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Jews and Shoes

By Henry Levy

Dr. Edna Nahshon’s book, Jews and Shoes.

Dr. Edna Nahshon’s book, Jews and Shoes.

"A few years ago, I was at a conference in Toronto. There was a Shoe Museum across the street… I said to myself, 'Let's go see what they have there'", Dr. Edna Nahshon, a residence of NYC told Haaretz, Israeli newspaper. She also remarked: "The first images that came to my mind were the pictures of the piles of shoes of the Holocaust victims."

Dr. Nahshon, a professor in the Jewish Theological Seminary, and a well-known expert of Jewish and Yiddish theater, who published many books and articles, decided to research the interesting topic of shoes and Judaism, shoes and the Jewish religion, the shoes as symbols, and the shoes and the Zionist movement, the Jews and Israel.

Dr. Nahshon developed a new idea, a new concept: "I started researching commissioned articles and the book was born." It is a unique book. It is a scholarly book and a pioneer in the field of Judaica! This book: Jews and Shoes (Berg Publishers, Oxford) has no precedent as a unique academic contribution to history, religion, folklore, anthropology, material culture, Israeli culture, symbolism, biographical object, historical political symbol and the issue of footwear.

Also, Dr. Nahshon pointed out the linkage between shoes and Islam, such as throwing the shoe in order to defame your enemy (even an Israeli, recently, threw his show at the President of the Supreme Court!)

The book, Jews and Shoes, which was reviewed in many countries by Jewish and Gentile magazines, has four parts and 30 pictures in 230 pages. Among the parts, Jews and Shoes: Religion and the Bible (Halitza Shoe, The Tombstone Shoe, Israeli Shoe), Memories and Commemoration (The Shtetl Shoe, The Folkloristic Shoe), Ideology and Economic (The Wanderer Shoe).

Jews and Shoes also discusses the shoe in Jewish art, theater, and in films, also the issue of shoemaker and cobblers. Furthermore, Dr. Nahshon discusses the Jewish customs of holiness and the order to take off the shoes.

Dr. Nahshon emphasizes that Shoes are mentioned twenty times in the Bible. God commanded Moses during the scene of the burning bush: "Draw not high hither, put off the shoes from off the street, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground" (Exodus).

Also, for example, Dr. Nahshon wrote: "The association of sacred space with bare footedness was reflected in the ministry of the Emple Priests." She demonstrated that this footedness became an important custom in the religion. During the seven days of the Jewish Shiva Call (mourning the death) you have to take off your shoes.

The book discusses specific shoes as unique symbols. Do not forget that this book is not about fashion, per se. The book discusses the ceremony of 'halitzah' which still exists in Israel: "The childless widow whose husband has died is released from the bond of marriage to her husband's brother by taking off his shoe." (Chicago Jewish Jews) There is a special 'Halitzah Shoe."

There are shoe-shaped tombstones in Jewish cemeteries in the Ukraine. Why shoes? According to Dr. Rivka Parciack, from the University, "when the Messiah will come, when God will command the resurrection of the dead, they will need shoes or sandals in order to go back to… Zion!"

Zionism and shoes? The "image of Yemenite Jews walking barefoot toward the holy land became staples of modern Zionism's visual cannon" wrote Nahshon. She defined it as Zionism romanticism. The Zionists viewed the hold land as a land without shoes, barefootedness links to the holy earth. It is also a symbol of the Zionist and the Sabra generation of disconnection with the diaspora, the ghetto, the Jewish history of the classic wandering Jews.

It is a revival of the Hebrew nation with roots in the holy land. But there were 'sandals.' An Israeli novelist, E. Ben-Azen, explained in Jews and Shoes, "…the young generation, in Israel, was in sandals, which became one of the symbols f the sabra…". But "the wonderful native Israeli sense of barefootedness" disappeared.

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