In II Sam. xv. 30 it is mentioned that David, on his flight before Absalom, went Barefoot to show his grief. Micah i. 8, "to be barefooted" (according to LXX.; "stripped," A. V.) is, likewise, a sign of mourning. In Isa. xx. 2 the nakedness and the bare feet of the prophet may be intended to symbolize the neglected condition of captives (compare Job xii. 17, 19, where probably the true translation is "barefoot"; "spoiled," A. V. and R. V.). All these passages seem to refer to the discomfort of going without sandals on long journeys over stony roads. On the other hand, in and around the house the wearing of sandals seems to have been very uncommon. For a different explanation of the custom of going Barefoot as a sign of mourning and then of grief in general, see Jastrow on "Tearing of Garments" ("Journal of the Amer. Oriental Society," xxi. 23-39). See Shoe.
To go Barefoot is the common custom in the Orient when walking about one's house or on holy ground, or even in the street in cases of mourning. The shoes worn in antiquity were only sandals—that is, soles tied upon the feet to protect them against the pricking of the hard stones or thorns of the road—whereas stockings were altogether unknown. It therefore appeared as desecration of a holy place to walk thereon with dustcovered shoes, instead of having the feet perfectly cleansed by ablutions, as was the custom before sitting down to a meal.
The priests in the sanctuaries wore no shoes (see "Silius Italicus," iii. 28; Theodoret on Ex. iii., quæstio 7; Yer. Sheḳ. v. 48d). Moses and Joshua were told to take off their shoes on holy ground (Ex. iii. 5; Josh. v. 15). "No one was allowed to walk on the Temple ground with shoes on or with dust on his feet" (Ber. ix. 5; compare Iamblichus, "Pythagoras," § 105). Similarly, in Islam no one is allowed to enter the mosque except when barefooted. For the same reason the priests, when going upon the platform before the sacred Ark in the synagogue to bless the congregation, must take off their shoes; though to-day they wear stockings and are not supposed to be Barefoot (Soṭah 40a; R. H. 31b; see Shulḥan 'Aruk, Oraḥ Ḥayyim, 128, 5).
Modern opinions differ as to the reason for the removal of the shoes as a sign of mourning; some scholars see in the custom a trace of ancestor worship, others a return to primitive modes of life, while others again, in agreement with the Jewish view, suggest that it is a symbol of humility appropriate to occasions of grief or solemnity. For this latter reason shoes are not worn on the Day of Atonement or on the Ninth of Ab.
Occidental life, however, did away with the custom of going Barefoot; stockings and the like being worn on all occasions for which removal of shoes is prescribed (see Shulḥan 'Aruk, Oraḥ Ḥayyim, 614, 2; 554, 16).
- Winer, B. R. s.v. Priester and Schuhe;
- Riehm, Handwörterbuch des Biblischen Alterthums, s.v. Schuhe.