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Peninei Halakha > Sukkot > 02 – The Laws of the Sukka

02 – The Laws of the Sukka

01. A Temporary Residence

There is a mitzva to reside in a sukka throughout the seven days of the Sukkot festival, as the Torah says, “You shall dwell in sukkot seven days; all citizens in Israel shall dwell in sukkot, in order that future generations may know that I made the Israelites dwell in sukkot when I brought them out of the land of Egypt, I the Lord your God” (Vayikra 23:42-43). Similarly, it states, “After the ingathering from your threshing floor and your vat, you shall hold the seven-day festival of Sukkot” (Devarim 16:13).

The sukka that we are commanded to live in during the festival is defined as a “dirat ara’i” – a “temporary residence” (Sukka 2a). Thus, a sukka must meet these two basic conditions: 1) it must be temporary; 2) it must be habitable. Therefore, if a sukka is less than 10 tefaḥim (c. 80 cm) tall or less than 7 tefaḥim (c. 56 cm) wide, it is invalid, because it is too cramped even for one person to sit in it and eat. Even if a sukka is very long, if it is less than 7 tefaḥim wide, it is invalid (Sukka 2a; MB 634:1).

Since a sukka is a temporary residence, it does not need four walls. It is sufficient for it to have two walls plus a tefaḥ of a third. This partial third wall must be within 3 tefaḥim of one of the other walls (as we explain below in section 6).

If a sukka is more than 20 amot (c. 9 meters) tall, it is invalid, because a sukka must be a temporary residence, while sekhakh placed at such a height needs the support of a permanent structure. Note, however, that the main expression of the sukka’s impermanence is the sekhakh; the walls may be permanent, as long as this is not necessary to support the sekhakh. Thus, one may retract the roof in the home and place sekhakh instead of a ceiling; since the sekhakh is less than 20 amot high, it does not need the support of a permanent structure.[1]

A house with a wooden ceiling is invalid for use as a sukka, because sekhakh must be impermanent, whereas a ceiling is permanent. To make sure that people do not mistakenly permit wooden ceilings, the Sages ruled that lumber commonly used to make ceilings may not be used as sekhakh (as we will explain below in section 4).

Since a sukka is a temporary residence, it may be built on a wagon, motor vehicle, or boat, and it remains valid even during travel, as long as its walls and sekhakh can withstand an ordinary wind (SA 628:2; SHT ad loc. 11). As a temporary residence, a sukka does not require a mezuza (SA YD 286:11).

A sukka is invalid if its walls are unable to withstand an ordinary wind or if its sekhakh is made of leaves or greenery that will wither and fall during the course of the festival. In both of these cases, it is not even considered a temporary residence (SA 628:2; 629:12).

[1]. According to R. Ḥayim Naeh (based on Rambam and other Rishonim), a tefaḥ is 8 cm (3.15 inches), so 7 tefaḥim is 56 cm (22.05 inches), 10 tefaḥim is 80 cm (31.5 inches), an ama is 48 cm (18.9 inches), and 20 amot is 9.6 meters (31.5 feet). (According to Noda Bi-Yehuda and Ḥazon Ish, a tefaḥ is 9.6 cm and an ama is 57.6 cm.) More recent measurements showed that the tefaḥ of Rambam and other Rishonim is 7.6 cm and an ama is 45.6 cm, as explained in the Harḥavot. The halakha follows this latter measurement, as we explain in Peninei Halakha: Shabbat ch. 29 n. 1 and the Harḥavot there. Nevertheless, in the text above I use R. Naeh’s measurements, for several reasons: 1) for two generations or so, this was the accepted measure; 2) to avoid any uncertainty, one should measure a tefaḥ generously (Sukka 7a; MB 633:2). According to most poskim, this “generosity” means adding c. 2% (SHT 363:60), which already brings us halfway to R. Naeh’s measurements. Some maintain that the addition should be more than 2% (as explained in the Harḥavot); 3) the main reason to use R. Naeh’s measurements is his tefaḥ is a round number in the metric system: 8 cm. The more precise measurement of 7.6 is unwieldy. In order to make things easier for the reader, it is proper to use round numbers. Indeed, this is why the Sages themselves used round measurements like tefaḥim (handbreadths) and amot (arm-lengths). However, when pertinent, the more precise measurement remains primary. Thus, when following R. Naeh’s position results in a leniency, such as when calculating 20 amot and lavud (section 7 below), I use the more precise (smaller) measurements. Even then, I round down. For example, I write that 20 amot are c. 9 meters when the exact measurement is 9.12 meters (9.6 meters according to R. Naeh), and I write that lavud applies up to 22 cm, when the exact figure is 22.8 cm.

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.

03. The Shade Must Exceed the Sun

The sekhakh must provide protection from the sun. As long as the sekhakh blocks most of the sun’s rays, the sukka is kosher, as the halakhic principle that “most is tantamount to all (rubo ke-khulo)” is invoked (Sukka 2a). This is measured at the level of the sekhakh, so even if at the floor of the sukka it seems that there is more sun than shade, as long as the shade exceeds the sun at the level of the sekhakh, the sukka is kosher. This is because, as the sun’s rays descend, they become broader but also weaken, so in truth there is more shade than sun.

Le-khatḥila, the sekhakh should provide plenty of shade, so that it is pleasant to sit in the sukka. At the same time, it should not be so thick that it is like a permanent home. That is, ideally it is preferable that stars be visible through the sekhakh at night, or at least sunlight should be visible during the day. Be-di’avad, however, even if no ray of sun can penetrate the sekhakh, it is still kosher (SA 631:3). If the sekhakh is so thick that even rain cannot penetrate, some maintain that the sukka is invalid, because it is like a permanent home (Rabbeinu Tam). One should defer to this view. However, under pressing circumstances, when it is impossible to thin the sekhakh, such as on Shabbat and Yom Tov, one may sit in such a sukka and even recite the berakha upon doing so.[3]

If the shade exceeds the sun for most of the sekhakh’s coverage, but the sun exceeds the shade in a small part, the entire sukka is kosher, and even those sitting beneath the sparse sekhakh may recite the berakha over sitting in a sukka.[4]

Sometimes sekhakh is not laid out flat, so at certain times of the day the sunny areas are larger, and at other times the shady areas are larger. In practice, we determine the status of the sukka based on the situation at noon. If it is mostly shaded, it is kosher; if not, it is invalid. (In some instances, even when there is more sun, we consider the sekhakh as though it were laid flat, and if that would make it so that it has more shade than sun, it is kosher; see SA 631:5.)

[3]. According to many poskim, le-khatḥila it is sufficient for the sun’s rays to be visible through the sekhakh (Rashi, Ran, Me’iri, and others). Rambam says that le-khatḥila one must be able to see at night the larger stars that are visible even during the day. Others say that at night, le-khatḥila one must be able to see even regular stars through the sekhakh (Baḥ; Korban Netanel). In cold climates, there are grounds to permit thickening the sekhakh to the point that only the sun’s rays during the day remain visible (Maharil; Bikurei Yaakov; MB 631:5). Sometimes people unsuccessfully try to see stars through the sekhakh at night, and they feel bad that they are not fulfilling the mitzva in the optimal way. In truth, however, as long as there are openings in the sekhakh, the sukka is mehudar; the stars are not visible because the area is lit up or because one’s pupils have not yet adjusted to the dark.

According to Rabbeinu Tam, if rain cannot penetrate the sekhakh, the sukka is invalid, while according to Rosh, Rashi, and Yere’im, it is kosher. The lenient ruling is also implicit in all the Rishonim who do not mention this new requirement. Nevertheless, several Rishonim and Aḥaronim write that it is proper to follow the stringency of Rabbeinu Tam, though under pressing circumstances one may be lenient (Birkei Yosef 631:2; MB 631:6). The implication is that one may even recite the berakha, following Radbaz’s view (2:229) that once a sukka has been deemed kosher, one recites the berakha in it, and we do not apply the rule that “when uncertain about berakhot we are lenient.” This is also the opinion of Shevet Ha-Levi (7:60) and Ḥazon Ovadia, p. 37. See Harḥavot.

[4]. The shade must be greater than the sun in two different senses: 1) the shade must exceed the sun for most of the area of the sekhakh’s coverage; 2) there must be an outright majority of shaded areas. Some say that one must ensure that there is no area of 7×7 tefaḥim (53.2 cm x 53.2 cm) with more sun than shade, as that large an area is significant and therefore disqualified (Rema 631:2; Levush; SAH). Others are lenient even in such a case (Me’iri; the implication of SA). To uphold both views, one should ensure that the sukka contains no 7×7 tefaḥim area where the sun exceeds the shade, but be-di’avad one may recite the berakha even while sitting there.

04. Planks and Mats

A structure whose ceiling is made out of beams and planks is not a kosher sukka. Although the beams and planks themselves could be acceptable as sekhakh, as they are from plant matter and are not susceptible to tum’a, nevertheless, since the sukka must be a temporary residence, the ceiling of a permanent residence renders it invalid as a sukka.

So that people do not mistakenly sit under a ceiling of beams or planks, the Sages decreed against using planks that are at least 4 tefaḥim (c. 30 cm) wide, as they resemble ceiling beams (Sukka 14a). Nowadays we follow the stricter view and avoid using even planks that are less than 4 tefaḥim wide (SA 629:18; MB ad loc. 49), as it is common to build ceilings out of planks that are narrower than 4 tefaḥim (Kol Bo and Hagahot Maimoniyot). However, beams that are less than a tefaḥ (c. 7.5 cm) wide are not used to build ceilings, so they are acceptable according to all opinions – as long as they are not attached with nails or glue. In times of need, one may use beams more than a tefaḥ but less than 2 tefaḥim wide. Certainly, then, one may use a beam wider than a tefaḥ on which to place the sekhakh. One who wants to paint these planks may do so, as paint does not invalidate the sekhakh.[5]

If one wishes to use a ceiling in the home that is made of planks as a sukka, he must disjoin the planks from their fixed connection and re-place them. Once he has done something to the planks so that they are not a permanent ceiling, they are kosher as sekhakh. However, if the planks were more than 4 tefaḥim wide, then even this action does not make them kosher sekhakh (Rambam; second view in SA 631:9).

Many people use “sekhakh la-netzaḥ,” which is slats or narrow planks connected to one another with string, forming a type of mat. Some say that this sekhakh is invalid, as linking the slats and planks with string causes them to be considered planks that are more than 4 tefaḥim wide, which are invalid due to the decree against ceiling material. However, common practice is not to be concerned for this, as the slats and narrow planks are loosely connected and flexible, and do not resemble the sort of planks used to build ceilings.[6]

[5]. MB 629:3 states that under pressing circumstances, when the only material available for sekhakh is planks that are 4 tefaḥim wide, one should use them, since they are kosher as sekhakh at the Torah level, and according to the vast majority of poskim, rabbinic enactments apply to normal circumstances, but under pressing circumstances, they do not invalidate the sukka and one may make a berakha upon sitting in the sukka. In times of need, one may use beams up to 2 tefaḥim wide; since they are not too wide, one need not worry that they resemble a permanent roof. This is certainly true when there are only a few beams on which the rest of the sekhakh is placed. (See Harḥavot 4:3-4.)

[6]. Many poskim are lenient, including my master and teacher R. Avraham Shapira; R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, Halikhot Shlomo 8:5; Shevet Ha-Levi 6:74; Az Nidberu 2:66. It is also claimed that the string that holds the mats together is susceptible to tum’a, and one should not support sekhakh with things that are susceptible to tum’a. However, the accepted halakhic view is that even if sekhakh is supported by something susceptible to tum’a, it is still kosher, as is explained in the next section. In addition, as a rule, string is only invalid as sekhakh rabbinically, and many permit supporting the sekhakh with something that is rabbinically invalid as sekhakh. Some books erroneously state that R. Mordechai Eliyahu and R. Yosef Shalom Elyashiv were categorically opposed to the use of mats. However, in Hilkhot Ḥagim 50:39, R. Eliyahu writes that be-di’avad one may rely on those who are lenient. And at the end of Hilkhot Ḥag Be-ḥag, the author says that he showed this type of sekhakh mat to R. Elyashiv and he unhesitatingly permitted it. See Harḥavot 2:4; 5:3.

05. Supporting the Sekhakh with Invalid Sekhakh

Some maintain that just as something susceptible to tum’a may not be used as sekhakh, so too, the sekhakh may not be supported directly by something susceptible to tum’a, so that no one mistakenly uses as sekhakh things susceptible to tum’a or other invalid material. Accordingly, the sekhakh may not be supported directly by iron poles, beams that are susceptible to tum’a, or other materials that are invalid for sekhakh, such as plastic, which does not grow from the ground. However, even according to this view, it is permissible for the sekhakh to be supported directly by a stone wall, as there is no concern that people will mistakenly conclude that stones may be used as sekhakh.

Although the decisive majority of poskim maintain that the sekhakh can be supported by things susceptible to tum’a, le-khatḥila it is good to show concern for the stringent view and not support the sekhakh with things susceptible to tum’a. Therefore, one who uses a metal frame for the walls of the sukka should not, le-khatḥila, lay the sekhakh directly on the metal, but rather should lay wooden beams across the metal and then place the sekhakh on the wooden beams. However, one who wants to be lenient may place the sekhakh directly on the metal, and the sukka is still kosher, and he may recite the berakha in it.[7]

If one wishes to be strict and not support the sekhakh with material susceptible to tum’a, but he is concerned that an ordinary wind might blow the sekhakh off, he may place heavy wooden beams which are kosher for sekhakh atop the sekhakh. If necessary, he may attach the beams to the sukka even with material that is invalid for sekhakh, such as rope, nails, or plastic zip ties, because these materials are only “supports of the support,” while the supports themselves, the beams, are kosher as sekhakh.

If the concern is that only an unusually strong wind might blow off the sekhakh, then even according to the stringent view, one may tie the sekhakh down using ropes or zip ties, because under normal conditions, the sekhakh will stay put even without them. Their whole purpose is simply to protect the sekhakh from an unusual wind, so they are not considered to be supporting the sekhakh.[8]

[7]. The basis of this disagreement is in Sukka 21b. The Sages permit supporting the sekhakh with the posts of a bed, while R. Yehuda forbids. The Amora’im disagree as to R. Yehuda’s rationale. Some maintain that it is because a sukka may not lean on something impermanent like a bed, while others maintain that it is because the sekhakh may not be supported by something susceptible to tum’a. If we rule in accordance with R. Yehuda and also accept the second interpretation of his reasoning, then it would be prohibited to support sekhakh with something susceptible to tum’a. This is the ruling of Ramban, Ran, and Ritva. However, according to the vast majority of Rishonim, it is not prohibited. Firstly, many Rishonim maintain that the halakha follows the Sages (R. Yitzḥak ibn Gi’at, Rambam in Peirush Ha-mishnayot, Ha-ma’or, and Rid), in which case there is no reason for concern about using something susceptible to tum’a as a support. Many other Rishonim maintain that the halakha follows R. Yehuda, since the Gemara discusses his position, but they maintain that the first rationale is the primary one. Terumat Ha-deshen states that according to Rif and Rosh, R. Yehuda prohibits this sukka because of its impermanence; there is no prohibition on supporting sekhakh with something susceptible to tum’a. Lekhatḥila, it is proper to show concern for the view of Ramban and those who follow him (see SA 629:7), but the halakha is that one may support the sekhakh with something susceptible to tum’a and recite the berakha in such a sukka, as this is the position of the decisive majority of poskim. This is the ruling of SA 630:13. Furthermore, even according to Ramban and those who follow him, the prohibition is rabbinic (SHT 630:60), and we rule leniently when there is uncertainty about a rabbinic law.

Ḥazon Ish (OḤ 143:2) has a unique explanation of the view that prohibits supporting sekhakh with something susceptible to tum’a. In the author’s reading, even if the supports of the supports are susceptible to tum’a, the sukka is invalid, since the sukka could not stand without those indirect supports. Accordingly, one may not reinforce the walls with nails or screws if the sukka would collapse upon their removal. However, even according to Ḥazon Ish, this stringency applies only to items which are not kosher as sekhakh on the Torah level. Therefore, planks more than 4 tefaḥim wide may still be used as support for the sekhakh, even though they may not be used as sekhakh due to the decree against ceiling material. In practice, the rest of the Aḥaronim do not follow this novel view (MA 629:9; Pri Megadim, Eshel Avraham, ad loc. 9; Bi’ur Ha-Gra ad loc. 11; MB ad loc. 25, all based on Ritva, Ramban, and others), nor does common practice. (See Harḥavot.)

[8]. If the sekhakh will withstand a normal wind without any reinforcements, the reinforcements are not considered to be supporting the sekhakh. Therefore, it is not a problem even if they are made of something susceptible to tum’a or that is invalid as sekhakh (Rashi and Mikhtam, Sukka 21b; Ritva, Sukka 19a; Shevet Ha-Levi 6:74; Be-tzel Ha-ḥokhma 5:44). If there is concern that a normal wind would blow the sekhakh off, one should place beams that are kosher as sekhakh on it. If there is still concern that the wind will blow off the beams, he should tie them down or nail them to the walls. In this way, only the supports of the supports are susceptible to tum’a, and this is permitted even according to those Rishonim who forbid supporting the sekhakh with something susceptible to tum’a, as explained in the previous note. Only according to Ḥazon Ish is this forbidden for the Rishonim who adopt the stringent view, and even Ḥazon Ish agrees that, when necessary, one may rely on the majority view of Rishonim that one may support the sekhakh with something susceptible to tum’a. This is proper practice to avoid a situation where an unusually strong wind might blow off the sekhakh on Shabbat or Yom Tov (when it would be forbidden to replace it because of the prohibition of Boneh). If the ropes are only helpful in a case of an unusual wind, they are not considered supports at all.

We should add that the decree against ceiling material is not grounds to forbid driving nails into large beams whose purpose is to prevent the sekhakh from flying off (see MA 627:2, based on Tosafot), because only when the nails are used to reinforce the planks that are the primary sekhakh is this a concern, as explained in AHS 629:32 and SHT 633:6. However, when the nails are only in the beams holding down the sekhakh, there is no reason for concern. (This goes against the stringent ruling in Piskei Teshuvot 629:11 and nn. 26 and 62, that the nails may not pass from the beam to the walls through the mat or slats; see Ha-sukka Ha-shalem pp. 290 and 335, which states that some say that even nailing down the sekhakh itself does not invalidate it.

When tying down the sekhakh is necessary so that a normal wind does not blow it off, rope is preferable to plastic zip ties, because rope is invalid as sekhakh only rabbinically, and most poskim (even those who are stringent) allow supporting the sekhakh with something invalid only rabbinically. See Harḥavot 5:3.

06. The Sukka Walls

Any material may be used for the walls of a sukka, as long as it can withstand a normal wind. The walls need not be airtight or offer protection from the sun and wind. Therefore, one may use plastic, glass, or mesh netting (SA 630:1). Stone walls are also kosher, as only the sekhakh must be characteristic of a temporary residence; the walls can be permanent. Indeed, in some places, the common practice is to open the ceiling and roof of a room in the home and place kosher sekhakh there, resulting in a beautiful sukka, pleasant to sit in even in the cold.

Le-khatḥila it is better to build a sukka with four full walls and a door that can be closed, so the sukka is comfortable and provides shelter from the sun and wind (see Rema 630:5.) Technically, however, since a sukka is a temporary residence, it is not required to have four walls; three suffice. Moreover, the third wall need not be full; technically, one tefaḥ suffices. The Sages said that this tefaḥ must be within 3 tefaḥim of one of the other walls, and the one-tefaḥ wall must extend by means of a doorway (tzurat ha-petaḥ, explained in the note). Since this law is complicated, someone who wants to save on sukka walls should be advised to put up two complete walls, and a third one which is 7 tefaḥim long (about 56 centimeters). Then, even if his sukka is large, and even if the two walls aren’t connected to one another but rather face each other, the sukka is kosher (Rema 630:3).[9]

[9]. Torah law requires that a sukka has three walls, and there is a tradition received from Moshe at Sinai that one tefaḥ is sufficient for the third wall (Sukka 6b). The Sages tell us that this tefaḥ must be “generous” (slightly more than a tefaḥ) and within 3 tefaḥim of one of the perpendicular walls, as any gap of less than 3 tefaḥim is considered connected (this is the law of lavud, explained in the next section). Thus, the third wall is considered to have 4 full tefaḥim, which is the majority of the minimum length of a sukka wall (7 tefaḥim). To extend the wall to the full 7 tefaḥim, one must create a tzurat ha-petaḥ – an opening that has two doorposts (leḥayayim) and a lintel (kora), the basic elements of a doorway – that is at least 3 tefaḥim wide. Some say that the tzurat ha-petaḥ must be at least 4 tefaḥim wide, as this is the minimum size of a doorway. In this view, the third wall, together with the tzurat ha-petaḥ, comes to eight tefaḥim (SA 630:2; MB ad loc. 9-10).

If the two walls are parallel, since the sukka that they form is open-ended and flush, the Sages require that the third wall be a little more than 4 tefaḥim long and placed within 3 tefaḥim of one of the parallel walls. The poskim disagree as to whether there is an additional requirement to make a tzurat ha-petaḥ until the end of that side of the sukka (SA 630:3). Rema writes that if one makes a third wall of 7 tefaḥim, the sukka will be kosher in any case, with no need for lavud or a tzurat ha-petaḥ. However, if the third wall has a gap of 10 amot or more, it requires a tzurat ha-petaḥ (MB 630:18).

07. The Height of the Walls and the Principle of Lavud

As we have seen (section 1), the minimum height of the walls is 10 tefaḥim (c. 80 cm). They must be close to the ground; if there is a gap of 3 tefaḥim (c. 22 cm) between the ground and the walls, the wall is invalid. However, there is no maximum gap between the top of the wall and the sekhakh, as we view the wall as if it continues up to the sekhakh (SA 630:9).[10]

One can erect walls by setting up poles or stretching lengths of rope within 3 tefaḥim of one another, because in such a case the law of lavud applies: since there is less than 3 tefaḥim (c. 22 cm) between the components, we treat the entire area between them as being solid. Even though the sun and wind enter through the gaps in the wall, the poles or strings are still considered a wall. It makes no difference whether the string or poles are arranged horizontally or vertically; as long as there is less than 3 tefaḥim between one pole or string and the next, lavud applies. However, some maintain that since lavud walls are inferior, they must surround the sukka on all four sides (MA; of course, a doorway does not invalidate this sukka). If the wall is made from crisscrossing components, like from mesh netting or chain link fence material, it is not considered inferior, and two walls plus a tefaḥ suffice (as explained in the previous section). In any case, the sukka must be fit for eating and sleeping in painlessly, as explained below (section 14).

[10]. There are three principles handed to Moshe at Sinai that relate to the validity of sukka walls:

Lavud, lit. “joined,” discussed above, means that we view gaps of less than 3 tefaḥim to be solid and filled in.

Gud asik meḥitzta, lit. “extend the wall upward,” means that once a wall reaches the minimum height of 10 tefaḥim we treat it as though it extends upward in a straight line, ad infinitum. Thus, it is not necessary for the wall to reach the height of the sekhakh; rather, as long as the wall is 10 tefaḥim high, it is kosher, and we view it as if it continues straight up to the sekhakh. The straight line is measured from the top of the wall. That is, even if the wall is at an angle, the principle of gud asik meḥitzta means that we view it as continuing perfectly vertically. (See Ḥazon Ish, Eruvin 71:6.)

Dofen akuma, lit. “bent wall,” means that if less than 4 amot of sekhakh at the side of the sukka (next to the wall) is invalid, we view the invalid sekhakh as a horizontal continuation of the adjacent wall – i.e., we view it as part of a “bent wall.” If the invalid sekhakh extends 4 amot (c. 1.8 meters) or more away from the wall, that wall is invalid, as dofen akuma does not apply to sekhakh that is 4 amot or more from the wall. In this case, the invalid sekhakh constitutes a barrier between the wall and the kosher sekhakh. Thus, for instance, in a home where the roof caved in and sekhakh was placed over the resulting hole, if there is less than 4 amot of residual roofing between the hole and the walls of the house, the walls of the house can be considered walls of a sukka. But if 4 amot or more of roof and ceiling remains around the hole, they cannot be considered dofen akuma, and it is necessary to erect walls directly under the hole in order to validate the sukka (Sukka 17a; SA 632:1).

Can these three principles be applied in combination? When it comes to gud asik meḥitzta and dofen akuma, that is, if the wall does not reach all the way up to the sekhakh, and the sekhakh directly over the top of the wall is invalid, the poskim disagree (MB 632:4).

There is agreement, however, that gud asik meḥitzta and lavud can be applied in combination. If the sekhakh does not go directly over the top of the wall but reaches within 3 tefaḥim of the wall’s vertical extension, it is valid. In this case, gud asik meḥitzta is applied to treat the wall as though it extends vertically to the level of the sekhakh, and lavud is then applied to close the horizontal gap between the sekhakh and the “wall” – the plane extending vertically from the top of the physical wall. However, if there are more than 3 tefaḥim (c. 22 cm) between the sekhakh and the plane extending vertically from the top of the wall, the sukka is invalid, because the sekhakh and the walls are disconnected (SA 630:9).

08. Sukkot with Cloth Walls

In recent times, people have begun to make sukkot with metal frames and walls made out of various types of thick cloth and fabric, like canvas, polyester, and plastics (often with brand names like Pe’er Lanetzach and Ease-Lock Supreme). These sukkot are popular because they are cheap to make, easy to market, simple to put up and take down, and convenient to store. However, some contemporary poskim question their validity because sukka walls must be stable. If they can be blown back and forth by the wind, they are invalid.

Nevertheless, in practice, these sukkot are kosher. The Rishonim objected to fabric walls that were not fastened at the bottom, so when wind blows, the walls rose more than 3 tefaḥim from the ground, invalidating them as walls. There was also the possibility that the wind would blow them away entirely. However, neither of these concerns applies to contemporary sukkot, since the fabric is fastened well all the way around. Therefore, these sukkot are kosher and the berakha may be recited in them. Those who are fastidious may add poles to create lavud walls.[11]

[11]. Sukka 24b states that walls made of tree branches that sway in the wind are invalid, so they must be fastened so they do not sway. Rambam and Shulḥan Arukh codify this ruling (MT, Laws of Shofar, Sukka, and Lulav 4:5; SA 630:10). Based on this, some wish to claim that any movement of a sukka wall invalidates the sukka (Mishkenot Yaakov, OḤ 123; Yeḥaveh Da’at 3:46). However, this is a very difficult position to defend, as it is impossible to fasten tree branches so that they do not sway at all. Indeed, all of the Rishonim who comment on this passage imply that the walls are invalid only when a normal wind causes a gap of 3 tefaḥim between the wall and the ground. In such a case, the wall is invalid even when there is no wind. However, a bit of motion that does not create such a gap does not invalidate the wall. See Harḥavot, which explains that this view emerges from the words of R. Sa’adia Gaon, Me’iri, Rashba, Hagahot Asheri, and R. Yonatan of Lunel. Rabbeinu Peretz (cited in Tur and SA 630:10) states explicitly that only when there is concern that the fabric will become completely detached from the frame is it proper not to use it for walls. Mabit, Tosefet Shabbat, Pri Megadim, Ḥazon Ish (OḤ 77:6), and Melumdei Milḥama (§96) write accordingly.

Those who wish to show concern for the stringent view should place horizontal bars no more than 3 tefaḥim (22.8 cm) from one another, up to a height of 10 tefaḥim (c. 80 cm). The gaps of under 3 tefaḥim are considered lavud, and so the bars constitute a wall even without the fabric. However, many make a mistake when they implement this stringency, relying on R. Ḥayim Naeh’s view that 3 tefaḥim is 24 cm, whereas it is actually only 22.8 cm. If the distance between the bars is greater than that, lavud no longer applies to them (as we explained in note 1). Nevertheless, the sukka is unquestionably kosher, as the halakha here follows the lenient view.

09. The Sukka Must Be Under the Open Sky

The sukka must be built under the open sky so that the sekhakh and nothing else covers those sitting inside. Thus, if one builds a sukka under a roof or a tree, it is invalid (Sukka 9b). However, a sukka may be built next to a tall building that prevents sunlight from reaching the sukka. Only a roof or branches that separate between the sekhakh and the sky invalidate the sukka. Anything off to the side, not directly over the sekhakh, does not invalidate the sukka.

If there are very thin tree branches above the sekhakh, while the sekhakh is thick enough that even if the sekhakh directly under the branches would be removed, the remaining sekhakh would provide more shade than sun in the sukka, the sukka is kosher (SA OḤ 626:1).[12]

One may build a sukka underneath clotheslines or electric wires. Since they are very thin, provide very little shade, and are not meant to provide shade, they do not invalidate the sekhakh beneath them.

[12]. According to Tosafot and Rosh, as long as the sukka is shady enough that it is kosher on its own, without the tree’s shade, and the tree’s sun exceeds its shade, the sukka is kosher. According to Raavya and Ran, however, all the sekhakh underneath the tree branches is negated, and then, if the shade provided by the remaining sekhakh exceeds the sunlight it lets through, the sekhakh is kosher. SA 626:1 cites both positions with the introductory phrase, “some say,” and according to the principles of determining the halakha based on formulations of Shulḥan Arukh, we follow the second position, which in our case is the stringent one. Indeed, BHL (s.v. “ve-yesh omrim”) rules accordingly but adds that according to Aḥaronim, in pressing circumstances one may rely on the lenient view (Eliya Rabba 626:5; Pri Megadim, Eshel Avraham ad loc. 4; SAH ad loc. 10).

If a sukka is adjacent to a tree whose branches sway over the sukka when wind blows, it is kosher, even if the shade provided by the branches above the sukka when the wind blows exceeds the sunlight they let through, since the branches are not permanently above the sukka (Maharsham, Da’at Torah 626:3). R. Zvi Pesaḥ Frank (Mikra’ei Kodesh 1:23) is uncertain about this. Therefore, le-khatḥila it is preferable to cut off these branches; see the Harḥavot. In contrast, while a helicopter or hot air balloon is hovering over a sukka, it is invalidated, because they do not sway randomly with the wind but are intentionally guided there by people (Da’at Torah, op. cit.). Once they fly away, the sukka is once again kosher, in line with what Rema writes (626:3).

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.

11. Invalid Sekhakh and Gaps in the Sekhakh

If there is a patch of invalid sekhakh, made of plastic, for example, in the middle of kosher sekhakh, or if there is a concrete beam that invalidates the sekhakh underneath it, then if the invalid sekhakh is wider than 4 tefaḥim (c. 30 cm), one may not sit underneath it. If the invalid sekhakh is less than 4 tefaḥim but more than 3 (c. 22 cm), le-khatḥila one should not sit or sleep underneath it, but in a time of need one may do so (MB 632:3). If the invalid sekhakh is less than 3 tefaḥim wide, one may eat or sleep there even le-khatḥila, because it is rendered null vis-à-vis the sukka.

If there is an empty gap in the sekhakh, the laws pertaining to it are more stringent, since this is more discernible than invalid sekhakh. If the width of the gap is 3 tefaḥim (c. 22 cm), the area beneath it is not kosher, and one may not sit there. If it is less than 3 tefaḥim, it is rendered null vis-à-vis the sukka, and one may sit and sleep there (SA 632:2) as long as neither most of his head nor most of his body are underneath the gap.[16]

Let us say that one has a large porch, most of which is roofed, but with a small area, 5 tefaḥim wide, under open sky. At first glance, it would seem that there is no way to build a sukka there, as a kosher sukka must be at least 7 tefaḥim wide. However, we have seen that invalid sekhakh that is less than 3 tefaḥim wide is considered part of the sukka, and a person may sit underneath it. A sukka can therefore be built on such a porch, as follows: A sukka 7 tefaḥim wide should be set up at the end of the porch. Since 5 tefaḥim of sekhakh are under open sky and less than 3 tefaḥim are under the roof and invalid, then even those 2 tefaḥim are deemed part of the sukka, and one may sit and sleep beneath them. This is on condition that he puts up a wall separating the 2 tefaḥim of the roofed porch that will be part of the sukka from the rest of the porch that will not. This wall must be 7 tefaḥim long and preferably should reach the sekhakh. One should make a tzurat ha-petaḥ along the rest of the border between the sukka and the porch. (See Ḥazon Ovadia, p. 12; Minḥat Yitzḥak 6:60:20; Shevet Ha-Levi 10:99.)

[16]. According to Rabbeinu Ḥananel, R. Yitzḥak ibn Gi’at, Tosafot, and Ra’ah, even le-khatḥila one may sit underneath a gap of less than 3 tefaḥim. According to Ritva and Ran, one may not have the majority of his head or body under the gap. According to Rosh and Rabbeinu Yeruḥam, the prohibition applies only when the gap extends the length of the sukka; this is the ruling of Beit Zevul 3:14 and Ḥazon Ovadia, p. 68. I write above to be stringent, but one who wishes to be lenient and follow the Rosh may do so. See Harḥavot.

If a gap of 3 or 4 tefaḥim of invalid sekhakh extends across the sukka, effectively dividing it into two sukkas, one must make sure that each sukka has the requisite three walls (Rema 632:2).

Four tefaḥim of invalid sekhakh invalidates a large sukka, but if a sukka is less than 10 tefaḥim wide, even 3 tefaḥim of invalid sekhakh invalidates it. Less than 3 tefaḥim does not invalidate it (SA 632:1; MB ad loc. 8).

12. Intention When Building a Sukka

It is a mitzva to engage in building a sukka. According to the Sages of the Yerushalmi, one even recites a berakha upon doing so: “Who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us to make a sukka” (“la’asot sukka” – y. Berakhot 9:3; y. Sukka 1:2). However, in practice we follow the ruling of the Bavli and recite a berakha on the mitzva when we fulfill it, namely, when we sit in the sukka (Menaḥot 42a; SA 641:1).

Nevertheless, putting up a sukka clearly involves a mitzva element. The pious and virtuous would hurry to begin building the sukka right after Yom Kippur, so as to go directly from one mitzva to the next. They try to finish it by the next day, for when one has an opportunity to do a mitzva, he should make sure not to miss out (Maharil; Rema 624:5, 625:1).

According to Beit Shammai, one must build a sukka with the intention to fulfill the mitzva of the festival with it, as we read, “You shall hold (ta’aseh, lit. ‘make’) the seven-day festival of Sukkot” (Devarim 16:13). Without such intent, the sukka is invalid. However, the halakha follows Beit Hillel’s view that one need not put up the sukka specifically for the mitzva of the festival. Rather, as long as he built it to provide shade, it is kosher. Therefore, a sukka built by shepherds or guards to protect themselves from the sun is kosher, as is a sukka made by a non-Jew to provide himself with shade (Sukka 8a-b; SA 635:1). However, the Sages say that if a sukka was not built for the mitzva of the festival, le-khatḥila something should be added to it before the festival. For example, one could add a square tefaḥ of sekhakh or a strip of sekhakh that extends the length of the sukka (Yerushalmi; MB 636:4). The same applies to an “old sukka” – a sukka from a previous year that was never taken down. Technically it is kosher, but since it was put up for a previous year, it does not count as having been put up for this year’s mitzva. Therefore, le-khatḥila one should add either a square tefaḥ or a strip of sekhakh along its length (SA 636:1; MB ad loc. 7).[17]

If a sukka was put up to provide privacy, it is invalid since it was not intended for shade. Similarly, if one put up a sukka to serve as his permanent home, it is invalid even if the roof is made of kosher sekhakh, since it is not a temporary residence. One who wants to use such a sukka for the mitzva would have to remove all of the sekhakh and replace it while having the mitzva of sukka in mind.

[17]. According to the Yerushalmi, there is a mitzva to build a sukka, as one must recite the berakha: “Who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us to build a sukka” (“la’asot sukka”). Indeed, She’iltot, Ve-zot Ha-berakha §189 concurs (as is explained in the She’iltot commentary Ha’amek She’ala). However, many maintain that building a sukka is only a preparation for performing the mitzva. This is implied by the Bavli, which maintains that no berakha is recited upon putting it up. It is also implied by Beit Hillel, who do not require intention when building it. (See BHL 656, end of s.v. “afilu”; Responsa Rashbash §334.) The Yerushalmi also states that if a sukka was not built for the purpose of the mitzva, there is a mitzva to add something to it. Binyan Shlomo 1:43 explains that the Yerushalmi’s reason is that it is a mitzva to put up a sukka, and by adding something he participates in the mitzva of putting up the sukka. This is the practical ruling, as we state above. It thus emerges that all agree that there is an element of mitzva in building a sukka.

The halakha is that a sukka put up by a non-Jew or a woman is kosher (Sukka 8a-b; SA 14:1, 635:1). Despite this, some say that le-khatḥila one should be fastidious and have it built by a male Jew over the age of 13 (deferring to Rabbeinu Tam, who maintains that only one who is obligated in the mitzva may put up the sukka). This is the position of Magen Avraham 14:3, Bikurei Yaakov 635:2, and Binyan Shlomo 1:43. However, the widely accepted position is that a sukka put up by a non-Jew or a woman is kosher even le-khatḥila.

13. Building Directly and a Stolen or Borrowed Sukka

If one hollows out a haystack to make a sukka, even though the hay is kosher sekhakh, the sukka is invalid because of the principle of “‘ta’aseh’ – ve-lo min he-asui” (“‘you shall make’ – not something ready-made”). That is, one must make the sukka by laying the sekhakh, and it cannot be made indirectly by hollowing out the area under the kosher sekhakh.

The principle of “‘ta’aseh’ – ve-lo min he-asui” dictates the procedure for building the sukka: One must build the walls first and only then lay the sekhakh. If he reversed the sequence and put up the sekhakh first, according to many poskim the sukka is invalid, because the sukka must be “made,” i.e., completed, by putting up sekhakh, and if one put up the sekhakh first, it is the building of the walls that completes the sukka.[18]

An awning or tarp may be placed above the sukka such that it can be spread over the sukka when it rains and removed when it stops raining, so that all can enter a dry sukka. While the tarp is spread, the sukka is invalid, as the tarp constitutes a barrier between the sekhakh and the sky. Once the tarp is removed, though, the sukka is kosher again. However, if the sukka was built while the tarp or awning was spread above it, many maintain that the sukka is invalid, because a sukka must be made kosher by placing sekhakh, not by removing a tarp or awning (Baḥ; MB 626:18; Rema 626:3 is lenient).

One may fulfill the mitzva with a borrowed sukka, which one has permission to use (Sukka 27b; SA 637:2). If the owner of a sukka is away, and there is no way to obtain his permission to use his sukka, one may nevertheless sit in this sukka, because the Sages assume that a Jew is pleased when his property is used to perform a mitzva. However, if it is known that the owner is careful about who he allows in his sukka, or if there is concern that the owner will return, be too embarrassed to enter the sukka when he sees strangers sitting there, and be upset that they are in his sukka, then one may not use the sukka without explicit permission (Taz ad loc. 4; Bikurei Yaakov ad loc. 4; MB ad loc. 9).

One may not build a sukka on private property without the owner’s permission, nor may one build it on public property if the public or its representatives oppose it. If one nevertheless builds a sukka in such a place and sits in it, he may not recite the berakha, for this is not a blessing, but blasphemy, as the sukka was built through transgression.[19]

[18]. If one put up the sekhakh before the walls, some consider the sukka invalid (Maharil; Rema 635:1; Levush; MB ad loc. 10; Ben Ish Ḥai, Year 2, Ha’azinu). Others rule it kosher (Baḥ; Birkei Yosef; Beit Ha-sho’eva; AHS ad loc. 5; Ḥazon Ovadia, p. 38). One should be strict due to this uncertainty. If one first put up small, tefaḥ-high walls close to the sekhakh and reaching the minimum requisite length of three kosher walls, and then put up the sekhakh, the sukka is kosher, since he started building the walls before putting up the sekhakh. A height of one tefaḥ is the smallest size that qualifies as an ohel, as we derive from the discussion of the haystack in Sukka 16a.

[19]. If one builds a sukka on another’s or on public property (such that it is a nuisance to passersby, and the public and its representatives would certainly forbid building a sukka there), he has fulfilled his obligation be-di’avad, since he has not actually stolen anything; the space remains in the possession of its owner or the public. However, since building and staying in the sukka are prohibited, he may not recite the berakha (SA 637:3; MA ad loc. 1; SAH ad loc. 11). In the margins of public property or in a place where a sukka barely bothers passersby, once may build a sukka (as is the accepted practice in many places), because as long as no one objects, we presume that they accept what he has done (BHL 637:3 s.v. “ve-khen”).

If one steals a sukka that had been put up in a wagon, and he sits in it, he has not fulfilled his obligation; since the sukka is not attached to the ground, it can be halakhically “stolen”, and one does not fulfill his obligation in a stolen sukka. One who stole wood and used it to build a sukka can fulfill the mitzva in it and recite the berakha, even though he has violated a prohibition. This is because of the Sages’ enactment (to ease the path of those who seek to make restitution) that one who steals wood and builds it into a house must repay its value but need not demolish his home to return the original wood. That is, the Sages deem the wood to be the thief’s property, with no connection to the original owner. Consequently, one fulfills the mitzva with, and may even recite the berakha on, a sukka of stolen wood (Sukka 31a; SA 637:3; MB ad loc. 15).

14. How Much Effort to Invest in a Sukka

Since the sukka is a temporary residence, living in it will naturally not be as comfortable as living at home. Indeed, this is the mitzva – to reside in a temporary residence for the week of Sukkot. Therefore, we are not commanded to build impermeable, insulated, thick walls and sekhakh to protect its residents from cold, heat, and rain (as we would do in our normal homes). As a result, sometimes being in the sukka entails discomfort, in which case one is exempt, for one who is experiencing discomfort (a “mitzta’er”) is exempt from the mitzva of sukka (3:8-10 below). Thus, when it is very hot, or during very cold nights, or when it is raining, one is exempt from sitting in the sukka. A sick person for whom sitting in the sukka causes discomfort is exempt from sitting in the sukka and has no obligation to build a spacious, robust sukka so that he can remain there while experiencing the comforts of home (Maharaḥ Or Zaru’a §194).

However, one who was lax about building his sukka, so that he experiences discomfort in it even in normal weather, has not fulfilled the mitzva; it has become clear in hindsight that he failed to build a sukka that is worthy as a temporary residence, for even under normal conditions he experiences discomfort in it. One who knows that he can stay in a small, rickety sukka without experiencing discomfort may build such a sukka and fulfill the mitzva, as long as he resolves not to claim in the middle of Sukkot that he is mitzta’er because the sukka is too small or rickety. (See Bikurei Yaakov 640:13; MB 640:24.)

According to many, if one built a sukka that is not fit to sleep in – for instance, if it is in a windy place, and he built walls made of screens, so the wind and cold penetrate – then the sukka is invalid for eating as well. Likewise, if he built the sukka in a bad neighborhood where criminals roam around at night, making it dangerous to sleep there, then the sukka is invalid for eating as well. This is because the mitzva is to build a sukka that will serve as a temporary residence, for eating and sleeping, and since his sukka is not fit for sleeping, it is not considered a residence, so it is invalid for eating as well (Yere’im; Rema 640:4). Others say that even a sukka unfit for sleeping is kosher for eating; even though he sinned by building a sukka unfit for sleeping, since it is fit for eating in, it can be used to fulfill the mitzva of eating in the sukka (Ḥakham Tzvi). If one builds a normal sukka that is fit for sleeping in Eretz Yisrael, but he cannot sleep there because he lives in a cold climate, all agree that it is kosher, as the Torah does not obligate us to build a permanent structure as a sukka. (See MB 640:18.)

If one lives in a place where building a sukka would require his investing major efforts or a great deal of money, he must invest in the sukka to a degree comparable with what he would spend to arrange nice living quarters for a week. That is, he should think to himself: “If I had to leave home for a week, how much trouble would I go to, and how much money would I spend, to arrange comfortable lodgings?” That is how much he must invest in building a sukka or getting to somewhere he can build a sukka. One who periodically takes vacations must invest, in building a sukka or renting a place where he can access or build one, the amount he would pay for a week’s vacation, each person in accordance with his financial situation.

When one buys a home, he should make sure that it has a place to build a sukka. He should spend on this however much one who has to leave his house for one week a year would spend to ensure he could live in comfort for that week each year. A wealthy person must spend whatever he would be prepared to spend on a week’s vacation every year over many years.[20]

[20]. The underlying principle is “‘teshvu’ – ke’ein taduru,” that one must reside in the sukka as he would reside at home (below, 3:1). Consequently, whatever one would pay in order to live comfortably for a week is what he must pay in order to keep the mitzva of sukka. Pri Megadim, Eshel Avraham 640:15; Bikurei Yaakov 640:25; Divrei Malkiel 3:32; and Kaf Ha-ḥayim 640:77 all rule accordingly.

15. Beautifying the Sukka

It is a mitzva to put up a nice, decorated, aesthetically pleasing sukka, at it is written, “This is my God, and I will glorify Him (ve-anvehu)” (Shemot 15:2), which the Sages expound to mean: “Beautify (hitna’eh) yourself before Him through mitzvot: Make a beautiful (na’ah) sukka, a beautiful (na’eh) lulav…” (Shabbat 133b). The idea of beautifying mitzvot – “hidur mitzva” – applies to all the mitzvot.

In the times of the Sages, they customarily decorated the sukka with colorful tapestries and wall-hangings. They would also hang fruits and nuts – walnuts, peaches, almonds, clusters of grapes, pomegranates, wreaths made of stalks, and glass containers full of wine, oil, and fine flour (Shabbat 22a). Eating from them was forbidden during the festival, since they had been set aside for the mitzva of decorating the sukka. Only one who stipulated before the festival that he could eat them as he wished was permitted to do so (as will be explained in the next section). Nowadays, it is less common to decorate the sukka with food. Rather, we decorate the sukka with paper and plastic chains, paper flowers, pretty pictures, and decorative lights. We also make a point of using nice tablecloths, dishes, and silverware in the sukka.

The poskim disagree about the permissibility of decorating the sukka with verses from Scripture (Vayikra 23:42, for example), since they permitted writing down parts of the Torah only for the great need of studying it (Taz; MB 638:24). Others permit, maintaining that these decorations serve an educational purpose (Shakh; Bnei Yona). In practice, one may be lenient, as long as the verses are not written in a way that would be fit for a Torah scroll (based on Rabbeinu Yeruḥam and Tashbetz).

The beautification of the mitzva includes building a spacious sukka, well-protected from wind and sun, that is pleasant to sit in.

One must make sure not to leave dirty dishes in the sukka and not to undertake demeaning activities in it, like changing diapers and doing laundry. (See 3:2 below.)

Branches that smell foul or whose leaves fall off may not be used for sekhakh, as we are concerned that the smell or the nuisance of falling leaves will cause people to leave the sukka for home (Sukka 12b-13a). However, be-di’avad, if one did use these for sekhakh, the sukka is kosher. However, if the smell is intolerable, then the sukka is invalid on a Torah level, as it is unfit for human habitation (SA 629:14; MB ad loc. 38).

One must take precautions against fire hazards in the sukka: not leaving burning candles or unsafe electrical circuits unsupervised and keeping electric lights far away from the sekhakh. (See SA 639:1; MB ad loc. 8.)

16. The Holiness of the Sukka and Its Decorations

The sukka is sanctified for the purpose of the mitzva, for it is written: “There shall be the seven-day festival of Sukkot to the Lord” (Vayikra 23:34). Thus, throughout the festival, one may not use any part of the sukka, whether from the sekhakh or from the walls (Sukka 9a). The Sages further prohibited using any of the sukka decorations designated for beautifying the sukka, for since decorating is also a mitzva, the decorations are set aside for that mitzva. Even if the sukka collapses, it is forbidden to use its broken parts and decorations until after the festival. Moreover, since the prohibition persists until the end of the seventh day of Sukkot, including bein ha-shmashot, which is also the beginning of Shemini Atzeret, it consequently remains prohibited until the end of Simḥat Torah (Beitza 30b; SA 638:1-2).[21]

However, since the sukka is a residence, one may use the walls and sekhakh in the way that one would normally use the walls and ceiling of his home. Thus, one may lean against the wall of the sukka and hang items on it, and one may hang a garment to dry from the sekhakh (Sukka 10b). The prohibition applies only to taking something from the sukka and using it, for example taking a beam from the sukka to build something else or even pulling off a splinter to use as a toothpick (Rema 638:1; MB ad loc. 4). It is also forbidden to remove the wall hangings, the decorations, or the fruit hung from the sekhakh in order to use them for some other purpose. One may not even move them without cause, as doing so detracts from the sukka and its decor. Carpets and floor tiles have the same status as decorations, as they have been set aside for the mitzva of sukka (Igrot Moshe, OḤ 1:181).

If a decoration or part of the sukka becomes bothersome, for instance, if a beam is loose and creaky, or a decoration has fallen apart and is making the sukka ugly, one may remove and dispose of it respectfully, but it may not be used for something else.

If rainfall threatens to ruin the decorations, one may take them down to rehang them later. If one obtained nicer decorations during the festival, he may remove the old ones to replace them with the nicer ones, as long as he does not use the old decorations for another purpose, as they were set aside for mitzva use.

If one wants to be able to derive benefit from his sukka decorations during the festival, he should make the following declaration before the festival begins: “I hereby stipulate that I may remove and enjoy these decorations whenever I want, and that they do not become sanctified.” One cannot make such a stipulation about the sukka itself (Beitza 30b; SA 638:2).

A sukka may be taken down to be rebuilt elsewhere. The prohibition of muktzeh forbids using the sukka beams for a different purpose, but using them in another sukka is permissible.

With the end of the festival, the sanctity of the decorations, walls, and sekhakh expires. One may use them for any mundane purpose, but one may not degrade them, for instance, by using the paper as toilet paper or stepping disrespectfully on the sukka beams (SA 664:8; MB 638:24).

[21]. The prohibition is from the Torah during the week of the festival, and on Shemini Atzeret it is rabbinic, in accordance with the principle that anything muktzeh during bein ha-shmashot remains muktzeh throughout the next day (Ramban; Ran; SA 638:1). [By the same logic, the prohibition extends until the end of Simḥat Torah outside of Eretz Yisrael.] The prohibition applies even to a fallen sukka, but only on the rabbinic level (Tosafot; Rosh; Rema 638:1). All agree that using the sekhakh is a Torah prohibition. Regarding the walls, according to Rosh there is no prohibition. However, we rule in accordance with those who prohibit it. According to Ran, the prohibition of the walls is from the Torah, while there is a disagreement as to Rambam’s position. Some say that he views it as a Torah prohibition, while others say that he views it as a rabbinic prohibition.

The sukka and its decorations become muktzeh from the moment one begins to use the sukka (Rema 638:1). In practice, however, even if the sukka has not yet been used, they may not be moved on Shabbat and Yom Tov and are muktzeh due to the prohibition of Soter (Mor U-Ketzi’a; BHL 638:1 s.v. “lo”).

17. Pergolas

A pergola is a permanent wooden structure built in yards and gardens to provide a shady place to sit. The question is: Is the wood of the pergola’s roof considered kosher sekhakh?

Some are permissive based on the rationale that since the pergola is not meant for residence and is not fit for residence, since rain penetrates, its wood is acceptable sekhakh. Nevertheless, it is proper to add a little sekhakh in honor of the festival and so that the pergola is not considered an “old” sukka (as explained above in section 12). If it is more sunny than shady under the pergola, enough sekhakh must be added to change that.

Others are stringent and say that since the pergola is a sturdy, permanent structure, its wooden roof is akin to the wooden roof of a house, which is invalid as sekhakh on the Torah level. The basic principle of sekhakh for a sukka is that it must be impermanent, and a pergola is permanent. In practice, since this uncertainty pertains to Torah law, we must be stringent.

Therefore, if one wants to turn a pergola into an acceptable sukka, this is what he should do: If the majority of the pergola’s roof is made of fixed beams, some should be removed, so that most of the roof is open and there is more sun than shade. Kosher sekhakh can then be placed over the entire surface of the roof, such that even without the beams attached to the pergola, the shade provided by the kosher sekhakh will be greater than the sun it lets through. This makes the pergola into a kosher sukka.

Another way to make a pergola into a kosher sukka whose shade is greater than its sun is to take out the fixed beams and put them back without attaching them or nailing them down. Every re-placed beam is kosher sekhakh (SA 631:9).

As we have seen (section 13), one must make sure to put up the walls before the sekhakh. This is not usually a problem with a pergola, though. As long as “walls” are at least a tefaḥ high and near the sekhakh, they are considered rudimentary walls; if sekhakh is put on them, it is kosher (as explained in note 18). Many pergolas have horizontal beams that support the roofing, and which are more than a tefaḥ high. Thus, it is not necessary to add anything new to the “walls” before putting on the sekhakh.[22]

[22]. Among those who are permissive: R. Naḥum Rabinovitch (Si’aḥ Naḥum §39, on condition that one not paint the planks); R. Yaakov Ariel (Be-ohalah shel Torah 2:85, although le-khatḥila he is stringent); R. Yisrael Meir Lau (Yaḥel Yisrael §35); Rabbi Dr. Daniel Hershkowitz (Teḥumin 19). Among those who are stringent: R. Mordechai Eliyahu (Hilkhot Ḥagim 50:42-43); R. Yosef Shalom Elyashiv (cited in Shvut Yitzḥak, p. 68); R. Eliyahu Schlesinger (Eleh Hem Mo’adai 1:38). As written in Harḥavot, the logic of those who are stringent is persuasive. Additionally, since we are speaking of uncertainty pertaining to Torah law, stringency is called for.

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