Main piece: When someone dies, after the mourning period is over and it’s appropriate to give the clothes away that can still be worn, and you can give them to whoever you want – the recipient can take everything. Not the shoes. You don’t wear a dead person’s shoes.
Background: My informant is a seventy-nine year old Jewish woman living in Baltimore, Maryland. She describes herself as a follower of “bubbe-meises” (Yiddish), translated to “grandmother’s fables”, or a more serious version of old wive’s tales that are often accompanied by superstitions.
Context: A previous informant was discussing a traditional Jewish practice of washing your hands after a funeral. A discussion ensued about Jewish funeral rites and traditions, and my informant mentioned this one. My informant learned that from her mother, and takes the practice incredibly seriously, though it is not a situation she personally has faced. However, she does recall her mother refusing to offer her father’s shoes to family friends after his passing.
Analysis: My informant had no idea why this practice existed, nor is there any talmudic or religious reason connected to or behind this. It is possible that unlike shirts or pants, shoes cannot be washed, and so the person who used to inhabit them can never fully be removed from the shoes. It’s also possible that, pre-industrialization, a person only owned one pair of shoes, and therefore had a higher sentimental value/significance to the person. The shoes would also be tailor made for that individual, so it is possible that the family just couldn’t give away the person’s shoes, because they wouldn’t fit anybody else.