The “right” Jewish way to tie your shoes

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Abigail Ellis, Jewish Unpacked

This article originally appeared at jewishunpacked.com. Reposted with permission.

If you’ve been online today, you’ve probably seen the trailer that dropped for Netflix’s new show “My Unorthodox Life.” The trailer opens with the question, “are there rules about sex?” to which Julia Haart answers “my dear, there’s rules about which shoe to tie first.”

An often forgotten ritual, Julia is absolutely correct. There is in fact a right way to put on your shoes according to the Talmud (however it is not a “rule“).

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The Shoe Rule

The rule is pretty simple and it dictates the order in which you put on and tie your shoes. Like many other Jewish rituals, you are meant to begin on your dominant side (so in my case, as a lefty, I start with my left foot):

  1. Put on the left shoe
  2. Put on the right shoe
  3. Tie the right shoe
  4. Tie the left shoe

Seems a little silly at first glance but it’s actually rooted in Jewish mysticism. According to Kabbalah, the two sides of the body represent two different aspects of a person’s soul, kindness and discipline. The stronger side corresponds to kindness/giving and the weaker to discipline/restraint.

The acts of putting on and tying your shoes are symbolic of giving and restraint (you are quite literally giving your foot a shoe and then tying it up). Removing shoes holds the same symbolism so you untie and take off your shoes in the opposite order from how you put them on.

The Parable

I remember learning about this practice for the first time during my gap year in Israel. As I recall (and forgive me because it’s been more than a few years since that trip), there was an Israeli soldier that was given the weekend off base to go home and visit family. He waited and waited for a bus that never came until someone pulled over and offered him a ride. It was close to sundown on that fateful Friday so the driver, a religious man, offered to host him for Shabbat. The soldier wasn’t religious, but he was desperate so he agreed.

The two got to talking and very long story short (because I forgot most of the details), the soldier agreed to do more mitzvot (commandments or rules). Fast forward some amount of time. This soldier is getting ready for a mission. He puts on his pants, buttons his shirt, etc. When it comes time for the shoes, he decides to take the extra moment and do it “right.” This of course takes extra time and his unit heads out without him. He finishes up and heads out only to find that the helicopter he was meant to be on exploded, killing his entire unit. SAD! But he was saved because of how he tied his shoes. HOORAY!

I’m laughing to myself as I type this because now (as an adult) it seems a little extra, but at the time it was a real ohhh wow moment. So much so that I found myself putting on my shoes this way just the other day.

The Wisdom

Over a decade later, it’s a practice that’s stuck with me, in large part because it’s rooted in Jewish wisdom. It’s all about mindfulness and elevating the mundane, grounding small moments of your day in gratitude and intentionality. Now, this definitely isn’t for everyone, but honestly, no single thing in life is. Do what works for you! And hey, if you are looking for ways to feel more connected, more spiritual, why not give this a try? Think of it as a small moment for meditation and it doesn’t seem so silly anymore.

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