Putting the Best Foot Forward
Rabbi Yochanan said, “As is with tefillin, so it is with putting on shoes. Just as tefillin is on the left side, so too is the shoe on the left.”
It is learned that tefillin is put on the left arm since it is the “weaker” arm, and placing it on the weaker arm is derived from a verse in the Torah. (Shemot 13:16) At first, it would appear that Rabbi Yochanan favors putting on the left shoe first.
However, the gemara challenges the statement of Rabbi Yochanan from a beraita which says: “When a person puts on shoes, he should put on the right one first and then the left.” This concept of showing honor and preference to the right is seen as a basic Torah principle. The Torah teaches to place sacrificial blood upon the thumb of the right hand and the big toe of the right foot of a kohen at his inauguration and for the purification of a metzora. (Shemot 29:20, Vayikra 14:14) Accordingly, the right shoe should be put on first.
Based on the divergent views expressed by Rabbi Yochanan and the beraita, Rav Yosef teaches that a person can choose to act according to Rabbi Yochanan’s ruling and put the left shoe on first, but also is in the right to choose to follow the ruling in the beraita and put the right shoe on first. (Rav Yosef asserts this despite knowing that the two teachings might be reconciled as follows: One is that perhaps Rabbi Yochanan had not heard this beraita, but if he had heard it he would have agreed with it and retracted his original statement. Or, alternatively, perhaps Rabbi Yochanan was indeed aware of the beraita, but nevertheless he did not agree with its teaching since perhaps it was not reported in an accurate fashion according to his tradition and Torah wisdom.
In addition to Rav Yosef’s ruling that one may choose which side to prefer, Rav Nachman bar Yitzchak cited a novel approach thataccommodates both views. He praised the Sage named Mar the son of Ravna for first putting on his right shoe but not yet tying it — and only then did he put on the left shoe and tie it before proceeding to tie the right shoe.
This solution, which showed honor to the right side in matter of dressing, but also showed preference to the left side in the aspect of tying was greatly lauded by Rav Nachman bar Yitzchak, “A person who fears Hashem will fulfill both views.”
And this is the halacha as codified in Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 2:4: Put on the right shoe first without tying it, put on the left shoe and tie it, and then tie the right shoe. The Aruch Hashulchan points out that this halacha is not as self-evident as one might think. Although the method of Rav Nachman bar Yitzchak is the ruling of the Tur and the Shulchan Aruch, other Rishonim completely omit any teaching regarding the order of putting on shoes. The Aruch Hashulchan justifies this omission from a timeline point of view. The halacha generally follows the one that is last in chronological order. And despite the testimony of Rav Nachman bar Yitzchak regarding Mar bar Ravna putting on the right first and tying the left first, there is another opinion in the sugya. Rav Ashi states that he saw Rav Kahana not put his shoes on in any particular order. And Rav Ashi was the latest and therefore most authoritative perspective. However, the Aruch Hashulchan notes that since Rav Nachman bar Yitzchak said that a G‑d-fearing person will show honor to both the right and left in the appropriate manner, it is clear that the ruling in the Shulchan Aruch is the practical halacha.
For the record, how should a left-handed (or left-footed) person put on shoes? Since he isa lefty who ties his tefillin on his right arm, the halachic authorities note that the person should tie the right shoe first in addition to putting it on first.
This halachic discussion has ramifications beyond deciding which shoe to put on first. The right side is to show honor and preference in general matters (aside for tying, as with tefillin). For example, one should put his right arm through a sleeve before his left, put on his right sock first, and also perform an act of mitzvah — such as giving charity to the needy — with his right hand.
- Shabbat 61a