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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54 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.

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  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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  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.
    • We are very happy that you’ve joined our discussion forum. Would you believe that these articles are only a taste of what Israel Bible Center has to offer? We also provide comprehensive teaching on a variety of biblical, historical, and cultural topics. You might begin with The First Commandment: Deuteronomy in the Gospels or . You’ll be amazed at the Jewish world that awaits you. Don’t delay another minute: enroll now!
  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
  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.
    • 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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
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