This question was raised in this post, and since it is such a good question I wanted to dedicate a separate post to it, as well as to elaborate a little bit more about what I think.
As you can see from this image, Aaron and his sons (Eleazar and Ithamar) shown as wearing shoes.
But as you might have noticed from the text of the Pentateuch, in the description of the Priestly Garments in Exodus 28 and Exodus 39, there are absolutely no details about any kind of special footwear for the priests. This, in my opinion, provides us with two possibilities:
- The text of the Pentateuch as we have it to day is missing this part of the description; similar to description of the transportation of the Tabernacle Laver, which is not present in traditional Masoretic Text but only in the Samaritan Pentateuch.
- There are invisible clues, somewhere in the text that need to be found in order to definitively say if the priests wore any footwear or not.
If it is the matter of the first case, then we have no other choice but to wait until some other complete version of the Pentateuch surfaces which will provide us with the exact details of the footwear for the priests. In this case there is not much that can be done to resolve this question.
However, there are some clues in the text that I would like to present to you below, which in my opinion can be used as a good starting point for the research of the answer to this question.
There are two clues that I'm aware so far that may help to answer this question:
- In Exodus 3:5 Moses is asked to remove his shoes because he appeared to have been standing in the presence of God and on the Holy Ground. As you remember, the Tabernacle also "housed" the presence of God and in a way it was also a Holy Ground. So as you can see, this clue is in favor of the priests walking barefoot either within the confinements of the entire Tabernacle, or at least within the confinements of the Tent of the Tabernacle.
- On the other hand, Exodus 30:18-21 tells us explicitly, that the priest were to wash their hands and feet so that they would not die when they are either going into the Tent of the Tabernacle or when they are serving by the Altar of Burnt Offering. So, as you can see, this clue provides us with completely opposite picture, which does not put any emphasis on the footwear, but only requires libation of the hands and feet.
- The text of Deuteronomy 8:15 tells us that the desert where the Hebrews traveled and abode for 40 years was very harsh and dangerous, which implies that it was not nice, beach like, sandy desert, but rather very rocky terrain with dust and rough ground. This suggest that walking barefoot in such conditions would be rather very painful and uncomfortable for the priests, even if the Tabernacle area was cleaned up beforehand. And even in the sandy desert, it is still not very comfortable to walk barefoot as the sand would constrain the walking. Not to mention that any desert gets very cold at night, especially during the winter season and if the priests were to walk barefoot they would most certainly would get ill and cold.
Thus, my current opinion on this matter is that the priests most certainly wore some kind of footwear (shoes, or whatever was most convenient for them. Just like I show on this and my other images of the priests:
However, it is possible that either they had a separate pairs of shoes when which they would put on when they were dressing for the service (Exodus 28:42-43 or Leviticus 16:3-4), or they wore the same footwear that they would wear outside the Tabernacle. However, as its been pointed out in Exodus 30:18-21, they still would have to wash their feet and hands before entering the Tent or coming close to the Altar of Burnt Offering.
And once again, just like I pointed out above, it is also quite possible that all of the versions of the Pentateuch that we have today were simply edited and the part about special footwear for the priests has been lost. This is why it is always important to examine all available manuscripts and not just the traditional ones.