Dear Jew in the City-
Now that the summer is here, I have a question. Is it proper for an Orthodox Jewish married woman to wear sandals/open-toed shoes in public?
Thanks for your question, though I’m not sure where marital status enters into it. (The only law of modesty that hinges on marital status is that married women traditionally cover their hair, which never-married women do not.)
To answer your question, I’m going to cite not from my own work The Tzniyus Book (available on Amazon), but from another, much more stringent book, whose name I’ve been asked not to mention. (If you have even passing familiarity with such things, you probably know the one we mean.)
On the subject of sandals and open-toed shoes, this very stringent work acknowledges that our Sages never instituted that women had to cover their feet. In hot climates, women were accustomed to walk around in ankle-length dresses with their feet uncovered, and this presented no halachic difficulties. This work does go on to say that nowadays, in most Orthodox circles, the accepted practice is for women to wear hosiery, so a woman must cover her feet as well. At the very least, this permits sandals or open-toed shoes with pantyhose.
Here’s where things take a turn: I’m assuming that many readers are from communities that are not among the aforementioned “most Orthodox circles” that consider hosiery obligatory. If one is not from such circles, since the Sages never required covering one’s feet, it follows that displaying one’s toes without hose shouldn’t be an issue. (“Toes Without Hose” would also be a good name for a band.)
If there’s any halachic issue with going hosiery free, it’s not the toes. The potential problem area would be the lower leg, i.e., from the knee to the ankle, inclusive. You’ll note that in the climates where women went barefoot, they also wore long, ankle-length dresses that covered their lower legs. That’s the crux of the halachic question.
In halachic literature, the traditional consensus is that the shape of legs from the knees up must be concealed (as with a skirt), while legs below the knee must be covered (as with tights). There are plenty of modern communities in which the latter is no longer the common practice. I’m not choosing a side as to propriety of that – ask your own rabbi – but if a woman wears a denim skirt with Keds and no hose in the spring, there’s no reason that sandals in the summer would be any worse. (Those who wear stockings or tights year-round can also wear sandals in the summer. The question of sandals-with-stockings is one of aesthetics rather than of halacha.)
Rabbi Jack Abramowitz
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