Four Rabbis, four opinions (Daf Yomi Shabbos 141)

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“One has mud on his foot, he may wipe it on the ground.”

There are days when the Daf Yomi text is bizarre or scatological, or obtuse or sometimes overwhelmingly profound. And there are days when it is simply mundane. Today is one of those days. The Rabbis are huddled around in their study hall, each with a shoe in one hand and a clump of dead sea mud in the other. The important matter under discussion is how to cleanse a shoe that is soiled with mud.

They smear their test shoe with mud and then debate the permissible method for wiping it clean on Shabbat. It might be time to change the channel because it is not getting any more exciting than that in this portion of the text. Abaye, or maybe Rav Yehuda said — as who said these words of such gravity is under debate – that one may wipe mud off his shoe on Shabbat on the ground but not on a wall. Our Rabbis shake their heads in agreement, as rubbing mud on a wall is a very bad method for cleaning a shoe. Besides violating the Shabbat because it resonates with the act of building, they would be chased out of their homes by their wives who would have had enough of their crude behavior.

Back in the study hall, Rava is shaking his head. He debates Abaye’s — or is it Rav Yehuda’s – point and states that one may wipe mud off from one’s shoe on the wall but not on the ground, for this constitutes an act of leveling holes. Mar, son of Ravina, says that both acts – the act of wiping on the ground and the act of rubbing on the wall – are prohibited on Shabbat. Rav Pappa disagrees and says both are permitted. And there you have it – four Rabbis and four opinions, and a lot of dialogue over nothing more exciting than mud.

We are told that one may scrape mud from a shoe with a knife by one Sage, while another argues that scaping is prohibited on Shabbat, including scaping an old shoe or a new shoe. We are told that a small person may not go out in a too large shoe lest it fall off and requires carrying about on Shabbat, and a woman may not go out with a new shoe because it might be too tight, and she too will end up carrying it. We are told that the later applies primarily to women because they are “very particular about having their shoes fit properly.”

One may not smear oil on his foot while the shoe is on, but it is acceptable to rub oil into one’s sole and then slip on a shoe or sandal, perhaps after getting a much-needed pedicure. And here is an image to carry with you during a dull day: we are told one can rub his body with oil and roll about on a leather carpet on Shabbat, as long as his intention is to merely polish rather than tan the carpet. This may be a new form of exercise with the added benefit of conditioning one’s carpet.

We are told that a shoe that is on a last and is still being designed may or may not be moved on Shabbat depending on the Rabbi you listen to. I once again imagine the Rabbis in their study hall huddled over a shoe that is attached to a last, discussing the rules on if and how the shoe can be removed. As always, there are as many opinions as Rabbis.

I have always been passionate about shoes, although I rarely wear them these days as I spend long working hours in my apartment during the week and have no need for shoes inside. To love shoes, one must understand the shoe last. Shoe manufacturers have a small set of lasts that they use to create many different styles of shoes. Once you understand the underlying structure of the shoe and the shape of the last that created it, you can make informed decisions when selecting shoes. For underlying the leather covering and sole and buckles and straps is a basic form. If you can identify the last that is most comfortable for your individual feet, you are able to select shoes that fit.

Lasts have historically been made of hardwood. Many lasts end up in antique shops among the tea-stained dressing gowns and rocking chairs. Today most shoes are made in factories, but they still use lasts in the process. They tend to be made of high-density materials that can withstand heavy machinery. But regardless of the materials, they are the quiet soul of shoes and there is no more hopeful act in life than to buy a new pair.

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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