Jastrow, in article on "Tearing the Garments" (Jour. of the Am. Oriental Soc., XXI, 23-39) presents a view worth considering of going barefoot as a sign of mourning and then of grief in general (compare also Jewish Encyclopedia, article "Barefoot"). All these passages seem to imply the discomfort or going barefoot on long journeys, over stony roads or hot sands; but then, as now, in the Orient sandals seem to have been little worn ordinarily in and around the house.
2. An Ancient Oriental Custom:
The "shoes" of the ancients, as we know from many sources, were "sandals," i.e. simply soles, for the most part of rawhide, tied to the feet to protect them against the gravel, stones or thorns of the road. Shoes of the modern sort, as well as socks and stockings, were unknown. In ancient times it was certainly a common custom in Bible lands to go about in and around one’s house without sandals. The peasantry, indeed, like the fellaheen of today, being hardened to it, often went afield barefoot. But for a king, or a prophet, a priest or a worshipper, to go barefoot, was another matter, as it was also for a mourner, for one in great distress, to be found walking the streets of a city, or going any distance in bare feet. Here we come again to customs peculiar to the Orient, and of various significance. For instance, it was considered then, as it is now in the Moslem world, profane and shocking, nothing short of a desecration, to enter a sanctuary, or walk on "holy ground," with dust-covered shoes, or unwashed feet. Moses and Joshua were commanded to take off their shoes when on "holy ground" (
3. Priests on Duty Went Barefoot:
The priests of Israel, as would seem true of the priests in general among the ancients, wore no shoes when ministering (see Silius Italicus, III, 28; compare Theodoret on
4. Reasons for the Ancient Custom:
The reason or reasons for the removal of the shoes in such cases as the above, we are not at a loss to divine; but when it comes to the removal of the shoes in times of mourning, etc., opinions differ. Some see in such customs a trace of ancestor- worship; others find simply a reversion or return to primitive modes of life; while others still, in agreement with a widely prevalent Jewish view, suggest that it was adopted as a perfectly natural symbol of humility and simplicity of life, appropriate to occasions of grief, distress and deep solemnity of feeling.
The shoes are set aside now by many modern Jews on theand on the Ninth of Ab.
Winer, Robinson, Biblical Researches, under the word "Priester und Schuhe"; Riehm, Handworterbuch des bib. Alt., under the word "Schuhe."
George B. Eager