10. Sitting in the Shade of the Sekhakh (the Status of Decorations and Canopies)

To fulfill the mitzva of sukka, one must sit in the shade of kosher sekhakh. Therefore, one who spreads a sheet under the sekhakh to provide additional shade has invalidated the sukka (SA 629:19). However, one may sit in the sukka wearing a wide-brimmed hat, since the hat is secondary to his body and therefore not considered a barrier between him and the sekhakh.

One may hang fruits and paper decorations from the sekhakh, because they are secondary to the sekhakh and thus are not considered a barrier between the people sitting in the sukka and the sekhakh. This is on condition that the decorations are within 4 tefaḥim (c. 30 cm) of the sekhakh. Even if decorations cover all the sekhakh, as long as they are within 4 tefaḥim of it, they are secondary to it and do not invalidate it. If one mistakenly put up a decoration that hangs more than 4 tefaḥim from the sekhakh, he has not invalidated the sekhakh as long as the decoration is less than 4 tefaḥim wide. Nevertheless, if it is between 3 and 4 tefaḥim wide, it is better not to sit under it. If it is less than 3 tefaḥim wide (d. 22 cm), one may even sit under it (MB 632:3). Nevertheless, le-khatḥila one should hang all decorations within 4 tefaḥim of the sekhakh.[13]

If one sleeps in a sukka in a bed with a fixed canopy, he has not fulfilled the mitzva. If the canopy is temporary, then if it is less than 10 tefaḥim high, it is not deemed significant and is negated by the sukka, so one who sleeps under it fulfills the mitzva. But if it is higher than 10 tefaḥim it is deemed significant, and one who sleeps under it does not fulfill the mitzva.

The same rule applies to one who sleeps under a bed or table in the sukka. Since the space beneath them is incidental to the purpose of the bed or table, it is considered impermanent, so if that space is less than 10 tefaḥim (76 cm) high, one who sleeps there fulfills the mitzva; if the space is higher than that, he does not.[14] This also applies to a bunk bed: If the space between the two beds is 10 tefaḥim, the person sleeping in the lower bed does not fulfill the mitzva. If the space is less than 10 tefaḥim, he does.[15]

[13]. If the decorations are more than 4 tefaḥim away from the sekhakh, according to most Amora’im they constitute a barrier between the people and the sekhakh (Sukka 10b), and this is the ruling in SA 629:19 and 627:4. However, Rishonim disagree as to why this invalidates the sekhakh. Ha-ma’or, Raavya, and Me’iri say it is because this a shelter under a shelter, or sekhakh under sekhakh. Accordingly, only decorations more than 7 tefaḥim wide and that provide more shade than sun invalidate the sekhakh. In contrast, Ramban, Raavad, and Rosh explain that low-hanging decorations invalidate the sekhakh because they are considered invalid sekhakh. (As we will see in section 11, one may not sit beneath 4 tefaḥim of invalid sekhakh.) There is a further subdivision within this approach. According to Ran, even if the shade provided by the decorations is not greater than the sunny area, decorations which hang down more than 4 tefaḥim invalidate the space beneath them. In contrast, Ra’ah maintains that they invalidate it only if the shade they provide is greater than the sunny area. (See MB 627:11 and Birur Halakha on Sukka 10b.)

Based on this, any decoration less than 4 tefaḥim wide certainly does not invalidate the sekhakh, and technically it is not prohibited (MB 627:15). However, le-khatḥila one should not sit underneath it. If it is less than 3 tefaḥim wide, then one may sit under it even le-khatḥila (MB 632:3). But ideally one should make sure all the decorations hang within 4 tefaḥim of the sekhakh (Rema 627:4). See Harḥavot 10:4-5.

[14]. See SA 627:1-3 and MB ad loc. 7. In sum, there are three relevant conditions for determining what is considered an ohel (tent) such that one sitting in it is not considered to be sitting in the sukka: It is 1) permanent; 2) 10 tefaḥim high; and 3) has a “roof” of at least one tefaḥ square. (The third condition is almost always met, because even if the top is sloped, as long as it is not so steeply sloped that it tapers 3 tefaḥim vertically before it reaches a width of one tefaḥ square, it is considered a roof of one square tefaḥ.)

Any ohel that meets two of these criteria constitutes a barrier to sitting in a sukka. For instance, if one sleeps under a bed in the sukka, since the bed is not meant to provide space underneath it, this space is deemed impermanent. Nevertheless, if it is 10 tefaḥim high, it meets two criteria: a tefaḥ-square roof and a height of 10 tefaḥim. Thus, it is a barrier to sitting in the sukka. However, if it is less than 10 tefaḥim high, then only one criterion is met, and one may sleep under this bed.

[15]. The 10 tefaḥim are measured from the surface above which the ohel stands. Thus, if a tent is positioned on the floor of the sukka, then even if there are less than 10 tefaḥim between a bed brought into the tent and the roof of the tent, one who sleeps there does not fulfill the mitzva. (See MB 627:5; SHT ad loc. 11.) If one sleeps on a mattress under a table, the measurement is done from the floor to the underside of the table. The mattress is not considered to be the floor of the sukka.

A bunk bed: If the two beds are separated by less than 10 tefaḥim, the person sleeping in the bottom bunk fulfills the mitzva; the person sleeping on the top bunk is not considered a barrier between him and the sekhakh (R. Mordechai Eliyahu; Shevet Ha-Levi 7:36, 10:87:2; Piskei Teshuvot 627:3 n. 6; contra Kinyan Torah 5:1). Further study is required to decide whether this 10 tefaḥim is measured from the bottom mattress or from the board on which it rests. It seems more plausible to say that one measures from the mattress, because it is an integral part of the bed. The possibility has also been raised of measuring from the floor (R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach). However, this is surprising, since the legs of the upper bunk rest upon those of the lower, not on the floor. In any case, it is clear that those who permit sleeping on the lower bunk do not measure from the floor, as the distance between the floor and the upper bunk would certainly be more than 10 tefaḥim.

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