Skins of animals were employed for clothing as soon as man felt the need of covering his body to protect himself against cold and rain. With the advance of civilization such clothing was everywhere replaced by products of the loom. The same was the case among the Hebrews. The "coat of skins" was regarded by them as having been the first kind of clothing, given to man by God Himself (Gen. iii. 21); and the mantle of skins was still worn in the time of the Patriarchs (Gen. xxv. 25). In historic times the use of the mantle of skins is mentioned only in the case of the prophets Elijah and Elisha, who, in intentional contrast to the people of their day, wore the ancient, simple garb (I Kings xix. 13; II Kings i. 8; ii. 8, 13 et seq.); indeed, the hairy mantle came in time to be the distinguishing feature of a prophet's garb (Zech. xiii. 4; Matt. iii. 4, vii. 15).
After the Hebrews had acquired the art of tanning, which must have been at an early date, leather came to be used for a number of other purposes. Among articles of clothing it was employed chiefly for sandals. Leathern girdles are also mentioned (II Kings i. 8 et al.). The warrior had a leathern Helmet to protect his head, and his Shield also was usually of leather. For utensils in daily use leather is principally employed among nomads, as it was among the ancient Israelites, since receptacles of leather are not liable to be broken and are easily carried about. The original form of a table, as the word indicates, was a piece of leather, which was spread upon the ground. Pails and all other vessels for holding liquids were made of leather. The leather bucket for drawing water out of a well and the leather flask—consisting of a single skin removed from the animal's carcass as intact as possible—for holding wine or for transporting water have remained in common use in the Orient down to the present day. Skins of goats and sheep were generally used for these various purposes; more seldom, those of oxen. Concerning tanning, although it was probably familiar to the Hebrews from the oldest times, nothing is said in the Old Testament. Not once is a tanner mentioned.
The Talmud speaks of many articles made of skins (); and, as tanning was practised in Talmudic times, it is possible that such articles, or at least some of them, were of leather. The strap ("reẓu'ah")is mentioned as serving various purposes. Asses were hobbled with straps; and cows were led by means of straps tied to the horns (Shab. 54b). Women used to tie their hair with leathern straps (ib. 57a); and by similar means shoes and sandals were fastened to the feet (Neg. xi. 11), and the tefillin to the head and arm (Men. 35b). Flagellation ("malḳut") was performed by means of three straps—one of calfskin and two of ass'skin (Mak. 22b); straps are frequently mentioned as instruments of punishment, especially of children (Yer. Giṭ. i. 43d, et passim). It would appear that straps were used to tie up certain objects, as the untying of the strap is often used to designate relaxation (Yer. Bik. i. 64a, et passim). It is very probable that sandals generally were made of thick hide; for wooden sandals are indicated as such (Yeb. 101a, et passim). Besides shoes, the Talmud speaks of leather hose ("anpilia"), and of a kind of glove and foot-wear of skin for a cripple who was compelledto use his hands in order to move from place to place (ib. 102b).
The Mishnah, Kelim xxvi. 5, enumerates the following articles made of leather: a covering for the mule or ass; aprons worn by muleteers and by surgeons to protect their clothes; a cradle-cover; a child's breast-piece to protect it from the scratching of a cat; aprons by which wool-carders and flaxspinners protected themselves from the waste of the wool or the tow of the flax; the pad placed by the porter under his load; and skins used for various purposes by individuals not engaged in any business or trade ("'orot ba'al ha-bayit"). In mishnah 8 of the same chapter, tanners' skins are spoken of; but certainly untanned skins are meant, similar to those referred to in Shab. 49a as having been spread by the tanner for people to sit upon.