How to Live in the Sukkah

#1: Where?

should I learn Torah during Sukkos?”

#2: What?

are the rules about having dirty plates and glasses in the sukkah?”

#3: When?

“When it
is raining on the first night of Sukkos, why do we make kiddush
and hamotzi in the sukkah, but without reciting the brocha
on the mitzvah?”


The laws
of the mitzvah of sukkah are highly detailed and very unusual. In the course of answering
the opening questions, we will be studying an overview of the unique laws of
this beautiful mitzvah.

sweet sukkah

proper observance of this mitzvah is to treat the sukkah as one’s
home for the entire seven days of Sukkos (Mishnah and Gemara
28b). This is derived from the Torah’s words: “You shall dwell (teishevu)
in the Sukkah for seven days
.” This is the only mitzvah of the Torah that
is worded this way, and, as a result, there are many interesting and unique halachic
details, both lekulah and lechumrah. (Women are exempt from the
mitzvah of sukkah, and, therefore, the halachos that we describe
in this article apply only to men. However, a woman who eats or spends time in
the sukkah fulfills a mitzvah. According to Ashkenazic practice,
she recites a brocha prior to fulfilling the mitzvah; according to
practice, she does not.)

The Gemara
explains that a person should not only eat all his meals in the sukkah,
but he should sleep and relax in the sukkah (Sukkah 28b;
Shulchan Aruch
Orach Chayim 639:1). Although in many places in chutz
, people are not accustomed to sleeping in the sukkah
because of safety, weather or personal concerns (see Rema and acharonim,
Orach Chayim
639:2), we should still spend most of the day in the sukkah,
and not simply use it as a place to eat our meals, and then leave it for the
rest of the day.

To quote
the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 639:1): “How does one fulfill
the mitzvah of living in the sukkah? One should eat, drink, sleep, relax,
and live in the sukkah all seven days, both in the daytime and at night,
just as he lives in his house the rest of the year. For these seven days, he
should make his house temporary and his sukkah into his regular
residence. What are some examples of this? His nicest vessels, tablecloths and
bedspreads should be in the sukkah. His drinking vessels, both the
serving vessels and the drinking glasses, should be in the sukkah.
However, utensils used to prepare food, such as pots and pans, should be outside
the sukkah. The lamp should be in the sukkah; however, if the sukkah
is small, it should be placed outside the sukkah.”

does the Shulchan Aruch mean when it makes a distinction between
drinking vessels, which are inside the sukkah, and utensils to prepare
food, which it says should be outside the sukkah?

the Shulchan Aruch introduces the following concept. Although we are
supposed to use and live in the sukkah as we do in our house, we are
required to treat the sukkah with a degree of respect, as it has some
level of kedusha. The Rema (639:1) notes that unbecoming things
should not be performed in the sukkah. The Beis Yosef chooses
washing dishes as an example of something inappropriate in the sukkah.
The Magen Avraham explains that washing drinking glasses is permitted in
the sukkah, because this is not considered something unaesthetic,
whereas washing pots and dirty dishes is.

eating and cooking vessels, there are two aspects to this distinction.

to custom, pots and other cooking vessels that are not brought to the table
when there are guests should not be brought into the sukkah (Mishnah
639:5). Similarly, other items that are not appropriate for public
view, such as a child’s potty, should never be brought into the sukkah.
However, presentable “oven-to-table” cookware may be brought into the sukkah.

second aspect is that plates and platters that are dirty must be removed from
the sukkah (Sukkah 29a). This is because, once they have been
used, they look unpleasant.

Both of
these laws do not apply to drinking vessels, which are usually not repulsive,
even when dirty (ibid.).

A rule
of thumb I have adopted is: Something that would be in the dining room, living room
or bedrooms when you are entertaining guests can be in the sukkah. Items
that you would ordinarily leave in the kitchen, bathroom or laundry area should
not be in the sukkah.

in the sukkah?

The Shulchan
stated: “The lamp should be in the sukkah; however, if the sukkah
is small, it should placed outside the sukkah.” What does this mean?

today’s post-Edison world, lighting usually means electric lighting, which, if
properly installed, should not present any safety hazards. However, when lighting
was oil or other flammable material, placing a light inside a small sukkah
could pose a safety hazard. Therefore, the sukkah’s lighting would, of
necessity, be placed outside when the sukkah was small. Although this
situation is not ideal, it is, under the circumstances, an acceptable way to
observe the mitzvah, notwithstanding that your household lighting would be

in the sukkah

The Gemara
(Sukkah 28b) discusses whether learning Torah should be in the sukkah
or outside. The conclusion is that learning requiring focus is usually best
accomplished outside the sukkah, where someone can learn with better
concentration. On the other hand, learning that will not suffer as a result of
heing outside home or a beis medrash should, indeed, be done in the sukkah.
However, if someone needs access to many seforim while learning, it may
not be practical to bring all of them to the sukkah. The Mishnah
(639:29) recommends bringing the seforim that he will need
to the sukkah for the entire Yom Tov, if he can create a place
there to keep them. I will add that, depending on the climate, he may need a
place where they will not get wet.

Thus, we
can answer our opening question: “Where should I learn Torah during Sukkos?”
The answer is: If someone can conveniently learn in the sukkah, he
should; but if he cannot, he should learn where he will be able to accomplish
the most.

outside the sukkah?

the Shulchan Aruch requires that all meals be eaten in the sukkah,
it does not require that snacks be eaten in the sukkah. This ruling is
also derived from the Torah’s wording of mitzvas sukkah: “You
shall dwell
(teishevu) in the Sukkah for seven days,” which implies
that we should treat the sukkah as we treat our house the rest of the
year. In this instance, the result is lenient. Just as we do not eat all snacks
in the house, but eat them wherever we find ourselves, the same is true
regarding eating snacks on Sukkos – there is no requirement to
eat them in the sukkah.

In this
context, the Mishnah reports:

“It once
happened that someone brought Rabban Yochanan ben Zakai some food to taste, and
(in another anecdote) someone brought Rabban Gamliel two dates and a pitcher of
water. In both instances, the rabbonim asked that the food be brought to
the sukkah for them to eat it there. However, when someone brought Rabbi
Tzadok a small amount of bread, he ate a very small amount — less than the
size-equivalency of an egg — outside the sukkah” (Mishnah, Sukkah

The Gemara
explains: The halacha does not require eating any of these items in the sukkah,
but one is permitted to be more stringent. In other words, someone who desires
to be stringent and not eat anything or drink even water outside the sukkah
is praiseworthy. Ordinarily, it is prohibited to act more stringently than the halacha
requires, because of a concern called yohara, showing off that one is
more careful in halacha than other people. This concern does not exist
germane to being strict about eating snacks in the sukkah, and,
therefore, Rabban Yochanan ben Zakai and Rabban Gamliel ate in the sukkah,
even when it was not mandated. On the other hand, since this is a stringency
and not halachically required, Rabbi Tzadok ate his snack outside the sukkah.

How much
is still considered a snack that is permitted outside of the sukkah? If
you are eating bread, you may eat a piece that is equal to, but not greater
than, the size of an average-sized egg. Someone who wants to determine this size
exactly should discuss it with his rav or posek. Fruit, as much
as you want, may be eaten outside the sukkah. A cereal produced from the
five grains may not be eaten outside the sukkah, if it constitutes a

for a drink

It is
permitted to drink water or any other beverage, even wine, outside the sukkah.
However, be aware that if a person is in the middle of a meal that requires
being in the sukkah, he may not eat or drink anything outside the sukkah
(see Ran). This is because every part of a meal must be eaten in the sukkah,
even while in the house getting the next course. (Of course, since women are
exempt from the mitzvah of sukkah, they may eat or help themselves to
something in the house during the meal.)

but not brocha?

At this
point, let us discuss the third of our opening questions: “When it is raining
on the first night of Sukkos, why do we make kiddush and hamotzi
in the sukkah, but without reciting the brocha on the

about sukkah

this question requires two introductions about different aspects of the laws of
sukkah. The first is:

As I
noted above, when the mitzvah of sukkah is discussed, the Torah writes “You
shall dwell
(teishevu) in the Sukkah for seven days.” Seemingly, the
Torah could just as easily have instructed, “You shall be (tihyu) in
the sukkah for seven days.
” Why did the Torah use the word teishevu,
rather than the word tihyu, be?Either term teishevu
(dwell) or tihyu (be)implies that a person should use his sukkah
as his primary residence through the Yom Tov!

answer is because  the word teishevu implies something that
does not: Teishevu implies that there is no requirement to use
the sukkah in circumstances that you would not use your house the rest
of the year (Tosafos Yom Tov, Sukkah 2:4). This is referred to as
teishevu ke’ein taduru
, you should live in the sukkah similarly to
the way you normally live in your house. Since the mitzvah of the Torah is to
treat the sukkah as you ordinarily treat your house, there are
leniencies that do not apply to any other mitzvah. One case of these is
, someone for whom being in the sukkah causes discomfort. A
mitzta’er is exempt from being in the sukkah (Sukkah 26a).

For example,
a person whose house is very chilly will relocate temporarily to a warmer
dwelling; if bees infest your house, you will find alternative accommodations;
if the roof leaks, you will find a dry location until it is repaired. Just as
people evacuate their houses when uncomfortable and find more suitable
accommodations, so may they relocate from their sukkah when
uncomfortable and seek more pleasant arrangements. Therefore, if a bad smell
develops near the sukkah, one is exempt from staying in the sukkah.

first night of Sukkos

second introduction is to explain that there are two aspects to the mitzvah
of sukkah.

(1) The mitzvah
to dwell in a sukkah the entire Yom Tov. This is the aspect of
the mitzvah that we have been discussing until this point.

(2) The
requirement to eat in a sukkah onthe first night of the Yom
. Chazal derive this requirement by way of a hermeneutic
comparison to the mitzvah of eating matzah on the first night of Pesach
(Sukkah 27a). Although there is no requirement to eat matzah all
of Pesach, on the first night there is a requirement, as
the Torah specifies, ba’erev to’chelu matzos, on the first night of Pesach
one is required to eat matzah.

means that Hashem taught Moshe at Har Sinai that there are two
aspects to the mitzvah of living in the sukkah. The first night one has
an obligation to eat in the sukkah. The rest of Sukkos, the
requirement is to treat the sukkah as you treat your house. Therefore,
should you spend all of Sukkos in a circumstance where you would usually
never be home – such as a meshulach on a fundraising trip – you could
potentially avoid being in the sukkah the entire Yom Tov without
violating the mitzvah. However, on the first night, there is an obligation to
eat in the sukkah. Even if someone chooses not to eat a meal all of Sukkos,
but to subsist completely on snacks, the first night, he is still required to
eat a kezayis of bread in the sukkah.

the first

Our next
question is whether a mitzta’er is required to eat in the sukkah
the first night of Sukkos. For example, when the weather is inclement,
and it is permitted to eat in the house, does this also exempt someone from
eating a kezayis of bread in the sukkah on the first night? This
question is the subject of a dispute among the rishonim. Some contend
that this exemption does not apply to the mitzvah to eat a kezayis in
the sukkah on the first night. Just as a mitzta’er is required to
eat a kezayis of matzoh the first night of Pesach, so too
a mitzta’er is required to eat a kezayis of bread in the sukkah
on the first night of Sukkos (Tur Orach Chayim 639).

Other rishonim
disagree, contending that the rules of teishevu ke’ein taduru apply on
the first night, just as they apply throughout the rest of the week (Shu”t
, quoted by Beis Yosef).

do we rule?

The Rema
(Orach Chayim 640:4) concludes that although a mitzta’er is
absolved from fulfilling mitzvas sukkah the rest of the week, he
must, nevertheless, eat a kezayis of bread in the sukkah the
first night of Sukkos (see also Meiri, Sukkah 26a; Rema, Orach
639:5). Ashkenazim, who follow the Rema’s opinion the
vast majority of the time, consider this to be an unresolved halachic
issue. Therefore, if it rains on the first night of Sukkos, they eat at
least a kezayis of bread in the sukkah. However, since there are rishonim
who contend that a mitzta’er is exempt even from eating a kezayis
on the first night, they do not recite a brocha leisheiv basukah (consensus
of most acharonim, see Mishnah Berurah 639:35).

Sefardim should ask their rav what
to do, since there is a dispute among Sefardic poskim whether one
is obligated to eat in the sukkah on the first night of Yom Tov under
these circumstances.

night in chutz la’aretz

The acharonim
dispute whether the practice of Ashkenazim to make kiddush and
eat a kezayis in the sukkah even when it is raining applies only
on the first night of Sukkos, or even on the second night of Sukkos
in chutz la’aretz. I refer our readers to their rav or posek
to discuss this question, should it become germane.

stars and the sukkah

halacha is that, lechatchilah, one should be able to see the
stars through the sukkah’s schach. What is the reason behind this

following thought was suggested: The sukkah, a temporary dwelling with a
leaky thatched roof, represents the Jew in exile. Yet, there are a wide variety
of kosher Sukkos. Some sukkos are constructed with four complete
and sturdy walls that reach all the way to the schach. On the other
hand, there are Sukkos that are much less sturdy and yet they are still
kosher. For example a sukkah with just two fairly narrow walls
accompanied by a third “wall” that is a mere plank the width of one’s fist is
kosher. Such a shabby sukkah can be kosher, even if its walls are only
ten tefachim tall, which is less than forty inches, with open air
between the top of the short “walls” and the schach, notwithstanding
that such a sukkah provides virtually no privacy. Do you know anyone who
would live in such a house?

different types of sukkos represent different forms of exile. In some
times and places, we were welcomed and had a sense of security; in others, we
had to cringe in fear.

there is one common factor in all the various exiles that we have been through
– the stars. The stars remind us that when Klal Yisrael merits it,
instead of being like the dust of the earth, we will be like the stars in the
sky! (This approach is cited in the contemporary work, Shalal Rav, Sukkos
volume, page 114.) Thus, regardless of the difficulties of the moment, we have
a Divine promise that one day we will be stars!


We all
hope to merit performing this beautiful mitzvah in the best way possible. 
After having davened for a good, sweet, new year, the logical
continuation is to observe mitzvas sukkah in a halachically
correct manner, getting our year off to a wonderful start!