02. What Materials May Be Used for Sekhakh?

The sekhakh is the primary component of the sukka; after all, it gives the sukka its name. Sekhakh must meet the following three requirements:

  • It must be made from plant matter.
  • It must be detached from its source.
  • It must not have been processed in a way that renders it susceptible to tum’a.

Let us explain further.

The first requirement is that the sekhakh must be made from something that grew from the ground, that is, plant matter, like trees and shrubs. Metal, dirt, and plastic, though they originate in the ground, are invalid, as they do not grow. Animal skins are not considered to have grown from the ground, even though they are from animals that were nourished by the earth.

The second requirement is that the sekhakh be detached from its source. Therefore, climbing plants and tree branches are invalid.

The third requirement is that the sekhakh not be susceptible to tum’a (ritual impurity). As a rule, anything in its raw, natural state is not susceptible to tum’a, but after it has been processed and manufactured for human use, it is susceptible to tum’a. For instance, tree trunks, branches, and even straight wooden beams used in building cannot become tamei. But if they are made into articles (kelim) like chairs or beds, they can become tamei and are invalid for use as sekhakh. When an object goes from being raw material to being a significant article, it becomes susceptible to tum’a. Then, if it comes into contact with a dead body or something else that conducts tum’a, it becomes tamei. Once plant material has been processed and become susceptible to tum’a, it is invalid as sekhakh, even if it has not actually become tamei.

Fruits and vegetables that are fit for human consumption are susceptible to tum’a and invalid as sekhakh. However, if they are fit only for animal consumption, they are not susceptible to tum’a and may be used as sekhakh (SA 629:9-11).

A straw or reed mat that was made for sitting or sleeping is susceptible to tum’a and is invalid as sekhakh. However, if it is made to be used as sekhakh or as an awning, it is not susceptible to tum’a and may be used as sekhakh. In a locale where mats are generally made only for sitting or sleeping, then even if one is made for sekhakh it may not be used, because of how it would be perceived (SA and Rema 629:6).

Even though broken parts of beds or other furniture are not susceptible to tum’a, the Sages forbid using them as sekhakh, out of concern that people might mistakenly think that these items can be used for sekhakh even when they are susceptible to tum’a (SA ibid. 1-2).[2]

The Sages forbid using flax as sekhakh once the process of making it into thread has begun, since its natural shape has been altered. Therefore, one may not use paper or cardboard made from wood pulp, since they underwent processing that altered their natural shape. Likewise, cotton wool may not be used as sekhakh (Yerushalmi; Rambam; MB 629:13).


[2]. This is the reason offered by Rambam. Rashi (Sukka 15b-16a) explains that the Sages decreed that since the broken pieces came from an article, the prohibition remains. If an item that is rabbinically deemed susceptible to tum’a, like a table with no concavity to contain something, a hoe, or a rake, breaks, its fragments may be used as sekhakh, as even when whole they are only rabbinically prohibited, and there is a principle that we do not enact a rabbinic safeguard around a rabbinic safeguard. This is the position of Pri Megadim, while Magen Avraham is stringent. MB 629:10 follows Bikurei Yaakov in concluding that one may be lenient under pressing circumstances. AHS 629:5 states that if one’s purpose in breaking the article was to make it valid as sekhakh, it is indeed acceptable. Some cast doubt on this based on SA 629:6, which rules that a mat with a hem was made for sleeping and thus invalid as sekhakh, even if one removed the hem. (See Mikra’ei Kodesh, Sukkot 1:14 and Shevet Ha-Levi 3:95). Tzitz Eliezer 13:66 addresses this issue and states the view of R. Shmuel Salant that broken pieces of articles are invalid as sekhakh as long as their prior identity is discernible, but if they were completely altered, they may be used. Thus, Tzitz Eliezer permits using boards sawed from crates, whose origins cannot be discerned. Ḥazon Ovadia, pp. 17-18, is stringent. If the original crates hold at least 40 se’ah, the boards may certainly be used.

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Translated By:
Series Editor: Rabbi Elli Fischer

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Editor: Nechama Unterman