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Home > Holidays > Day of A-toe-nment

Day of A-toe-nment

Staff Writer
October 6, 2000

The High Holidays are filled with meaningful symbols. Apples are dipped in honey, melodious tones pour from the shofar, breadcrumbs are symbolically tossed into the river and stunningly white dressings cover the Torah and Bimah. The beautiful new clothes, exciting festivities, even the long repentant fasting tends to bring a spring to the step of every Jew. Or wait! Could it be something more? What about the shoes?

Many generations ago, a prohibition for wearing leather shoes on Yom Kippur came into play. Originally, the point was to intentionally cause a little more discomfort, as leather shoes tended to be a little more comfortable. Interpretations eventually grew to explain that leather shoes should be avoided to symbolically demonstrate our avoidance of harming another, or the "new" earth of the fresh New Year in our steps.

Whatever the reason, the shoes that show up in shul on Yom Kippur are always a fascinating and delightful distraction.

It always takes a moment to adjust to the full length view of athletic footwear worn with my Shabbos best, but by the time I've walked to shul, joined by my springy stepped neighbors, sloppy sneakers don't seem to stick out so much. Flashing fashionable footwear, or many times, fabulous feet faux-pas, during Yom Kippur has simply become trendy.

My Rabbi's brand new canvas sneaks tend to have him bouncing on the bimah, and I'm quite certain the Cantor's Nikes help him endure through Kol Nidre. One can't miss the kids in Keds running races after services, challenging for the best sneaker to win.

As my son's eyes annually glimmer at the thought of wearing his gym shoes to shul, I try to instill a bit of discomfort. I insist he wash off his football stains and smooth off the biking accident scars a bit, which, for an eight year old is quite the emotional task.

It seems to me that the limits of the reasons for sneakers are a bit stretched out and broken in. The goal is to wear less comfortable shoes than one usually does, right? I don't know about everyone else, but kicking it in my beat up, junky sneakers brings me more comfort than I'd ever admit openly. I can't help but think the streams of junky sneakers secretly adorn quietly smiling feet.

This phenomenon has not passed the scrutiny of my rabbi. He now sets out a bowl of pebbles that we all pass on the way into services. The unspoken opportunity to add a little trouble to our otherwise trendy toes humbles our steps, and hopefully brings us to a more meaningful stance as we seek atonement.

Gmar chatima tova. May you have an easy and meaningful fast-and may your feet be a bit fitful.'s Guide to Yom Kippur

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