwise.[18] It seems that a lefty can do as he pleases with regards to the order of putting on shoes, as long as he is consistent all the time.[19] If one is putting on shoes that are secured with buckles or velcro, the right shoe may be closed right after putting it on. No precedence is given to the "left" with regards to velcro and other such fasteners.[20]

When removing shoes, we first untie the left shoe and remove it, followed by the right shoe.[21] Some authorities suggest, however, that one should untie the right shoe before untying and removing the left shoe.[22] Removing shoes in this manner is intended to accord honor to the right side of the body – so that the right foot should not be left bare while the left foot still has its shoe on. In fact, when getting undressed, one always removes clothing commencing with the left side.[23] Wearing shoes at all times is a sign of modesty and contributes to tzniut - ensuring that no part of one's body is left unnecessarily exposed.[24] As such, one should never go around barefoot,[25] especially on Shabbat.[26]

One should never polish one's shoes on the day of a trip – it’s considered bad luck and even dangerous for one’s journey.[27] Although as a general rule nothing should be stored under one's bed, shoes are an exception and may be stored there.[28] It is also important to ensure that one’s shoes fit well.[29] One should never sleep while wearing shoes, as doing so is comparable to death.[30] One should not wear the shoes of one who has died, though one may make use of all their other possessions.[31]

One must wash one's hands any time one touches one's shoes or feet.[32] This is true even if they are perfectly clean.[33] However, when touching brand new shoes, such as when shopping and trying shoes on for size, there is no requirement to wash one's hands.[34] One should also wash one's hands when putting shoes onto someone else, such as when dressing a child.[35] It seems that one need not wash one's hands after touching non-leather shoes which are perfectly clean.[36]  If one only touched the shoelaces of a shoe one is not required to wash one's hands if they were perfectly clean.[37] These regulations are to ensure that our hands are as clean as possible at all times.[38]

It is considered praiseworthy for one to keep a separate pair of shoes exclusively for Shabbat wear,[39] though this is not truly required according to the letter of the law.[40] Nevertheless, it has become a universal Jewish custom to do so, or at the very least, to meticulously clean one's weekday shoes every Friday in honor of Shabbat.[41] One may not place shoelaces into shoes on Shabbat, as it is considered "completing a vessel", an act which is forbidden on Shabbat.[42] If, however, one had begun lacing up the shoes before Shabbat by having inserted the shoelaces into at least a few preliminary holes, one may complete the lacing of the shoe on Shabbat itself.[43] Similarly, a shoelace which slipped out of its particular hole may be replaced on Shabbat.[44] One is required to buy one's wife shoes before each of the holidays if they are so neededH.[45]

One should endeavor to wear shoes made of leather which is said to symbolize that man is superior to animals which walk on the bare earth. The leather, made of animal hide, demonstrates our God given ability to utilize animals for our needs. So too, in the Biblical account of Adam, Eve and the Tree of Knowledge,[46] the ground was cursed by God, and wearing shoes separates us from this "cursed" entity. In somewhat related symbolism, among the reasons that we don’t wear shoes on Yom Kippur is to symbolize our desire to connect to God without any separation whatsoever. Likewise, it is explained that Moshe Rabbeinu's act of removing his shoes at the burning bush symbolized his desire to come as close as possible to God without any barriers.[47]

[1] Berachot 60b, O.C. 46:1

[2] Rivevot Ephraim 4:11

[3] Kaf Hachaim 46:14

[4] O.C. 46:8, Kaf Hachaim 46:17

[5] The custom of the Gra and Arizal. See Piskei Teshuvot 46:13

[6] Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 59:7

[7] O.C. 46:6;Rema

[8] Bereishit 14:23

[9] Sota 17a

[10] Shabbat 129a

[11] Pesachim 112a

[12] Kaf Hachaim 2:10

[13] O.C. 2:4, Mishna Berura 2:7

[14] Shabbat 61a;Rashi, O.C. 2:4, Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 3:4

[15] Mishna Berura 2:5,7, Shulchan Aruch Harav 2:4, Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 3:4

[16] Aruch Hashulchan O.C. 260:3, Kaf Hachaim 2:8

[17] Mishna Berura 2:6

[18] Shulchan Aruch Harav 2:4, Aruch Hashulchan 2:7

[19] Piskei Teshuvot 2:6

[20] Shraga Hameir 6:56

[21] O.C. 2:5

[22] Pitchei Olam U'metamei Hashulchan O.C. 2:5

[23] Kaf Hachaim 2:12

[24] Mishna Berura 301:62

[25] Pesachim 112a; OC 2:6.

[26] Bach O.C. 307

[27] Rabbi Yehuda Hachassid 39.

[28] Bava Batra 58a

[29] Shabbat 141b.

[30] Yoma 78b

[31] Sefer Chassidim 454, Igrot Moshe Y.D. 3:133. Regarding the permissibility of wearing the slippers of a deceased person, see Teshuvot V'hanhagot 1:703. Ultimately, however, there is no halachic prohibition on wearing the shoes of one who has died. Aseh Lecha Rav 1:48

[32] O.C. 4:18

[33] Kaf Hachaim 4:70, Kaf Hachaim 4:73

[34] Kaf Hachaim 4:71

[35] Halichot Bat Yisrael 1:10

[36] Piskei Teshuvot 4:22

[37] Piskei Teshuvot 4:22

[38] Gra O.C. 4:24

[39] Kaf Hachaim 263:25

[40] Yerushalmi Shabbat 6:2

[41] Yechave Daat 5:23, Minhag Yisrael Torah 262:7

[42] Mishna Berura 317:2,16

[43] Piskei Teshuvot 317:2

[44] Shemirat Shabbat K'hilchata 15:60

[45] Kutuzov 64b

[46] Ta'amei Haminhagim;Yom Kippur

[47] Shemot Rabba 2:6