June 25, 2020

Shabbat 60

While our clothes and shoes may have a functional purpose to provide us with protection from the elements, our clothes and shoes are also reference points for some of our most significant life memories. For example, when putting on a particular pair of shoes a person might momentarily be taken back in the time to recall how these shoes were worn for a very special occasion. Similarly, a person might be wearing a particular piece of clothing and then suddenly remember how they were wearing this same item of clothing when they heard some tragic news. Simply put, while our memories often include the clothes and shoes that we wear, our clothes and shoes can often remind us of some of our most significant memories.

I mention all this in light of our daf (Shabbat 60a-b) where, in explaining the basis of the rabbinic ruling prohibiting the wearing of hobnailed sandals on Shabbat & Yom Tov, the Gemara records a terrible incident from the time of the Hadrianic persecution.

At the time, a group of Jews were hiding from the Romans in a narrow cave, most likely on their hands and feet one behind the other. Suddenly, they were startled by the sound of the nearby Roman soldiers, and panicking and fearful that they were about to be get caught, they started pushing each other forward.

Unfortunately, because these Jews were gathered together so tightly, and because they were all wearing hobnailed sandals, their agitated movements inflicted terrible wounds on each other, and as the Gemara records, this resulted in the fact that ‘they killed more of each other than the enemies did’.

Based on the Gemara’s different descriptions it seems that only a small group of people survived this horrific incident who then relayed its gruesome details to the wider Jewish community. Naturally, the community would have been incredibly distressed by this story, and it seems that from then onwards, the mere sight or sound of hobnailed sandals was unsettling for many Jews.

Possibly due to the utility of such sandals, the Rabbis decided not to ban their usage during the weekday. However, given the profoundly disturbing memories evoked by the mere sight and sound of such sandals, the Rabbis ruled that they should not be worn on Shabbat & Yom Tov.

By doing so, our Rabbis affirmed a simple yet powerful fact that personal and national memories can often be triggered by clothes, by shoes, and in this case, even by the very sound of a particular type of sandal.

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