Many cultures and religions have laws or practices requiring people to remove their shoes on certain occasions.

  • Moses was commanded in Exodus 3:5 and Joshua in Joshua 5:15 to remove their shoes when Moses had a revelation from God at a burning bush, and Joshua received instructions from an angel.
  • Priests who were descendants of Moses’ brother Aaron are told in the Bible to minister in the Tabernacle barefoot.
  • The Mishna relates in Berachot 9:5 that Jews could not enter the temple mount wearing shoes or with a staff, money belt, or dust on their feet.
  • Today, priests in Orthodox synagogues ascend a podium and recite a blessing after they remove their shoes. They do so to remember the practice of the ancient priests.
  • (As an aside, the question is asked what helped Jews survive years in the diaspora. The answer is recalling Jewish practices such as the priestly blessing, Shabbat, and the Seder on Passover.)
  • The Jewish practice is that mourners mourn their departed at home without leather shoes.
  • Similarly, all Jews do not wear leather shoes on the fast days of Yom Kippur and Tisha b’Av.
  • While Jews discontinued the practice of praying barefoot in synagogues, Muslims adopted the practice in their mosques.
  • In Asia, Eastern Europe, and among some Hawaiians and others, shoes are not worn at home; visitors are expected to remove them before entering these homes.

 

Why?

  • Since ancient times, people recognized two significant things about shoes that caused the abovementioned practices. People saw that walking with shoes accumulated dust, dirt, and other undesirable filth. They did not want this trash brought into their homes and places of worship. They also saw that walking was an active activity and people walked with shoes. For example, Judaism requires Jews to be active and to treat all that God created as they want to be treated themselves. The rabbis emphasized the need for activity in many ways. One was the call laws in Hebrew The root of this noun means to walk, go, and move.
  • So, the removal of shoes was felt to be a sign of respect. Proper people do not soil another’s home or any holy place.
  • The feet and shoes were also seen as hands as a possible threat to others. Thus, regarding hands, people offer their hands in a handshake to other hands to indicate they are not a threat. Similarly. They take off their shoes when entering homes or holy places to show they intend no action or threat, only respect.