Not Wearing Shoes Doesn’t Mean Going Barefoot by Rabbi Avram Schwartz

Rabbi Shimon Greenfeld (1860-1930, known as Maharsha”g) was a rabbi and rosh yeshiva in Hungary before the Second World War, serving the communities of Munkacs and Semihali. He was a prominent student of Maharam Shick (Rabbi Moshe Shick), himself the student of Hatam Sofer. Rabbi Greenfeld was widely respected as a scholar throughout his life, becoming a central address for difficult halakhic questions.

In this teshuvah, Rabbi Greenfeld addresses a questioner who asked whether it is permitted to wear rubber-soled shoes on Yom Kippur (as well as Tisha bi’Av and shiva) when one is not permitted to wear shoes. The questioner, Rabbi Moshe Natan Jungreis, had suggested that although non-leather shoes are not halakhically defined as shoes, they should be forbidden since the wearer does not feel as if they are walking barefoot. Rabbi Greenfeld rejects this as a fundamentally flawed argument: Yes, the Torah commands us to afflict ourselves on Yom Kippur, but only in limited and specific ways. To go beyond this misses the fact that Yom Kippur, as a holiday, remains a day of joy, not mourning, and should be accorded the respect given to all holidays.

Rabbi Greenfield underscores an important lesson that is easy for us to overlook in the intensity of the day, a day which can prompt us to think in extreme, all-or-nothing terms about what makes for ideal religious behavior.

This teshuvah prompts us to ask: how do we find the right balance this year? How do we balance seriousness of commitment and scrupulous attention to detail with joy, self-care, and an attempt to live our lives by the deeper ethos of halakhah, properly understood? May these be among the questions we grapple with in the year to come.

(למי ששאל אם מותר לנעול מנעלים של גומי ביוה”כ)

…[ו]לדעתי נראה דאפילו מצד חומרא א”צ להחמיר ואין בזה מדת חסידות כלל. וראי’ דאם נימא מצד חומרא ומידת חסידות חש להחמיר שיעשה על אופן שיצטער בה’ ענויים א”כ אף אנו נימא כן באכילה ושתי’ שכל המתענה ומצטער יותר הרי זה משובח, וא”כ למה צותה התורה לאכול בט’ ופשטות הענין כדי שיהי’ יכול להתענות הנקל בי’… והלא אדרבה טוב יותר שלא לאכול הרבה כדי להצטער יותר ויהי’ נחשב לו יותר לענוי. א”ו אין זה מידת חסידות כלל וכל המחמיר בשביל כך כדי שהיי’ נחשב לו ענוי יותר שיצטער יותר אין זה אלא חסיד שוטה ואין לו דעת להבין עומק תוה”ק.

וכמו שהוא בענוי של אכילה ושתיה כן הוא בשאר ה’ ענויים. ופשוט אצלי דמי שהולך ביוהכ”פ בענוי של נעילת הסנדל במקום קר כדי שיצטער יותר בהליכתו יחף אינו מקבל שום שכר ע”ז ורק נחשב לשוטה ופתי…

ועוד נ”ל דמי שעושה פעולה שיצטער ביוהכ”פ אפי’ באחת מה’ ענויים על אופן שהתורה התירה והוא בא להחמיר כדי שיצטער, יהי’ לו עונש משום בזוי יו”ט, והא דבאמת יוהכ”פ יו”ט הוא ואסור לצער עצמו בו.
ובמדרש רבה פ’ בהר דורש ולקדוש ה’ מכובד, זה יוהכ”פ שאין בו אכילה ושתיה אמרה תורה כבדהו בכסות נקיה, והיינו דבאמת היה ראוה להתענג ביוהכ”פ משום כבוד היום רק דהתורה אסרה בו החמשה ענויים ונמצא דזה כבודו לקיים בו רצון התורה. אבל בדבר שלא צוותה התורה המצטער עצמו ביוהכ”פ והי בכלל בזיון היום ח”ו וא”כ מי שאינו הולך במנעלים של גומי שמותר מצד התורה לילך בו והוא רוצה מצד שיצטער עושה שלא כדין שאסור להצטער עצמו ביו”ט בזה.

(To one who asked whether it is permitted to wear rubber-soled shoes on Yom Kippur.)

…In my opinion, one need not do so even as an act of stringency, and there is no aspect of piety in this behavior at all. As a proof: If we say that one who acts out of legal stringency or piety [and] senses the need to be stringent should act in a fashion that will cause pain in the [observance of the] five afflictions (refraining from eating and drinking, bathing, anointing, wearing shoes, and sexual intercourse), then we should say the same with regard to eating and drinking — that whoever fasts more and is in greater pain is [all the more] praiseworthy. If that is true, why then did the Torah command [us] to eat on the 9th of Tishrei!? The plain meaning is that [it was] in order that it should be easy for one to fast on the 10th… But, on the contrary, wouldn’t it be better not to eat a lot in order to be in greater pain, and this would be considered a greater affliction. In fact, this [behavior] is not pious at all, and anyone who is stringent such that they will be considered to be in greater affliction and in greater pain, such a person is but a pious fool, without the intellect to understand the deep meaning of our holy Torah.

What is true of the affliction of eating and drinking is similarly true of the rest of the five afflictions. It is clear to me that one who walks barefoot on Yom Kippur — in accordance with the affliction of [not] wearing shoes — [and does so] in a cold place in order to be in greater pain receives no reward for this and is considered to be of disturbed mind and a fool…

Furthermore, it appears to me that one who does some action which will cause pain on Yom Kippur, even through one of the five afflictions, in a fashion that the Torah permitted (i.e., that is not required by the Torah), [and he does so] in an attempt to be stringent and to cause [himself] pain, is [liable for] punishment for having debased a yom tov. For Yom Kippur is, in fact, a yom tovand it is not permitted to cause oneself pain then.

In Midrash Rabbah, Parshat Behar, [the midrash] explains [the verse]: The Lord’s holy day honored (Isaiah 58:13) — “This [refers to] Yom Kippur, on which there is no eating or drinking, [but] the Torah said to honor it with [wearing] spotless clothes.” That is, in truth it is proper to be joyous on Yom Kippur because of the honor of the day. The Torah just forbade the five afflictions. What emerges is that this is then the honor of the day to fulfill the will of the Torah. But one who causes themselves pain on Yom Kippur with something that the Torah did not command would in fact be debasing the day, God forbid. Thus, one who does not wear rubber shoes, which the Torah permits one to walk in, wishing to cause himself pain, is not acting in accordance with the Law, as it is forbidden to cause oneself pain on a yom tov in this manner.