Rabbi Michael Broyde writes: "Second, we now live in a society where Jews ought to seek to conduct themselves in ways that cause the Gentiles around us not to mock us. Halacha frowns on letting Jews be mocked and certainly when not mandated by halacha must be avoided. Indeed, it is my view that the Rama mandates and does not merely permit the wearing of shoes when around Gentiles who will mock us for going barefoot, reflecting a realization that being mocked is such an unwise idea. This should govern our conduct as Jews in the public square all the time, and not merely on the 9th of Av."
RAPHAEL POSTS: If someone has a copy of "My Uncle The Netziv" handy, there is a passage there in which the Netziv is quoted speaking very forcefully about this point: That a Jew should endeavor to make sure his actions never invoke ridicule. IIRC, the issue at hand in the passage involved writing the name of the province in which Odessa was located (in the Russian Empire) on an envelope when it was considered unusual to do so!
ANON POSTS: Perhaps the Ashkenazic poskim mean that we shall not publicly show a state of weakness where it can be exploited by the gentiles. It is therefore a danger to go barefoot. Whereas this was not an uncommon practice among middle eastern gentiles and would not illicit such opportunistic ridicule and violence.
MJ POSTS: I’m taking this opportunity to put in a request from my fellow men: no flip flops; please wear socks with your sandals in shul (especially if you live outside of Israel) and for gosh sakes, nothing evokes mocking more than your falling apart 1973 converse allstars.
REUVEN SPOLTER POSTS: While Rabbi Broyde’s comment about modern technology ameliorating the problem certainly stands, another modern phenomenon seem to me to also inform this issue.
We live in an age of multiculturalism – where a Muslim can take his oath of office on a Koran; where Christians see nothing silly about riding into Church on a donkey on the holiest day of the year. There was a time not so long ago where Jews rightfully did have concern about how their cultural "strangeness" would be perceived in the outside world. Many would not wear a kippah in workplaces where such customs are now considered commonplace.
But if a Muslim can wear a burka to work (and she does) with pride, and a hindu can wear a sari in the public square, perhaps we should stop being so self-conscious about people laughing at us, and like so many other customs, accept our aveilut with a sense of identity and pride.
NACHUM LAMM POSTS: I think the issue (leaving aside actually being barefoot) would be more relevant on Yom Kippur: Wearing sneakers or flip-flops or crocs on a Thursday in mid-summer with weekday clothes isn’t as high on the "odd" scale as wearing a suit and tie and white sneakers in the autumn.
Reuven Spolter makes a good point. It reminds me of the times when I go up to the Har HaBayit. I’m wearing non-leather shoes (first time up I was in my socks); many of those with me- younger, raised in Israel, less hang-ups, perhaps- pull off their shoes and socks as soon as they get up and walk barefoot the whole way. And it’s not all paved, I can assure you.
Of course, talking off shoes is standard procedure for Muslims, so they don’t bat an eyelash.
The same kids, of course, are a lot less self-conscious (aside from keeping an eye out for cops) about the full flat-on-the-face-arms-out prostrations opposite the makom haMikdash.
Shlomo: I guess it’s a question of whether the lack of shoes is supposed to be uncomfortable or a sign of mourning.
Ben Bayit: I can agree with SHP, as long as "rebuilding the Mikdash and ruling over all the land" is included in that bit. I have a strong suspicion that whatever "Mashiach coming" means, lots of perfectly frum Jews will stay put. It happened in Ezra’s time; it will happen again. One of the commenters here has a post on his blog (actually an article he published decades ago) in which he states exactly that- he thinks Mashiach has come, and he thinks he lives in Israel even though he does not.
Interestingly, that picture does show a "personal" Mashiach/Melech. One may well ask if the Rambam (and those earlier) are reflecting their world- one without republics- in their views of the Messianic era, and take into account the view of the Abarbanel here.