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    I. Shoes Off
    In the Diaspora,
    Ashkenazim perform
    Birkas Kohanim (the
    priestly blessings)
    only on holidays.
    However, in most
    places in Israel, it is done every day,
    albeit without the lengthy singing.
    This is a biblical requirement, which
    raises the question why it is not done
    everywhere. Be that as it may, soldiers
    who are kohanim (from the priestly
    families) perform Birkas Kohanim
    whenever they can pray with a minyan
    in the morning. Even in the battlefield or
    while occupying enemy territory, if there
    is no active fighting then the soldiers pray
    with a minyan in a safe place. However,
    this often raises a question about how the
    kohanim act.
    R. Yochanan Ben Zakkai, the great
    Jewish leader after the destruction of
    the Second Temple, instituted many
    enactments. One is that kohanim must
    remove their shoes for Birkas Kohanim
    (Rosh Hashanah 31b). The Gemara

    (Sotah 40a) offers two possible reasons
    for this enactment: 1) out of respect for
    the community, 2) in case the shoelace
    becomes untied and the kohen will
    stop to tie it and miss Birkas Kohanim,
    which will raise suspicion in the eyes of
    the congregation who note his absence.
    When a soldier recites Birkas Kohanim,
    does he have to remove his shoes?
    Often, this will cause him to get very
    uncomfortable and dirty.
    Rambam (Mishneh Torah, Hilkhos
    Tefillah 14:6) writes that the kohanim
    may not ascend to the dukhen, the raised
    platform near the ark, wearing shoes but
    rather must be barefoot. Rambam clearly
    says that kohanim must be barefoot but
    Rav Yosef Karo (Beis Yosef, Orach
    Chaim 128) quotes R. Mano’ach who
    says that Rambam only says barefoot
    to exclude shoes because those were
    the only options in his time. Nowadays,
    when people wear socks,
    kohanim may ascend the dukhen while
    wear socks. Hagahos Maimoniyos (ad
    loc., 4) quotes Ra’avyah as explicitly
    permitting socks. (I use the modern term

    “socks” for batei
    shokayim, which
    were a form of cloth
    or leather covering
    of the feet and the
    leg up to the knee,
    sometimes with laces
    that are tied at the
    II. Blessing From
    the Ground

    Rav Yishmael Ha-
    Kohen (19th cen.,

    Italy) was asked
    whether kohanim may say Birkas
    Kohanim while wearing cloth shoes. He
    did not allow it in his synagogue but he
    learned that most other synagogues near

    him permitted the practice. Rav Ha-
    Kohen reviews the sources and concludes

    that leather shoes are forbidden with
    or without laces but cloth shoes are
    forbidden only with laces (Zera Emes,
    Orach Chaim, no. 14). In the case of
    cloth shoes, because they have shoelaces
    they must be removed before reciting
    Birkas Kohanim. More recently, Rav
    Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (20th cen.,
    Israel) says that technically kohanim
    may recite Birkas Kohanim while
    wearing cloth (or canvas) shoes but they
    should not do so because people will
    become confused and permit all shoes
    (Halikhos Shlomo, Tefillah 10:11). Rav
    Yechezkel Katzenellenbogen (18th
    cen., Germany) also addresses the
    question of reciting Birkas Kohanim
    while wearing cloth shoes with laces.
    He rules that it is forbidden but then
    suggests that it is only forbidden
    to ascend to the dukhen and recite
    Birkas Kohanim while wearing such
    shoes. When they stand on an elevated
    platform and then lift their arms, their
    shoes are revealed to the congregation.
    However, if the kohanim remain on the
    floor, the enactment does not apply to
    them (Kenesses Yechezkel, no. 11).
    Rav Eliezer Waldenburg (20th cen.,
    Israel) served as the rabbi of the Sha’arei
    Tzedek Hospital. He often had patients
    wearing slippers attend services who
    wanted to say Birkas Kohanim but
    would not or could not take off the
    slippers due to the cold (Tzitz Eliezer,
    vol. 14, no. 11). Rav Waldenburg
    quotes other authorities who rule
    like Rav Katzenellenbogen, that the
    enactment to remove shoes is limited to

    those who ascend to the dukhen. While
    this minority view should not become
    common practice, the hospital patients
    may say Birkas Kohanim on the ground
    while wearing their hospital slippers.
    Similarly, Rav Ovadiah Yosef (21st cen.,
    Israel) was asked about kohanim who
    refused to say Birkas Kohanim without
    shoes. He also permits the practice of
    the kohanim remain on the floor for
    those who otherwise would not recite
    the blessings. At the same time, he
    encourages kohanim to remove their
    shoes in the traditional way for Birkas
    Kohanim (Yechaveh Da’as, vol. 2, no.
    13). Rav Simcha Rabinowitz (cont.,
    Israel) rules likewise for the elderly and
    infirm (Piskei Teshuvos 128:15).
    Rav Yosef Tzvi Rimon (cont., Israel)
    writes that when he was a soldier, he
    personally asked Rav Ovadiah Yosef
    whether soldiers in the field may recite
    Birkas Kohanim while wearing their
    shoes. Rav Yosef sent him a written
    response permitting this practice as
    long as the soldiers do not ascend to
    the dukhen. Since, in the field, there
    generally is no dukhen, this poses no
    difficulty. Just like we can be lenient
    for kohanim who are sick or who refuse
    to perform this mitzvah without shoes,
    we can also be lenient for soldiers
    (Halakhah Mi-Mkorah, vol. 1, p. 125).
    Rav Zechariah Shlomo (cont., Israel)
    similarly rules leniently for soldiers
    during field exercises or military
    actions, for whom removing their shoes
    would pose great difficulty, to recite
    Birkas Kohanim on the floor and not
    the dukhen (Hilkhos Tzava 21:6). Rav
    Nachum Rabinovitch (21st cen., Israel)
    adds that in most situations in the field,
    a soldier can find a plank or something
    else clean on which he can comfortably
    stand in socks after removing his shoes
    (Melumedei Milchamah, no. 24).