A sukkah (Hebrew: סוכה, plural, סוכות, sukkot, often translated as "booth") is a temporary hut constructed for use during the week-long Jewish festival of Sukkot. It is topped with branches and often well decorated with autumnal, harvest or Judaic themes. The Book of Vayyiqra (Leviticus) describes it as a symbolic wilderness shelter, commemorating the time God provided for the Israelites in the wilderness they inhabited after they were freed from slavery in Egypt. It is common for Jews to eat, sleep and otherwise spend time in the sukkah. In Judaism, Sukkot is considered a joyous occasion and is referred to in Hebrew as Yom Simchateinu (the day of our rejoicing) or Z'man Simchateinu (the time of our rejoicing), but the sukkah itself symbolizes the frailty and transience of life and its dependence on God.
The halakha requires that eating of all meals and sleeping should be conducted in the sukkah. However, one is not expected to remain in the sukkah if he would be very uncomfortable there. For this reason, Jews living at northern latitudes will generally not sleep in the sukkah due to the cold temperatures of autumn nights. Some Jews in these locales will spend some time in the sukkah eating and relaxing but go indoors to sleep.
When rain falls on the sukkah, one is not required to stay inside. The Mishna in Sukkah 28b compares rain falling on a sukkah to a master who receives a drink from his servant and then throws it back in the servant's face. The analogy is that through the rainfall, God is showing His displeasure with our performance of the mitzvah by not allowing us to fulfill our obligation of sitting in the sukkah.
In Israel and other temperate climates (such as Florida, Australia, and Southern California), observant Jews will often conduct all their eating, studying, and sleeping activities in the sukkah. Many Jews will not eat or drink anything outside the sukkah. Others will drink or eat fruit outside the sukkah.
In Israel, it is common practice for hotels, restaurants, snack shops, and outdoor tourist attractions (such as zoos) to provide a sukkah for customers to dine in.
Lubavitcher and Belzer Hasidim differ from other Orthodox Jews in that they do not sleep in the sukkah due to its intrinsic holiness. Though the halakha doesn't obligate one to eat or sleep in the sukkah if it is raining, Lubavitcher Hasidim will still eat there.
A popular social activity which involves people visiting each other's Sukkot has become known as "Sukkah hopping". Food is laid out so that participants will be able to recite the various required blessings.
According to halakha, a sukkah is a structure consisting of a roof made of organic material which has been disconnected from the ground (the s'chach). A sukkah must have at least 2-1/2 walls. It should be at least three feet tall, and be positioned so that all or part of its roof is open to the sky (only the part which is under the sky is kosher.)
In practice, the walls of a sukkah can be constructed from any material which will withstand a normally anticipated terrestrial wind. If the material is not rigid, and therefore will sway in the wind, the sukkah is not kosher (Talmud, Sukkah 24b). Accordingly, there is a discussion among contemporary halakhic authorities whether canvas may be used for walls: Some, such as R. Ovadiah Yosef (Shu"t Yechaveh Da'at 3:46) hold that even the slightest degree of swaying in the wind will disqualify the sukkah walls, and thus canvas cannot realistically be employed. Others, such as the Chazon Ish, permit motion to and fro of less than three handbreadths, thereby facilitating the usage of canvas walls. The specific details of what constitutes a wall, the minimum and maximum wall heights, whether there can be spaces between the walls and the roof, and the exact material required for the s'chach (roofing) can be found in various exegetical texts.
A sukkah can be built on the ground or on an open porch or balcony. Indeed, many observant Jews who design their home's porch or deck will do so in a fashion that aligns with their sukkah building needs. Portable sukkot made of a collapsible metal frame and cloth walls have recently become available for those who have little space, or for those who are traveling (in order to have a place to eat one's meals).
The roof covering, known as S'chach in Hebrew, must consist of something that grew from the earth but is currently disconnected from it. Palm leaves, bamboo sticks, pine branches, wood and the like can all be used for s'chach, unless they were processed previously for a different use.
There must be enough s'chach that inside the sukkah there should be more shade than sun. However, there must be sufficient gaps between the pieces of s'chach so that rain could come through.
Many people hang decorations such as streamers, shiny ornaments, and pictures from the interior walls and ceiling beams of a sukkah. Fresh, dried or plastic fruit — including etrogs and the seven species for which Israel is praised (wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates; see Deuteronomy 8:8) — are popular decorations.
Some families also line the interior walls with white sheeting, in order to recall the "Clouds of Glory" that surrounded the Jewish nation during their wanderings in the desert. The Chabad custom is not to decorate the sukkah, as the sukkah itself is considered to be an object of beauty.
According to Jewish law, one must recite the following blessing when using the sukkah. The blessing is normally recited after the blessing made on food, such as on bread or cake:
ברוך אתה ה' א‑לוהינו מלך העולם, אשר קדשנו במצותיו וצונו לישב בסכה.
Transliteration: Barukh ata Adonai Eloheinu melekh ha‑olam, asher kid'shanu b'mitzvotav v'tzivanu leishev ba‑sukah.
Translation: "Blessed are You, LORD, our God, King of the universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us to dwell in the sukkah."
During the holiday, some Jews recite the ushpizin prayer which symbolises the welcoming of seven "exaulted guests" into the sukkah. These ushpizin, or guests, represent the seven shepherds of Israel: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph and David. According to tradition, each night a different guest enters the sukkah followed by the other six. Each of the ushpizin has a unique lesson to teach us that parallels the spiritual focus of the day on which they visit.
In Chabad tradition, an additional set of corresponding "chasidic" ushpizin enter the sukkah, beginning with the Baal Shem Tov and the Maggid of Mezeritch and continuing with the consecutive rebbes of the Chabad Hasidic dynasty. Concepts connecting the regular ushpizin with the "chasidic" ones are expounded upon by Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson.
- "Live in sukkot for seven days, so your descendants will remember that I [the Lord] had the Israelites live in wilderness shelters when I brought them out of Egypt." Vayyiqra (Leviticus) 23:42-43
- Shelter of Faith
- Shulchan Aruch 640:4
- Silverberg, Rabbi David. Sukkot. The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beis Medrash.
- Nitei Gavriel, Hilchos Rosh Hashanah Ch. 29 note 9 (5754 Edition)
- The Sukkah and Sleeplessness
- Distribution of schach in Israel
- How To Build Your Sukkah
- Cf. Mayonei HaYeshua.
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