Yom Kippur, Leather Boots & True Repentance



My beloved and much appreciated Doc Martens

During the High Holy Days, and Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement – in particular, there is a commonly observed Jewish custom of not wearing leather shoes. One reason given for this custom is that traditionally leather shoes have been seen as being more comfortable than other shoes, and on a day of such solemnity one should minimise one’s comforts.

Another basis for this custom is that it would be inappropriate to wear leather shoes on this day of repentance, as an animal had to die in order for those shoes to be made. To some degree I agree with this and thus, last year, I made the decision to not wear leather shoes throughout the entire High Holy Day period.

This year I’ve not been quite as observant in this regard,  mainly because my energies have been focused on things other than what clothes to wear and what shoes go with which outfit. But also, last year, while I did make a conscious decision to not wear leather, I couldn’t get this niggling thought out of my head: Why is it seen as inappropriate to wear shoes [or coats, belts, handbags and so on] made from leather only* at this time of the year? Surely, if you truly believe that one should not wear something for which an animals life had to be sacrificed, then this must be true all year round? No?

Now, while I’m not prepared to give up my Vans, Docs or other items made of leather, I have been pondering this idea, on and off, and wondering if there is not perhaps another way for me to honour the fact that an animal had to die for me to have those comforts? Or maybe an additional way?

So, this morning I got all of my leather shoes and boots out, and spent a good few hours cleaning, polishing and buffing them. I didn’t do it in order to make them look good – although that is a nice side effect, indeed – but to make sure I kept them in the best possible condition for them to last as long as possible.

I know this probably sounds like the seventh degree of madness, but while sitting there, doing this work, I really did feel an odd sense of connection with something other than just a pair of old Docs. I was sitting there, remembering all the times I’ve worn those boots, how much I love them, how they’ve been with me for such a long time – almost as if we’ve been on this big spiritual journey together, and that through caring for those shoes I was in a sense paying my respect to the animal from which they came.  And it felt meaningful.

Will I be wearing my Docs for Yom Kippur? Probably not.
But I do feel that the true repentance, or, rather, the genuine acknowledgement that these boots didn’t just spring out of nowhere, took place during those moments of connection – and came from a very real place.


PS. If you enjoyed this alternative take on atonement, you may be interested in reading this piece, written by Rabbi Debbie Young-Somers  about how people suffering from an eating disorder could make teshuvah by not fasting on Yom Kippur.

13 responses

  1. I’m not Juwish or anything but I though this was really interesting. + It’s nice to read that things might be a little better. ps. I LUV those pink laceys

  2. Hi! Regarding Judaism and vegetarianism, I believe I could offer some ideas. Quite some time ago – when I was still in secondary school – a group of pupils, including me, from my year where invited to Rabbi Sack’s house for tea and a similar question to yours came up during the visit. Somebody from our group asked the Chief why it was important to observe kashrus and if it could really be morally right to eat meat. If I remember correctly he said that the Jewish ideal was to be a vegetarian – and he himself is one! – but if one, for whatever reason, couldn’t do that, then the next best thing was to keep kosher.

    So, I suppose on such a day as Yom Kippur, one ought to strive towards asceticism and in doing so deny oneself that which is profane and earthly. Not wearing leather therefore should be highly symbolical of one’s inner need for spiritual purification.

    Hope that helps!

    Best, Gitty

  3. Hello, Lindsey-Winsey. Once again thanks for commenting. Always nice to hear that people are reading my posts. – The laces are a lot funkier than the pic shows. iTouch camera isn’t quite up to scratch. Btw, if you found this post interesting you may like to check out the link at the very end of this post. Be kind to yourself, xx

  4. Hello Gitty. Thank you for taking the time to comment. I really appreciate it. At some point I may write a bit more about vegetarianism, as I happen to be one myself, in part (but not only) because I simply wouldn’t be able to eat Kosher meat, and I feel that if I were to eat meat, it ought to be Kosher. Catch-22. Anyway, I’ll save it for another post. – Look after yourself. All the best. xx

  5. Jag gillar mina Doc också, de är lite tunga bara. Själv tycker jag att genom att ta hand om dina skor / läder grejor, ser man till att de håller längre och man behöver därför inte köpa nya lika ofta. (Även ett bra tips om man är snål) Kram// Nina

    (Google translate)
    I like my Doc too, they are a bit heavy only. Personally, I think that by taking care of your shoes / leather stuff, ensures that they last longer and you do not buy new ones as often. (Also a good tip if you’re stingy) Kram / ​​/ Nina

  6. Hej Ninisen! Minns att jag var jätteavis när du fick dina Docs. ;) Har inte haft på mig mina på ett tag, eftersom jag haft en Vans-period. – Jag gillar att de är tunga. Lite irriterande att de piper när man går igenom metalldetektorn på flygplatsen dock. Ha det bäst. Kram!

  7. Hello. Stumbled upon your blog when googling for rules about leather shoes on Yom Kippur and I just wanted to say that I really like your idea of caring for your leather shoes as a part of making t’shuvah. It makes perfect sence. So much so that I followed your example last night and did the same with my shoes (though they are considerably less cool than your boots)! I won’t be wearing leather over Yom Kippur – but I think the ritual of caring for my leather wear has definitely added to my feeling of repentance. – So thanks! – By the way I am a British Reform Jew, too. Also read some of your previous posts and I wanted to say that you should also remember to care for yourself, just like with the shoes. Life is tough, and yours seems to have been particularly difficult, but don’t forget that you, too, is one of God’s miracles and therefor you owe it to yourself to – as you often end your posts – “be good to yourself”.

  8. Jeffrey, thank you for taking the time to read and comment on my post. I always appreciate feedback, and I feel honoured that you found this one so worthwhile that you actually chose to take on my idea about caring for your leather shoes [which I am sure are just cool enough]. With regards to care for myself – very wise words, indeed. It’s a constant challenge to keep in mind that divine spark we all carry and to treat ourselves accordingly. Once again, thank you for stopping by!

  9. I love the boots! And although I’m not Jewish, I love your idea of caring for them and appreciating where they’ve come from. The idea of atonement is also resonating a lot with me.

  10. Thank you so much for the comment, Moon Tree! I’m so glad that you found something in my post that spoke to you. I’m really into multi-faith dialogue – actually, scrap multi-faith, I’m into HUMAN dialogue. We’ve got so SO much to learn from one another, regardless of faith, culture or social status.

  11. Inte de du fick när vi var typ 15-16, för de hade du fått av dina föräldrar, och anledningen till att jag var avundsjuk var att jag inte hade råd att köpa sådana.. Nåväl, blev ju bra i slutändad. :) De jag har nu har jag säkerligen haft i tio år!

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