I must confess that my own spiritual journey began with a pair of hot pink snakeskin Manolo Blahnik sandals. My brand “The House of Faith and Fashion,” was born from the reality that women were often more interested in my Manolos than my religious practices. I decided that if I could combine the two, while teaching Judaic principles (Judaic knowledge), I would achieve a unique way to combine the world of spirituality and materialism, ruchnuis and gashmius.
In truth, my rebellious and flamboyant shoe selections came to life during high school in Queens, NY, with a pair of red cowboy boots. Bais Yackov of Queens (all girls religious school) during those years was not as stringent with dress codes as they are now. Although the length of our skirts was important, the rest was left up to us to nurture our own individuality.
I finally have my daughter join me in this. I am embarrassed to say that I started to cry when she tried on my hot pink satin bejeweled pumps as if I was reliving her Bat Mitzvah where she wore Manolo embroidered flats.
Manolo Blahnik’s stilettos shot to fame after the premiere of HBO’s ‘Sex and the City’ in 1998. Carrie Bradshaw, played by Sarah Jessica Parker, frequently professed her love for this shoe brand which included the famous sky-blue satin pair (Hangisi Satin 70mm pumps) that she wore when she finally married her Mr. Big. When I married my Mr. Wonderful, I wore a pair of the white lace version of the Hangisi Manola Blahniks.
Everyone these days seems to have an addiction. My addiction is shoes. Thank G-d there are no rehabs for that yet. I did shed a tear when the Manolo Blahnik flagship boutique on W 54th Street closed. The small shop was a temple of divine shoes, a magical kingdom for a shoe obsessed female. Currently, my vice has widened to Sarah Palmer from Australia, whose handmade footwear has graced the covers of Hong Kong and Qatar Harper’s Bazar. I am also craving a pair of clear lucid beauties from Amina Mauddy that are constantly waitlisted.
To satisfy my habits, I ask question, what does a pair of shoes have to do with the Torah (Bible)? One can say it is for Shalom Bayis, peace in the marital home as Manolo Blahnik once said, “Men tell me that I’ve saved their marriages. It costs them a fortune in shoes, but it is cheaper than a divorce. So, I am still useful, you see.” Of course, the Torah (Bible) has a more meaningful approach to shoes with plenty of examples.
The Torah (Bible) depicts shoes as signs of sensuousness, comfort, and pleasure with a strong emphasis on when and where. Let us start with “According to the Code of Jewish Law” (the Shulchan Aruch), the detailed instructions for putting on shoes. The right shoe goes on first. When tying shoes, the left shoe is tied first. When shoes are taken off, the left shoe comes off first. This is based on the right being more important than the left. The right foot should not remain uncovered while the left is covered, a display of respect and modesty for the feet. Shoes should be tied from the left since knotted teffilin is worn on the left arm so that the tying of shoes replicates the tying of teffilin. During the Sholosh Regalim, when the priestly blessing is given by the Kohanim, they must remove their shoes outside the sanctuary before their hands are washed by the Levites; a minhag (custom) amongst certain Chassidic groups to remove their (leather) shoes before visiting a Tzadik’s gravesite.
This was derived from the command Hashem (G-d) made to Moshe (Moses) when he approached the Burning Bush (Exodus 3:5), “Remove your shoes from your feet, for the place on which you stand is holy ground.” On the saddest day of the year, Tisha b’Av, Jews are prohibited from wearing leather shoes. The same prohibition applies on Yom Kippur. Chalitzah, a rather interesting and rare ceremony in which the brother of the deceased can choose to release his sister-in-law to marry someone else. The widow and her brother-in-law both appear before a rabbinical court, a beth din, consisting of five members. The brother-in-law wears on his right foot a halitzah shoe. This special shoe is made from the skin of a kosher animal and consists of two pieces sown together with leather straps. It must not contain metal and is designed like a moccasin with long straps.
I remember when my father had to perform this ceremony with my aunt. In the Megillah of Ruth, Naomi cleverly instructs her daughter-in-law, Ruth, in the rules of seduction with her instruction to visit Boaz at night and uncover his feet. The Song of Songs 7:2 reads, “How beautiful are thy feet in sandals” lovingly written by King Solomon. The Talmud’s dream interpretation lists various dreams that signal negative portents. One of them is if you dream of a dead person coming back and removing your shoes. Such a vision, says the Talmud, is bad news, with a sure visit by the Malach Hamaves, the angel of Death. Malachi’s, angels are described as being barefoot. The absence of shoes represents the shedding of the body and identification with the soul. The Kohen Gadol ornately dressed are instructed to walk barefoot in order to remind him that his holy presence is deeply rooted in the ground.
In Rabbi Joseph B. Solovetichic’s “Blessing and Thanksgiving,” he suggests that the enjoyment of a shoe is not the shoe itself, it is a social prestige. There is no special blessing for putting on a shoe, it is included in one big total blessing. The blessing is “who has provided all my need for me?” The shoe is important, but it does not have a special blessing for it.
Shoes in Jewish history have grown to haunt us. During my visit to Poland in 1990, I was struck and horrified by the endless piles of shoes in Auschwitz (concentration camp). Every holocaust museum has an exhibit of piles of shoes from children and adults. The Nazis removed the shoes as a sign of humiliation, despair, and certain death. Leaving the shoes to symbolize the paths that were taken and the road that will never be walked again.
“I have always believed that a beautiful shoe is useless unless it feels as wonderful as it looks,” says Stuart Weitzman, founder of Stuart Weitzman Shoes. Shoe shopping can be elevated to include the dressing of a princess or queen.
I asked Sarah Palmer if she thought women worship shoes. Sarah answered. “I believe women do indeed worship shoes. No doubt many of us share in childhood memories of seeing our mother looking glamorous stepping into a pair of high heels. Stunning high heel shoes are worshiped by little girls who wish to be grown up enough to wear them.”
I also believe that a shoe can transform a person, after all look how well Cinderella and Dorothy did with theirs. We are Hashem’s (G-d’s) princesses, and don’t princesses need shoes?
This essay is dedicated to my papa Leonard Goldberg who I am honored to consider my second dad. He was the pioneer of discount designer shoe shops who owned “Pick A Shoe,” throughout Florida. He reveled in my shoe shopping and scolded me for paying $28 pair. I adored his sense of humor and his remarkable talent. I thank him for teaching me the meaning of family with unconditional love and unwavering support.