In the famous children’s story, Cinderella leaves behind a glass shoe and the prince searches for the identity of his love by making women try on that shoe. In Biblical Hebrew “shoe” is נַעַל (naal) – a common object, which can be very symbolic in the eastern culture. The Book of Ruth preserves a tradition how the transfer of rights was shown by symbolically removing a shoe.

In Chapter 4, Boaz wanted to marry Ruth but there was a complication. He was not the closest male relative.  He offered the option of redeeming Naomi’s late husband’s property to a relative of deceased Elimelech, but along with the land came an obligation to marry Ruth, the Moabitess. The closest relative refused his right to redeem the property and marry Ruth through levirate marriage (Lev 18:16) by a symbolic action involving a shoe.

“Now this was the custom in former times in Israel concerning the redemption and the exchange of land to confirm any matter: a man removed his sandal and gave it to another, and this was the manner of attestation in Israel. So the closest relative said to Boaz, “Buy it for yourself.” And he removed his sandal.” (Ruth 4:7-8 NASB).

This may appear odd to modern people, but in ancient Israel a sandal functioned almost like a signature on a contract. It also showed that the person relinquished his rights and recognized another’s rights (read more about near-eastern customs involving shoes here). If the identity of the party in the agreement was ever in question, one could presumably produce a shoe which would actually fit that person, just like in the Cinderella story.

Join me and discover the simplicity of the Hebrew culture and language. Understand how it speaks in through simple imagery, yet says so much.

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51 COMMENTS

    • Sorry, Frank, not an expert on Islamic thinking. Since it is a much later development, I can only help with pre-Islamic ideas and how they affect an eastern thought. With Muslim matters, my competence is very limited.

      • I did not know Muslims threw shoes as insult, I had some students threw theirs at me, I do not remember being so disrespected and mocked, in Canada I had students mostly from Christian and Jewish background and it never happened to me, yes there are yawning and attitudes as in any child but to this level to have shoes thrown at me- never, also they physically ambushed me in a school, very sad the mindset and indoctrination. In regards to Cinderella, it is actually about her humbleness and character.

  1. A very unique form of sealing the contract. But I recall reading a Parasha where it speaks of the lowest part of the body (the feet) used as an expression of kindness and caring for others. Removing the Sandals and Washing your guests feet. Is there a possible connection? Shalom Braja

    • Roberto, feet, and shoes communicate an entire array of symbolic ideas. And all of it depends on context, of course. Washing feet is stock hospitality token. It shows good will and kindness. This is something which a person can do to themselves, but when it is done by someone else it shows a desire to serve.

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      • That is why Ruth uncovered the feet of Boaz and lay next to them. She was pledging her devotion to him and expressing her desire to serve him all of her days. Some modern Bible commentators have suggested that it carried a sexual connotation but probably not true as any suggestion of a woman approaching a man sexually would have been quite improper for a decent woman.

  2. A nice insight … that Elimelech’s relative gave one shoe of a pair to Boaz. before other witnesses in the Town Gate, so each party had a shoe as evidence of a transaction, whether or not it was later formalised by any other form of agreement. It recalls the two stone slates with the Ten Words … two copies, one for God one for Israel [but for obvious reasons, Israel had to carry both copies around].

    • Samuel, removing the shoe can be a sign dispossession, letting go of property, the right of ownership or responsibility. In case of Dt 25 it is letting go of the responsibility of levirate marriage. It was an honored duty to raise up offspring for a relative who died. So removing a shoe in this contexts is shameful because the person says I do not want to help my relative. In Boaz’s case, he acts as thus relative, while the one next in line lets his right go.

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  3. This question is posed to Dr. Eli, What was the original sin that Adam and Eve committed? Going through the Bible I am of the opinion that this is not just eating some kind of fruit. It seems to me a sexual activity that took place in the Garden of Eden. God created all the animals and then later created Adam. Only after some time did God created “Woman” a helper for Adam. The serpent in the scene is one who had an intellect and could communicate as well. He was not a slithering snake and was almost like man

    • Shirley, shalom! Many thanks for asking this question. Quite simply the best I understand it the original sin was disobedience of the word of God (nothing more, nothing less).

      • Perhaps not only the disobedience of God’s word, but the refusal to accept personal responsibility, in effect blaming G-d for our own choices. ” The woman YOU put here with me – SHE gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” (Gen 3:12) Is the greatest sin the disobedience, or the failure to repent afterwards?

        • “‘Did God actually says,…’ Adam, how dare you blame me” hence, it is not right to say Adam is blaming God. It should be taken simply as his honest reply to God. In His judgement on Adam in Genesis 3, God only stated Adam should have obeyed Him instead of his wife. Adam was NOT DECEIVED, …woman WAS DECEIVED.. (1 Tim 2:14) PERHAPS, Adam is motivated by his deep love for this wife that God gave him, he took the fruit. This may explain why Christ is called the 2nd Adam who became sin for His bride.

  4. Now suppose John the Baptist was speaking about a female Jesus, a Cinderella, and her sandal. ‘He is the One who comes after me, the straps of whose sandals” I am not worthy to untie.’ The pronoun He seems to presuppose this idea. Some may have trouble supposing John was talking about God’s gift of Love. I think John was reminding the disciples that the Messiah to come was the One, the bride and the groom, who was worthy to untie each other’s sandals and realize the prophetic dream of Solomon’s Song. He who has the Bride is the Groom.

  5. Now I’m curious if there is a link to the shoes of ‘readiness that comes from the gospel of peace’ in Galatians 6:15.

    • In Eph 6:15 – this is a reference to Isaiah 52:7, not about taking shoes off, per say, but the opposite. The natural non-symbolic function of shoes is of course to protect our feet. Nothing unusual here.

    • I believe the land would eventually be owned by Ruth’s first son, as he would be regarded as her deceased first husband’s child. The rest of the children would be Boaz’s and they would inherit from him in the normal way. It would be up to him if he wanted to add to the inheritance of the firstborn.

  6. The whole matter finally peters down to a profound truth of the subject of ministry of RECONCILIATION in the preset era . It could be better summed up in this way. As the OLD TESTAMENT SAYINGS ARE THE SHADOW OF THE THINGS TO HAPPEN IN THE LATER NEW TESTAMENT TIMES, we must not end up with the ‘shoe removal’ which was a symbolic acytivity of OT times. (DEUT 25:5) Instead we can better interpret the whole issue in one sense that we ‘ve been entrusted with the word of RECONCILIATION As the each one of the NEW TESTAMENT BEIEVER as an AMBASSADOR of CHRIST (2 COR 5:20) has been assigned the work of RECONCILIATION, that we must win the souls for CHRIST.That is what APOSTLE PAUL is expounding the MYSTERY of the GOSPEL, that we are the BRIDE to be made as the RIGHTEOUSNESS of God in Christ.

  7. Why do we always equate sex with sin .The same with wine .The bible speak out against immorality ,what David did to get another’s wife was immoral.
    Christ made wine fermented grape juice. Drunkenness like glutony is a sin, Solomon and Paul spoke about the good properties of wine
    The bible is a document for real people ,rules how to live a normal life guided by love for God and our neighbors.And who the neighbors are and how Christians should treat them is made abundantly clear in the parable of the Good Samaritan

  8. LOVE The analogy of the OT shoe in terms of Jesus returning to redeem his “Cinderella” bride the same way that the prince comes to claim his bride with a shoe.
    Very nicely done, Linda Vogt Turner (And, of course, Prof. Shir)!

  9. As a comment I would like to hear from Dr Shir why the Shunemite woman caught hold of Elisha’s feet, is it still in humility, or was it because she was upset?

    Thank you

  10. I am one of the happiest persons on the earth because l now have the opportunity to reread my bible in context and culture of the bible land

    May Elohim bless Israel His people.

  11. I have 2 unrelated questions. Firstly, why was circumcision to be carried out using sharp stones and not knives ? Secondly, what am I missing in the story about Noah’s son, Ham. As far as I understand, he reported a matter of fact to his brothers, without evil intent. How could this possibly produce such a strong reaction ( a strong curse ) from Noah towards Ham and his descendants ?

    • Two brief answers… stones were used because a sliver of flint is extremely sharp. Noah and Ham – a complicated text that does not spell out exactly what Ham did. But whatever it was it was inappropriate enough to be cursed by his own father.

      • Is it possible that “the nakedness of their father” is a clue to what Ham did?( Leviticus 18:8) The writer of Genesis 9:20-26 is calling our attention to the paternity of Canaan for a reason. Perhaps the MOTHER of Canaan is the “nakedness of the father.”

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  12. Shirley Reinzie Aaron. I wonder if I may enlarge on Dr Eli’s comment which of course I totally agree. A teacher once said he didn’t believe in Adam etc because its no sin to eat an apple! Of course he totally missed the point. It doesn’t matter what the fruit was. Suspect it was unique though being the soul tree. God forbade the eating of it. Nothing sexual is implied but total disobedience and disregard for Gods command and being the head of our race we too inherit and stand guilty as Dr Eli correctly says.

    • In some Eastern traditions, it was a Quince, not an apple (tho’ they are related). Quinces are very tart, don’t ripen on the tree, but must be cooked for eating. Eating them raw will make your mouth pucker something fierce! — the tree’s retribution?

  13. I fully agree, but I wish to spell things out in more detail. Since Adam and Eve had already been commanded to “be fruitful and multiply”, it seems clear that G-d regarded them as a lawfully married couple and that they could not commit (1) fornication (sex before marriage) or (2) adultery ( since there was no one else around with whom either of them could do so or (3) “gay sex” since there was only one of them of each sex at that stage. Any suggestion that their sin was sexual is therefore ridiculous!

    • Does your interpretation create new questions? The serpents seed needs a way here, and that makes it curious clothes were needed next. But personally, if I’m running around naked with wife in paradise I know exactly what tree is in the center of my garden. Hardest test around? What’s yours?

  14. In most literature, throwing oneself at someone’s feet is an act of utmost humility. As for shoes, supposedly they were a sign of wealth since most ordinary people went barefoot in antiquity. A sandal (shoe) would be a physical token of a transaction, and also carrying some value, like the earnest money required as one enters a contract to buy a house.

  15. God told Adam and Eve to stay together. Eve wondered off Adam don’t pay attention. Serpent was open to deceive. Both in disobedience.

  16. Throwing shoes: In some instances in the African American culture, a shoe can be thrown to co-sign, agree with, and join in affirming a powerful song or worship experience. On the show The X Factor, Jennifer Hudson sometimes throws her shoe at contestants who have performed outstandingly.

  17. Does anyone remember Saddam Hussein’s statue being slapped with shoes after it was pulled down? I remember they were happy. I can’t believe they invented the tradition on the spot.

      • I remember there was a problem around 40+ years as A Western delegate crossed their leg while sitting thus showing the sole of his shoe and the Muslim person felt highly insulted. Different culture and different gestures
        are interpreted differently.

  18. Well, if one must make connections, no need to refer to Cinderella. At the burning bush, didn’t God say to Moses: “Take off your sandals for the land where you’re standing is holy”? Keeping in mind that Israelites were not allowed to alienate their ancestral land,taking-off-shoes-is-a-way-to-yield-claim-but-still-reaffirm-the-holiness-of-the-land. This-is-a-better-connection-than-Cinderella, anyway-better-attested-biblically.

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