A journey into permissible footwear (Daf Yomi Shabbos 112)

“She removed the left shoe which was on the right foot.”

Today’s Daf Yomi is a catalog of footwear and what is allowable on Shabbat if we wear sandals that have elaborate ties, a sandal strap or two breaks, or a shoe becomes ritually impure. We are presented with scenarios where a woman might wear a left shoe on her right foot, a rabbi might share a shoe with his son, or a zav might wear his shoes backwards (like the earth shoes I wore as a teenager in the 1970s that amused my grandparents tremendously.) I am passionate about footwear, although I have been wearing very little of it since I have been sheltering in place at home. (I wonder what it will be like when I need to go out in the world again and wear shoes all day long.)

It is summer and the description of all the challenges with tying sandals seem timely. Somehow the edge of winter that bled into Spring, and the Spring, are all gone and it is time to bare our toes and investigate fashion options, including gladiator sandals that lace up one’s leg. Today’s Daf tells us that it is permitted to tie these straps on Shabbat, although as is typical of the Talmud, there is some ambiguity in what is allowable. It is prohibited to tie a permanent shoemaker knot in a sandal on Shabbat, which would presumably be by a craftsperson fashioning the shoe. But impermanent, loose knots, tied by “ordinary people” are allowed.

I have been caught flat-footed more than once when a shoe broke when I was traveling somewhere and needed to find a shoemaker in a hurry. I have given up on sling-back pumps, which I loved slipping on and off, because the elastic that slips around the back of my foot has broken more than once. This is also a dilemma for the Rabbis who must attend to a broken strap on Shabbat. One day Rabbi Yirmeya was walking with Rabbi Abbahu in a karmelit (intermediate domain) on Shabbat when the strap on his sandal broke.  Abbahu instructed his friend to wrap a moist reed fit for animal consumption” around the sandal to fasten it. I imagine the learned Rabbi hurrying home with a reed wrapped around his sandal, while he kept his head down in an attempt to escape notice.

We are presented with various permutations of torn sandals. If a sandal is impure and its strap breaks, it remains impure. But if two straps break and it requires an emergency trip to the shoemaker (of course, not on Shabbat), it is transformed into something new – like one who gets a new face – and is able to shrug off its impurity.

I have great respect for shoemakers because they can give a new face to footwear. There was a certain shoemaker in downtown Manhattan who worked out of a sliver of a storefront, who would create magic when he repaired my shoes. This particular shoemaker would make a huge point of how well-made my shoes were and as a result, because I take my footwear so seriously, I went out of my way for years to bring him my business. It was always exciting when I would peak inside the plain brown bag that he delivered them back to me in, and find a nicely shined, re-heeled, re-soled shoe that was almost new, but still resonated with all the adventures we had together. It was my same old shoe, but all spiffed up, and ready for the next adventure with a brand-new face.

About the Author
Penny Cagan was born in New Jersey and has lived in New York City since 1980. She has published two books of poems called “City Poems “ and “And Today I am Happy." She is employed as a risk manager and continues to write poetry. More information on Penny can be found at
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