The Mishna (Ketubot 5:8) in today’s daf (Ketubot 64b) details what a husband must give his wife as part of fulfilling his biblical duty of כסות (providing clothing), and this includes ומנעל ממועד למועד – ‘[giving her] shoes from one festival to the other’.
According to many of the commentaries, this means that a husband should ensure that his wife has new shoes for each of the three pilgrim festivals (Pesach, Shavuot & Sukkot). In fact, it is worthwhile noting that according to Rabbi Yekutiel Halberstam’s interpretation of the Rambam (Hilchot Yom Tov 6:17), the fact that the Mishna uses the words ממועד למועד as opposed to מרגל לרגל comes to teach us that in addition to the three pilgrim festivals, a husband should also ensure that his wife also has new shoes for Rosh Hashanah because this too is a festive day (see Responsa Divrei Yatziv 1:228). According to this approach, it seems that the provision of כסות (clothing) is also attached to the mitzvah of simcha (joy) and the need for a husband to do whatever he can to make his wife happy.
In contrast to this interpretation of the Mishna, we are later taught by Abaye (see Ketubot 65b) that the teacher of our Mishna lived in a mountainous region where the rugged landscape meant that shoes wore out more quickly – and thus he ruled that a husband must provide his wife with three new pairs of shoes a year. However, were this not to be the case it would appear that his duty does not go beyond the need to provide a new pair of shoes once a year (see Rabbeinu Yona as quoted in Shita Mekubetzet). According to this approach, it seems that the provision of כסות (clothing) is unrelated to the mitzvah of simcha (joy). Instead, it is simply based on what a husband needs to do to ensure that his wife has what she needs.
Clearly there seems to be two very different approaches to this duty. However, I believe that this ‘contradiction’ is easily reconciled, because while I and other husbands that I know generally qualify the need for new shoes according to the need for new the shoes, numerous women (as well as my daughters!) see this question quite differently, because the word ‘need’ in terms of shoes is not solely measured by the wear and tear of the sole of the shoe. Instead, it is measured by the needs of the one who considers themselves to be in need of new shoes.
For some people this distinction may be quaint, while for others, it may even be amusing. However, underpinning this discussion is a very important lesson because all too often we consider human needs through the prism of things, whereas human needs almost always exceed the provision of things.
Ultimately, when it comes to a marriage – which is the topic of our Mishna, the provision of shoes (and this certainly applies to many other things too!) isn’t just about the shoes. Instead, it is about the person wearing the shoes, and while some husbands understand this intuitively, others can take many years before grasping this simple lesson. Either way, as Rosh Hashanah is soon approaching (and even if you don’t adopt the view of Rabbi Halberstam, Sukkot is only just over a month away), I wish you all happy shopping and
Mazal Tov on your new shoes!