How to Live in the Sukkah

Question #1: Where?

“Where should I learn Torah during Sukkos?”

Question #2: What?

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

Question #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?”

Introduction:

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.

Home sweet sukkah

The proper observance of this mitzvah is to treat the sukkah as one’s home for the entire seven days of Sukkos (Mishnah and Gemara Sukkah 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 Sephardic 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 la’aretz, 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.”

What 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?

Here, 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.

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

According 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 Berurah 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.

The 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.

Lamp in the sukkah?

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

In 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 indoors.

Studying 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 Berurah (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.

Snacking outside the sukkah?

Although 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 26b).

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 meal.

Stopping 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.)

Kiddush, hamotzi, 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 mitzvah?”

Leniencies about sukkah

Answering 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, dwell, 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!

The answer is because  the word teishevu implies something that tihyu 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 mitzta’er, 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.

The first night of Sukkos

The 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 Tov. 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.

This 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.

Mitzta’er the first night

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 Rashba, quoted by Beis Yosef).

How 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 Chayim 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.

Second 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.

The stars and the sukkah

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

The 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?

The 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.

Yet, 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!

Conclusion

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!

Sukkah Walls Review

On the website, one can find many other articles about various topics of Sukkos and Yom Tov, under the headings Sukkah, Esrog, Yom Tov.

Sukkah Walls Review

examining lulavQuestion #1: A Strapping of a Sukkah

“I have noticed recently that prefab Sukkos come with straps or bars that run along the sides of the sukkah. Could you please explain to me why the manufacturers are now making a more complicated product?”

Question #2: Pergola or Sukkah?

“May a pergola or trellis be used to hold the schach of a sukkah?”

Question #3: Going out to a sukkah

“My aunt, who always takes the family out to eat when she visits, will be in town for Sukkos, and she knows that her favorite restaurant has a sukkah for Chol Hamoed. Can we rely on the restaurant’s sukkah?”

Answer: This is the second part of a revised version of an interview I provided to Mishpacha magazine a few years ago. This article covers some of the more common halachic issues and problems one finds regarding sukkah walls. Although I have edited the original article somewhat, I have left the interview structure. A pdf of the original article can be found here.

Mishpacha: Why should sukkah walls require a hechsher?

RYK: Let me first present the basic laws of sukkah walls, and then I will explain what a hechsher on a prefab sukkah should mean.

Many people have learned that since the word sukkah has three letters — the samech with four sides, the kof with three, and the heih with two and a small yud opposite it — a sukkah may be kosher with four, three or even two walls as long as there is a bit of a third wall on the third side. Unfortunately, the halacha is not as clear-cut as this vort makes it seem. Although there are situations in which a sukkah is kosher when it has three partial walls that do not run the length or width of the sukkah, the laws pertaining to such a sukkah are extremely complicated, and one should not build such a sukkah without conferring with a halachic authority.

Because of the concern that a partial wall often does not qualify as a proper sukkah wall, the Rama mentions that it is now customary not to build a sukkah with only partially constructed walls, but, instead, to make sure that it has three walls that are the full length or width of the sukkah.[i] Nevertheless, there are situations when this is not practical. I find this situation most common in Eretz Yisroel or in some parts of New York City, where people must assemble their sukkah in a courtyard or porch that has several entrances or is unevenly shaped, so that it is impossible to construct three full walls. I strongly recommend that someone in this situation consult with a competent halachic authority before building the sukkah to ascertain that their plans, indeed, meet the halachic requirements. Then have the rav see the actual sukkah after it is constructed, with enough time before Yom Tov to make any necessary changes. It is a shame to have invested the time and money for a sukkah and then not fulfill the mitzvah because someone was too proud or too busy to check that the sukkah was kosher. (In addition, eating in a sukkah whose kashrus is questionable could entail violating halacha and reciting brochos levatalah.)

Keep your roof near your walls

Furthermore, the law is that the walls of the sukkah must be fairly close to the schach. The horizontal distance between the schach and the three walls must be less than three tefachim (according to some opinions, 24 centimeters or 9.4 inches[ii]), or the sukkah is not kosher. Every year I see sukkahs that, unfortunately, are not kosher because of this problem. Sometimes people build a framework for their sukkah, including walls and schach, but do not realize that the schach must be near the walls. I have also often seen fancy, pergola-like frames built on patios and upon which the schach is placed, but the schach is at too great a distance from the patio walls for the sukkah to be kosher. These sukkahs can almost always be fixed so that they are kosher halachically, but one has to know how to do it properly.

With the wind to my sukkah’s back

Here is another common problem — sukkahs made with walls that are too flimsy. The Gemara teaches that “any partition that cannot withstand a typical wind does not qualify as a partition.”[iii] The Gemara then notes that this principle seems to be contradicted by a Mishnah that rules that a sukkah may be constructed using trees as its walls, yet trees move in the wind. The Gemara responds that the Mishnah refers to substantive, thick trees that will not move in the wind.  The Gemara then asks that even if the tree is strong, the canopy of the tree will certainly be blown by the wind. To this the Gemara responds that the Mishnah must be discussing a case where the tree’s canopy was reinforced so that the wind would not move it.

There are two ways of explaining this section of Gemara:

Some understand that the Gemara invalidates a sukkah only if the wind will blow down the wall or blow apart the materials that constitute the wall such that it now has gaps that invalidate it; but a wall that sways is valid.[iv] According to this approach, a cloth-walled sukkah assembled such that its walls are tied properly at the top and bottom is kosher, even though the middle of the “walls” sways considerably in the wind.

However, most authorities rule that the Gemara means that if a typical wind causes noticeable movement to the wall, it is invalid as a sukkah wall. The wording of Rambam and Shulchan Aruch seems to bear out this approach:

“Someone who makes his sukkah among the trees, using them as walls; if they were strong or he tied them until the point that a common wind would not constantly move them, and he filled in between the branches with straw tied in a way that the wind would not sway them, the sukkah is kosher.”[v]

According to this approach, most prefab sukkos pose a halachic concern, since they are usually made of cloth or plastic walls that blow in the wind. One finds some discussion among authorities as to how much swaying is called too much. Some authorities rule that if one makes the walls very taut, the sukkah is still valid.

Many years ago I was approached by a manufacturer of prefab sukkahs to provide him with a hechsher. His sukkah was indeed made of very thick cloth which, when assembled according to his instructions, was very taut.

Mishpacha: Did you give him a hechsher?

RYK: No, I did not. Some early authorities are concerned about the use of cloth walls for a sukkah, even when they are made very taut, because of concern that they will loosen and then sway in the wind.[vi] The same passage of Shulchan Aruch I just quoted cites this opinion. Allow me to quote the Shulchan Aruch’s conclusion:

“Therefore it is improper to make all the walls from linen curtains without sticks, even if one tied them well, because sometimes the ties loosen without anyone realizing it, and now the wall can no longer withstand a typical wind. Someone who wants to use sheets [for his sukkah walls] should weave sticks into his walls within every three tefachim.”[vii]

It seems to me that one should not build a sukkah with any type of cloth walls, unless one reinforces them with something that the wind cannot blow. I presume that the rav who did provide this manufacturer with a hechsher on the sukkah walls felt that one can draw a distinction between thick, strong cloth and the “curtains” and “sheets” mentioned by the Shulchan Aruch. However, I was (and remain) unwilling to provide a hechsher to something that runs counter to the Shulchan Aruch, according to my understanding.

Today, the halachically better quality cloth-walled sukkos come with straps or cords that create halachic walls. Let me explain how this works. There is a halachic principle called lavud, according to which a gap of less than three tefachim (24 centimeters or 9.4 inches) in a wall is treated as if it is actually closed. According to this principle, one can technically build sukkah walls with sticks placed either horizontally or vertically every 24 centimeters along its sides.

If one uses vertical sticks or wires, one needs only to construct “walls” through lavud until they reach a height of ten tefachim (80 centimeters or 31.5 inches), which is technically the minimum height requirement for the walls of a sukkah (see Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 630:9). For this reason, the prefab sukkos made with belts or crossbars have them only from the floor until they reach this height.

Mishpacha: Rav Kaganoff, could I ask you to address this actual case we were asked: My aunt, who always takes the family out to eat when she visits, will be in town for Sukkos, and she knows that her favorite restaurant has a sukkah for Chol Hamoed. Can we rely on the restaurant’s sukkah?

RYK: Even when the restaurant has a good hechsher, the sukkah assembled often is a cloth-walled type that most authorities invalidate. I have even seen restaurants with excellent hechsherim sporting sukkahs that were not kosher at all. For example, the cloth walls were not secured properly and they billowed upward in the wind, which is not kosher even according to the lenient position mentioned above. Yes, I also find it surprising that the hechsher is assuming responsibility only for the kashrus of the food, but does not get involved in whether the sukkah built by the restaurant is kosher.

Thus, if you want to accept Aunt Shprintzah’s wonderful invitation, check in advance how the restaurant sukkah is constructed. It has often happened that I received a phone call from a person at a restaurant trying to figure out what to do, and I have advised him to eat only items that one may eat outside the sukkah.

Conclusion

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!

 

 

[i] Glosses to Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 630:5

[ii] There are several opinions how to measure or estimate the length of a tefach in contemporary measurements. I suggest that our readers confer with their rav or posek for direction as to what size to use.

[iii] Gemara Sukkah 24b

[iv] Chazon Ish, Orach Chayim 77:6

[v] Rambam, Hilchos Sukkah 4:5; Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 630:10

[vi] Rabbeinu Peretz in his notes to the Sma”k

[vii] Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 630:10. Other authorities who discuss this issue at length include Rabbi Ovadyah Yosef in his Shu”t Yechaveh Daas 3:46.

Sukkah Schach Review

bamboo matQuestion #1: “What are the potential halachic issues encountered with schach mats?”

Question #2: “My aunt, who always takes the family out to eat when she visits, will be in town for Sukkos, and knows that her favorite restaurant has a sukkah for Chol Hamoed. Can we rely on the restaurant’s sukkah?”

Answer: This article, which is a revised version of an interview I provided to Mishpacha magazine a few years ago, covers some of the more common halachic issues and problems one finds regarding Sukkos. Although I have edited the original article somewhat, I have left the interview structure. A pdf of the original article can be found on RabbiKaganoff.com

Mishpacha: Rav Kaganoff, I am very appreciative that you have been able to make time for us. Can you mention what types of halachic issues you have noticed concerning the validity of Sukkos?

RYK: The laws of sukkah are very complicated, and a rav should not assume that his members know how to construct a kosher sukkah, unless he himself has been certain to teach them thoroughly. If the rav has not (yet) taught them properly, then one can certainly assume that there will be many issues concerning the sukkah walls and the schach, and, potentially, questions even where they place the sukkah, since they may build it under trees or overhangs.

How frequent the problems occur will depend on how well a rav has succeeded in educating his membership to the basic requirements of sukkah. There are two obvious ways he can teach them. One is by mentioning aspects of the laws of sukkah whenever he has an opportunity during the weeks before Sukkos – a little bit before his drasha on Shabbos; a little after daily Shacharis and between Mincha and Maariv. Another method is to offer to make “sukkah calls,” just like doctors used to make house calls! The message eventually gets through, and I noticed how, with time, my shul members became very sensitized to the main issues.

Mishpacha: Could you point out the most frequent problems you have found and explain why there are concerns?

RYK: Certainly. Let me first introduce the fundamentals of sukkah construction. A sukkah consists of two basic components, its walls and its roof, which we call the schach; and each has very specific halachic requirements. The schach must be of vegetative material that once grew from the earth but is no longer connected to the earth, is not food, and has not been fashioned in a way that halacha considers it a “vessel” or a “utensil.”

The correct term for these items is that they are mekabeil tumah, susceptible to becoming tamei, should they be in contact with a tamei item. The exact rules defining what qualifies as a utensil are fairly complicated, and it is interesting how much halachic literature is devoted to defining whether such diverse items as arrow shafts, wooden ladders, thread, and straw or reed mats may be used as schach – meaning, are they processed enough to be considered “utensils” for halachic purposes or not. However, a full treatment of this topic is beyond the parameters of this article.

A “Venetian” Sukkah

There are many interesting discussions about the use of other common household items for schach. For example, in 1941 a rav asked Rav Moshe Feinstein whether one can use venetian blinds, at that time made of wood slats attached with cloth, as schach. The inquirer wanted to permit their use, since both the slats and the cloth are made from materials that grow from the ground. Rav Moshe demonstrates from the Talmudic sources that although the wood is basically unprocessed, once it has been attached to the cloth, it is halachically considered a utensil and may not be used as schach.[i]

Walking (under) the Plank

There are also categories of items that the Torah permitted as kosher schach, but were later prohibited by the Sages because of various concerns. For example, wide wooden planks are not utensils and do meet all the other requirements for schach and, therefore, should be acceptable. However, the Sages prohibited using them out of concern that someone might mistakenly assume that his regular wood roof would be satisfactory as a cover for his sukkah.[ii] Although today it is unusual to make a roof out of wood boards, in early generations these were standard roofing materials.

This developed into a halachic controversy not that long ago: May one use wooden slats or laths for schach? I remember seeing wooden slats used commonly as schach material by respected Torah scholars, whereas other, equally knowledgeable Torah scholars took strong exception to using this as schach, invalidating it because slats are used in construction. (Shu”t Yaskil Avdi Volume VI Orach Chayim #20 analyzes both sides of the question. He also quotes a very interesting reason why people prefer using slats to other types of schach. He contends that it is uncommon for them to be insect infested, whereas other forms of schach often have such a problem.)

Metal in the Schach

Many people assume that if one puts any metal into the schach, such as nailing together the schach, the sukkah cannot be used. This is not accurate, although they are correct that one should not use metal to assemble or support the schach, such as by resting the schach on a metal framework. However, the vast majority of halachic authorities conclude that if a sukkah was assembled in a way that its schach is held up by metal, the sukkah may be used. Let me explain.

Supporting the Schach – the Maamid

The Gemara discusses whether the schach must be “held up” — supported by material that could be used for the schach itself. The majority opinion contends that the rules I mentioned above apply only to the schach and not to what supports the schach, which is called the maamid.[iii] According to this opinion, one may use any material at all to support schach, and even having your schach rest directly on steel girders is perfectly fine.[iv]

There is a minority opinion that contends that the rules of schach material apply, also, to what supports the schach. Following this latter approach, one must be careful not to have the schach supported by metal or, for that matter, any other material that would not be kosher schach.

Usually the halacha follows the majority opinion, and following their view, as long as the schach itself is “kosher,” we need not be concerned about what supports the schach. Indeed, most early authorities follow the majority opinion, concluding that there is no halachic problem with supporting the schach with material that would, itself, be invalid schach.[v] Thus, according to them, one could construct a metal framework, rest the schach on it and the sukkah is perfectly kosher. However, there are some early authorities who take the more stringent approach and conclude that one may not support the schach with material that is itself not kosher for schach.[vi]

The conclusion of the later halachic authorities is that although we follow the majority opinion and permit the use of a sukkah whose schach is supported by metal or other invalid-for-schach material, one should not construct a sukkah this way. In other words, one should try to construct a sukkah that is kosher according to all opinions, by supporting the schach with material that itself is valid for schach, but a sukkah constructed ignoring this concern is nevertheless kosher.[vii]

This has many ramifications. For example, you are invited to someone’s house for a meal or Kiddush during Sukkos and discover that their schach is held up by metal or other material that is invalid as schach. Alternatively, you take the family to a recreational area on Chol Hamoed and discover that the sukkah there was erected with the schach held up by a metal frame. You may eat there and enjoy your meal, since the sukkah is kosher, notwithstanding that those in charge should not have assembled the sukkah this way.

The above section elicited the following subsequent inquiry: “It would seem that this halacha applies only regarding the beams that hold up the schach. Meaning, if the metal nails are making sure only that the schach doesn’t slip off the beams, metal may be used. However, if the schach would blow away with a ruach metzuyah, a typical wind, then nailing it down would be forbidden according to the opinion that you should not use metal or the like to hold up the schach.”

Rabbi Kaganoff responds:

“My answer was somewhat ambiguous, and I thank you for bringing it to my attention.

To clarify the matter: the schach should be placed in a way that it is held up and held in place by items which are themselves kosher for schach. If the schach would fall through, or be blown off by a commonly occurring wind, one should not secure it with something that, itself, is not kosher schach. However, if the schach is sufficiently heavy that a common wind would not blow it out of place, but one wants to secure it better so that it does not slip or move, one may secure it even with metal or a different item that is, itself, not kosher schach.”

“Threading” the Schach

I mentioned before that there are items that meet the Torah’s requirements as kosher schach, but were later prohibited by the Sages because of various concerns: The Sages prohibited using combed flax as schach, even though it meets all the Torah requirements[viii] — it grows from the ground and is now disconnected, is not edible and is not a utensil. The early authorities debate why combed flax was banned for schach use, some contending that it was prohibited because it no longer appears like it grew from the ground,[ix] whereas others prohibited its use because it is only one step away from spun flax which is mekabeil tumah,[x] as stated in the Torah, and is therefore invalid because of Torah law.[xi]

Does this dispute concerning why the Sages banned use of unspun flax have any halachic ramifications? Indeed it does, and this affects the kashrus of some varieties of schach mats. Is cotton or hemp thread kosher for schach use? This will depend on why combed but unspun flax was prohibited. If combed flax was prohibited because it no longer appears like it grew from the ground, then cotton or hemp thread or string would similarly be prohibited. On the other hand, if unspun flax was prohibited because someone may errantly use spun flax as schach, then there is no reason to invalidate the use of cotton, hemp or similar thread as schach. Now, it appears highly impractical that anyone would use thread as schach, but but the question whether thread can be used as schach impacts on whether thread can be used to tie together the schach, a topic that became an interesting issue with the development of “schach mats.”

Mishpacha:

How so?

Schach Mats

Let me mention that I may have been the first rabbi ever to provide a hechsher to schach mats. Before that time, different companies were producing these mats, but none of them had a hechsher, although a few responsa had been written concerning whether these mats were valid schach.

There was a very interesting curiosity with the schach mats. The fellow who met me and asked me for a hechsher was manufacturing and selling prefab sukkahs, complete with the schach. He came to me with his planned design for the schach, and I suggested improvements on the design, so that there would be no halachic issues involved, which he followed. I then provided him with a letter of certification on the mats. At the time, the idea of a hechsher on schach mats was very original, and I received inquiries from many rabbonim.

Mishpacha:

What design changes did you make?

RYK:

His sukkah design called for large mats made from split pieces of bamboo tied together with string. Assuming that these were to be made in China, I had a halachic concern. In China, bamboo mats are used as mattresses, which might invalidate a mat made there, even if it was intended for transport and sale elsewhere.[xii] To avoid this problem, I told him to have the factory weave every six inches a piece of bamboo too thick to lie upon comfortably. This way these mats could never be used for sleeping, even by the Chinese, and their status as kosher schach mats was uncompromised.

I also had him make another design correction. The sample had the mats tied together with nylon thread, which I did not want. The problem is that nylon does not grow from the ground, and it is therefore not kosher schach. Thus, the thread holding the mat together was not kosher schach, and this thread has the status of a maamid, that which “supports” the schach, since the mat would fall into the sukkah if it was not tied together.

There was another potential question about these mats, even if they were tied with cotton or hemp string. As I mentioned above, it appears to be dependent on a dispute among authorities whether these threads are valid for use as schach. If they are not valid, then they should not be used to be “maamid” the schach either, since we rule that one should build a sukkah in a way that it is kosher according to all opinions, including those who invalidate maamid that is not kosher for schach.

However, I permitted him to make the sukkah mats and tie them together with cotton thread. Since some authorities consider these strings to be valid schach, the ruling of the late authorities not to use invalid schach material to support the schach should only apply when the supporting material is certainly invalid.[xiii]

There is a second reason to permit cotton string to tie the schach mat. Even if we assume that cotton string is invalid for schach, it is invalid only as a rabbinic stringency, and there are early sources who rule that even those who invalidate maamid that is not kosher schach do so only with schach that the Torah prohibited using, not with schach that was prohibited only as a rabbinic prohibition. To explain:

The halachic authorities cite two reasons to invalidate maamid that is not kosher as schach. Rashi states that using an invalid maamid is equivalent to using invalid schach. According to this approach, the Bach contends that the Torah, itself, invalidated maamid that is not kosher schach. On the other hand, Milchemes Hashem and Ran both state that the use of invalid maamid is only a rabbinic injunction to avoid people erring and using invalid schach. According to the latter approach, one could argue strongly that Chazal only prohibited use of a maamid that would be invalid schach min haTorah, but banning something invalid only miderabbanan would constitute a gezeirah legezeirah, a rabbinic injunction created to avoid violating another rabbinic injunction, something that Chazal are not empowered to do.

Slatted Mats

When the first commercially-produced schach mats reached the market in Israel, there was debate among the halachic authorities whether they could be used. These mats were made from thin pieces of wood tied together with nylon or cotton string. For a variety of reasons, the authorities disagreed on whether these mats could be used as schach. Some were concerned that tying wood pieces together might make the entire piece into one big board and invalidate its use as schach, just as the Sages prohibited use of wide boards, out of concern that someone might think that his regular house roof is valid for a sukkah. The majority of authorities were not concerned about this problem, but were very concerned about mats that used nylon strings to hold them together, considering the string as a maamid.

Some authorities were even concerned with the use of schach mats that used cotton or hemp thread or string to tie them together, being more concerned than I had been when I gave a hechsher to the schach mats. They felt that, ideally, one should not manufacture mats with cotton thread since, according to some opinions, this might constitute a maamid that is not valid schach.[xiv] Others felt that it was perfectly fine to use schach mats tied together with cotton thread.[xv]

By the way, some of today’s schach mats are produced with a much rougher bamboo that could not possibly be used for roofing material, and they are then tied together with a rough natural twine that should avoid any concerns about the thread.

Must I Fumigate my Schach?

Mishpacha:

Talking about schach mats, there has been a large of discussion lately about the problem of insect infestation in schach mats, and people are being given very extensive instructions in how to fumigate their mats.

RYK:

There are some contemporary authorities who feel that people should check their schach carefully for insects, whether their schach is brand new or stored from last year.[xvi] One should note that the Aruch Laneir, in his addenda Tosafos Bikkurim to the end of Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim Chapter 627, advises not to hang flowers from the schach for decorations, out of concern that the flowers are infested with small insects that, indeed, could fall unnoticed into one’s food.

Others note that since most people spread beautiful white tablecloths on their tables during Sukkos, they would readily notice if insects had fallen from the schach onto the white cloth.

I will continue this article next week, with a discussion about the manufacture of the sukkah walls.

 

[i] Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 1:177

[ii] Gemara Sukkah 14a

[iii] Gemara Sukkah 21b

[iv] See Gemara Sukkah 2a

[v] Few Rishonim (other than those mentioned in the next footnote) quote the issue of maamid, and Terumas Hadeshen (1:91) and Shulchan Aruch in Orach Chayim 630:13 clearly rule that maamid is not a concern.

[vi] Milchemes Hashem and Ran, Sukkah 21b; Bach, Orach Chayim 629.

[vii] Magen Avraham 629:9, whose position is accepted by the majority of later authorities.

[viii] Gemara Sukkah 12b

[ix] Rambam, Hilchos Sukkah 5:4

[x] Tosafos, Sukkah 12b s.v. Ba’anitzei. There are other opinions to explain this Gemara, but they will not affect the halacha that we are discussing.

[xi] Linen thread, which is the same thing as spun flax, will become tamei if tzaraas appears on it, see Vayikra 13:48, and is therefore invalid schach since this qualifies it as a davar hamekabeil tumah.

[xii] See Gemara Sukkah 19b and the Rosh ad loc.

[xiv] Shu”t Shevet Halevi 6:74; Shu”t Yeshuas Moshe 3:52

[xv] Shu”t Yechaveh Daas 1:64

[xvi]Bedikas Hamazon Kahalacha by Rabbi Moshe Vaya, Volume III pages 784-786

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