Monday, April 8, 2013

Shoes, Jews and Muslims

From The Economist:

Ms Nahshon, author of a book called "Jews and Shoes", reckons that in respect of footwear, Muslims and Jews sometimes copied one another and sometimes consciously differentiated their practices. One tradition holds that the prophet Muhammad initially encouraged his followers to pray with shoes on, because that was in contrast with Jewish practices of the day. He was then angelically inspired to tell his followers to remove their footwear. Since then, Jews in many parts of the world have been praying with shoes on; indeed an early form of Jewish morning prayer includes special supplications to be said when donning one's footwear: the right shoe first and then the left. But in Arab countries and further east, there is much evidence of Jewish barefootedness. In some cases, Jews were compelled to remove their shoes, at least when treading near a mosque; such rules existed in Morocco and Yemen. In Islamic theocracies, regulations governing clothing and footwear were often used to mark Christians and Jews as monotheists of a lower status. But Ms Nahshon, who is also a senior associate at the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies, notes that there is an old formal family photograph of Indian Jews wearing gorgeous clothes, and nothing on their feet (pictured). That, she thinks, reflects not compulsion but a Jewish custom, one that may recall the bare-footedness of the beautifully robed priests in the Jerusalem temple.

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