Questions about the components of Ugg boots have risen to the level of debate in some parts of the Orthodox community after testing revealed that some models of the clunky footwear contains shatnez — the forbidden interweaving of wool and linen in the same article of clothing.
Rabbi Gedalia Walls, a shatnez tester in Rockville, has seen his share of concerns in his 19 years in the field. The shatnez echo chamber often amplifies a marginal problem into a near-crisis, he said.
Similarly, although pertaining to the kashrus of food, when Trader Joe’s switched its chocolate chips from pareve to dairy, the outcry was, he says, an overreaction.
And when, in the United Kingdom, it became known that the hair used to make sheitels, or wigs worn by Orthodox women, had been shorn in Hindu temples — overreaction, Walls said.
The current Ugg crisis, though?
An overreaction, he said. “Generally speaking, shoes aren’t a problem with shatnez.”
Simply put, most shoes don’t mix wool and linen, Walls said.
Having said that, three shatnez testing facilities found that seven styles of Ugg boots did contain shatnez.
And after an Ugg customer care representative responded to an inquiry by writing last month that all of the Deckers UGG shoes do contain linen, word spread through social media. Warnings were uttered in chat rooms, by text, and on Facebook and Twitter: The popular boots might be breaking Jewish law.
That’s how what has been called the first major shatnez crisis of 2019 began.
Walls pointed out that the tests have not been run on all the brand’s styles, and the tests were conducted on a relatively few pairs of Uggs.
The only style that Walls warns against are UGGpure, boots where the wool is woven into the fabric, making it difficult to analyze for shatnez.
The Ugg company waded into the confusion by saying its customer care representative was wrong, and that Uggs don’t contain linen.
The company has “been contacted by numerous members of the Jewish community following the release oferroneous information that our products contain both wool and linen. Please be assured that none of our current UGG® footwear products contain both wool and linen,” Ugg senior service manager Mandi Geary wrote in an email to Vox, which wrote about the confusion.
Walls doesn’t know whether every Ugg product passes or violates the laws of shatnez, which are numerous and technical.
“The biggest problem is that the Orthodox world doesn’t have a knowledge of this issue,” Walls said. “And outside it, I don’t know if anyone knows shatnez is an issue.”
That’s why there are experts, trained to know what’s kosher and what’s not — and why.
If you are concerned about your Ugg boots or any other article of clothing, Walls recommended having it checked by a shatnez lab.