Wearing Crocs on Yom Kippur
Much has been written about Rav Elyashiv’s alleged statement that it is prohibited to where Croc’s on Yom Kippur. While I didn’t have time to write anything about it before YK, I thought that it was still important to bring some sources which address the issue. The prohibition of wearing leather shoes on YK is found in Mishnah Yomah 8:1. In the Babylonian Talmud Yoma 88a-b a number of descriptions are brought regarding which type of shoes different sages would wear on YK.
Furthermore did they ask [R. Eleazar]: How about going forth [on the Day of Atonement] in sandals of bamboo? — Thereupon R. Isaac b. Nahmani stood up and said: I saw myself R. Joshua b. Levi going forth in sandals of bamboo on the Day of Atonement. I asked him: How about [on public rain] fast? He answered: There is no difference. Rabbah b. Bar Hanah said: I saw R. Eleazar of Niniveh who was going forth in sandals of bamboo on a public [rain] fast, and I asked him: How about the Day of Atonement? He answered: There is no difference. Rab Judah went forth in [sandals made of] reeds; Abaye in [such made] of palm-branches; Raba in [such made of] twisted reeds; Rabbah b. Bar Rav Hunah tied a piece of cloth around his legs and went thus forth.
What was it about all of these types of Jews that these sages wore? While they weren’t made of leather, they do seem to offer in the very least protection, if not some level of comfort. According to the Rambam (Hilchot Shevitat Asur 3:1), whose opinion is not accepted by most authorities, one of the requirements of footwear that one is permitted to wear on YK is that the person be able to feel the ground.
Another source which I read in S.Y. Agnon’s Yamim Noraim over the holiday is from the Mordechai on Yoma.
רבה בר רב הונא…
One bring pillows and cushions to the synagogue to stand on them because there are people who have pain in their feet and the cold is difficult for them, since even though one is forbidden to wear [leather] shoes it is said that Rabbah bar Rav Hunah (he then goes on to quote Yoma 78b)
Jeff Woolf discussed the issue at My Obiter Dicta and one of the things which bothered him was the subjectivity of the decision. Just because Rav Elyashiv thinks that Crocs are comfortable, does not mean that everybody thinks so. One person’s shoe of comfort is another person’s shoe of discomfort. Subjectivity is not foreign to questions of Jewish law. One example which may be relevant for some of us in the next few days is whether one is מצטער, uncomfortable, when sitting in the Sukkah. Someone who is uncomfortable is exempt from sitting and eating in the Sukkah, but there is no one-size-fits all definition of what qualifies as “uncomfortable.” Subjectivity, when not arbitrarily used and forced upon others, should not necessarily be seen as a weakness and sometimes it shoes the strength of a legal system’s ability to adapt to different circumstances and situations.