One of the five prohibitions on Tisha Be’av is wearing leather shoes.
The Poskim discuss the law regarding non-leather shoes which are extremely comfortable, such as sneakers made out of rubber and synthetic materials. Would it permissible to wear such sneakers on Tisha Be’av or should it be forbidden to wear because they are no less comfortable than leather shoes?
Hagaon Harav Rachamim Chai Hwita Ha’Kohen zt”l writes in his Responsa Simchat Kohen (Chapter 173) that since the Rishonim and Acharonim only discuss the prohibition of leather shoes and they do not discuss a prohibition regarding any other materials, one may wear such non-leather sneakers one wears throughout the year on Tisha Be’av as well. Maran zt”l rules likewise in his Chazon Ovadia-Arba Ta’aniyot (page 299).
Another discussion arises regarding wearing shoes made from man-made materials which resemble actual leather shoes on Tisha Be’av. A possible reason for stringency in this regard is because those who see one wearing such shoes on Tisha Be’av may suspect one of transgressing Halacha and wearing one’s regular leather shoes on Tisha Be’av. This was indeed the ruling of Hagaon Harav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt”l.
Nevertheless, Maran zt”l disagrees and rules that since such imitation-leather shoes are quite common nowadays, there is no reason for suspicion and they may be worn on Tisha Be’av. He then provides proofs and sources for his opinion.
Rabbeinu Yaakov Castro zt”l describes a common footwear in Egypt in his time called “Kavkav” in Arabic which was essentially a clog whose sole was made of wood, cork with a leather strap on top which holds the sole against the foot. He writes that one may wear such clogs or slippers on Tisha Be’av since the leather strap is not meant to protect the foot and is merely meant to hold the sole in place. Maran zt”l quotes this as Halacha (Chazon Ovadia, ibid, page 301).
Living Among Non-Jews
Ra’avaya (Rabbeinu Eliezer ben Yoel Ha’Levi, one of the great Tosafists) writes that Jews that live among non-Jews may wear their regular leather shoes until they enter the Jewish road/area because the non-Jews would ridicule the Jews for walking barefoot. Several other Rishonim concur.
Nevertheless, Maran Ha’Bet Yosef writes the following regarding this ruling: “Halachically speaking, one should not act leniently. Even if the non-Jews ridicule him, so what?” There is even more reason to rule stringently on this issue nowadays based on the words of the Mishcha De’Rabvata who writes that the non-Jewish ridiculing can be avoided by wearing non-leather shoes. (See Chazon Ovadia, ibid, page 302)