• July 13, 2024
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Laws of Lulav and Sukkot

Laws of Lulav and Sukkot

The Torah commands that for seven days we shall dwell in booths and to shake the lulav (palm branch) and etrog (citrus fruit from the “Hadar tree”). What does this mean, what is required of us, and what is the significance of these laws? In this course Rabbi Dr. Stuart Fischman helps you to understand the answers behind these questions.

September 16, 2013 5:00 pm - 6:00 pm
Laws of Lulav and Sukkot: Lesson 3
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Hello  Everyone,

Today we learned about the סכך of the sukkah and why it is occasionally  necessary to buy סכך with a hechsher.

סכך needs to meet certain requirements. It needs to be something that grew from the ground and is detached from the ground. For that reason I can use the branches of a tree for סכך but I cannot build the sukkah beneath a tree. Another requirement for סכך is that it cannot be something that is מקבל טומאה- it cannot become “ritually impure.” Since we do not have the Beit Hamikdash, it may be that this requirement of סכך means that the holiday of Sukkot is one of the few times when we need to familiarize ourselves with the laws of טומאה וטהרה .

The Rambam in הלכות כלים explains what items are מקבל טומאה. Since  סכךneeds to be something that grew from the ground, we need only to occupy ourselves with the rules for wooden utensils.[1] Wooden containers are מקבל טומאה, while flat wooden utensils are not מקבל טומאה. For that reason wooden bowls cannot be used for סכך while wooden skewers can be used for סכך. Similarly wooden boards can be used for סכך (with certain limitations which we will discuss later).

The exceptions to the rule of flat wooden utensils are wooden utensils used for sitting or sleeping. Chairs and beds even if they are flat become טמא  when people with particular טומאת rest upon them, so they cannot be used for סכך. This form of טומאה is known as טומאת מדרס.

With this introduction we can discuss why some types of  סכךrequire a hechsher. Tree branches, bamboo poles and reeds are perfectly fine for סכךbecause they are not utensils. However, these items are difficult to store from year to year and because of this reason many people prefer to use woven mats as סכך. Woven mats[2] can be neatly rolled up and put away for use in the following year. The problem with woven mats is that they may have been manufactured to be used as bedding material and therefore they may be מקבל טומאת מדרס and פסול for use as סכך.

The Gemarah (and Shulchan Aruch) provide some guidance for buying סכך. If the mat in question is the size used for sleeping it should not be used, since it was probably made for use as bedding. However if it is larger than the size used for bedding then it can be used for סכך. Long rolls of bamboo matting are available at building supply stores, but these mats have two drawbacks. One is that they are woven together with metal wires. Metal utensils are of course invalid for use as סכך, and since these mats are held together with metal wires, the metal is an integral component of the mats and (may) give the mats the status of metal utensils.[3] The other drawback is raised by the ציץ אליעזר זצ”ל . The ציץ אליעזר cites the מאירי who says that wooden fencing material is מקבל טומאה  and is פסול for סכך. Even though this view of the מאירי seems to be a minority view the ציץ אליעזר says it needs to be taken into account.

So that is why סכך needs a hechsher. The סכך dealers supervise the manufacture of the bamboo mats and order them with the express instruction that they be made for סכך and not for any other purpose which may give them the status of מקבלי טומאה . The bamboo slats are woven together with threads which are not מקבל טומאה and so the סכך  is definitely kosher.


There are other problems that can arise with woven mats. One problem is known as גזירת תקרה- resemblance to a roof. The mitzvah of sukkah is that we leave our homes and move into sukkot. Even if I live all year long in a grass hut, when Sukkot arrives I need to leave my grass hut and move into a sukkah. But if I move into a “special” grass hut built for the holiday I may (not unreasonably) ask, “Why bother?”  An uninformed person may not understand that the mitzvah of sukkah demands that I leave my house.

Therefore the Rabbis decreed that the material used for סכך  may not resemble the materials used in that locale for building roofs. This is known as גזירת תקרה. For example: even though wooden slats are not מקבל טומאה and can be used as סכך, wooden slats cut to the size of shingles used as roofing material may not be used as סכך. Similarly, if in a particular area roofs are made from bamboo mats then bamboo mats may not be used there for סכך.

גזירת תקרה as applied to bamboo is probably only an issue in East Asia. A more acute issue relates to the question of the thickness of the סכך. The Sulchan Aruch rules that the סכך should not be so thick that the stars cannot been from within the sukkah. Another ruling (which however is not cited in Shulchan Aruch) is that the סכך should not be so thick that rain is prevented from entering the sukkah. The Poskim explain that at a fundamental level the סכך needs to be flimsy, or at least flimsier than a normal roof. This is the defining characteristic which distinguishes סכך  from roofs. The “kosher” סכך that I have seen is not tightly woven and there are gaps between the slats that certainly allow rain to enter and even provide some visibility to the night sky. On the other hand, bamboo fence material is very tightly made. There are no gaps between the slats, and even if they were made in such a way that קבלת טומאה would not be an issue, they would not be acceptable for the reasons that I just mentioned.

So that was the shiur on סכך. If you live in an area with a large Jewish community the סכך with a  הכשרis probably available. If it is not then in my experience the easiest סכך to use is plain bamboo.  If you cannot obtain bamboo poles, then thin wooden slats may be used. It is permitted to tie the סכך down and it is best use plastic “zip ties” for this since plastic is not מקבל טומאה.

There is one more thing I would like to point out. As mentioned above, סכךcannot be made from metal. There is an opinion that סכך cannot even rest  upon metal. This strict opinion is generally adhered to. Therefore if the frame of the sukkah is made from metal, two long wooden boards should be attached to the frame and the סכך should be laid down upon those boards.

Thanks to everyone who attended the shiur. Bye, Stuart Fischman


[1] Food is מקבל טומאה as well and for that reason fruits and vegetables cannot be used as סכך.

[2] These mats are usually made from bamboo. I posted several pictures of these mats on the shiur’s homepage.

[3]  This rule that a utensil’s status is defined by its essential components is called הכל הולך אחר המעמיד. The application of this rule is a complicated matter.


September 2, 2014 5:00 pm - 6:00 pm
Laws of Lulav and Sukkot: Lesson 1
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Hello Everyone,

Today was the first in our series of shiurim dealing with the laws of the Sukkot holiday and we studied one of the laws of the etrog,  specifically the status of an etrog which was grown on a grafted tree.

Most people know that the Torah prohibits grafting two different species of tree together, this is the prohibition of kilayim. The question regarding etrogim that are grafted is actually two-fold, is it prohibited to graft an etrog onto another type of citrus tree, and is the product of this grafting forbidden to use in the mitzvah of arba minim?

The need to graft the etrog tree is due to the fragile nature of the tree. Etrog trees are “flimsy” and short-lived. Grafting them makes the farmer’s life much easier. Interestingly the Gemarah does not discuss the status of a grafted etrog. The third chapter of masechet Sukkah is  Lulav Hagazul, and while it discusses many. many possible flaws in an etrog it does not discuss a grafted etrog at all.

The question of grafted etrogim was first discussed in the 16th century. Two reasons were given for disallowing them. Rav Mordechai Yaffeh zt”l, the author of the Levush, wrote that since the grafted etrog is the product of a forbidden act (the act of grafting) the etrog can no longer be used in the performance of a mitzvah. Rav Moshe Alsheich zt”l of Safed wrote  that the grafted etrog is the offspring of two different trees, the etrog tree and the tree onto which it was grafted (let’s say a lemon tree for our purposes). To be valid for use in the mitzvah of arba minim the etrog must be intact. Even if only the stem known as the pittum is missing, the etrog may not be used. As Rav Moshe Alsheich saw it, the grafted etrog is not “complete” since some fraction of it is derived from the lemon tree onto which it was grafted. Of course the grafted etrog looks intact and complete, but if we could physically remove the lemon-derived portion of the fruit it would of course be flawed. Since a lemon cannot be used as an etrog, we must view the etrog-lemon hybrid as flawed and unacceptable for use in performing the mitzvah.

The Chazon ish zt”l was one of the great Halachic authorities of the 20thcentury. He wrote extensively on all areas of the Halacha including agricultural issues so he naturally wrote on the laws of kilayim. Whereas the Levush  took it for granted that the grafting of an etrog onto a lemon tree is forbidden, the Chazon Ish was not certain of this.[1] The halachot of kilayim  are based on Chazal’s rules of taxonomy. The Chazon Ish felt that there are enough points of resemblance between lemons, etrogim, grapefruit and oranges, to say that it may not be forbidden to graft one of these types onto another. Nevertheless the Chazon Ish accepted that a grafted etrog is not be used for the mitzvah. The Torah dictates that the fruit used in fulfilling the mitzvah be פרי עץ הדר , so even if the fruit grown from the grafted tree resembles in all ways a “pure” etrog, that fruit grew on a lemon tree and is not what the Torah describes. The Chazon Ish takes the issue further and rules that even the fruit grown from the seeds on a grafted etrog (when those “descendants” of the grafted etrog are not themselves grafted) are not to be used.

Even though there were authorities who wrote that the prohibition of grafted etrogim is not so clear it became accepted to reject the use of grafted etrogim.

Etrogim, like all citrus fruit need to be grown in warm climates. It was very difficult to obtain etrogim in places like Poland and Russia and they were very expensive. Since etrogim were being grown by Gentiles so far from these Jewish communities rumors began to spread about the kashrut of one or another country’s etrogim due to the grafting issue. At  sometime or another there arose the idea that “pure” etrogim could be identified by these signs:

  1. a) etrogim are bumpy while other citrus fruit are smooth
  2. b) the stem of an etrog extends out of a concavity, unlike other citrus fruit
  3. c) the rind of an etrog is very thick while it has very little pulp, again unlike other citrus fruit

While these signs gained wide currency the great 19th century authority, the Chatam Sofer said that they do not appear in the Gemarah and cannot be relied upon to prove an etrog’s purity.[2] The Chatam Sofer ruled that etrogim should only be purchased from reliable dealers who can reliably state that their etrogim did not grow on grafted trees.

During the 19th century and into the early 20th century the competition (and rumor-mongering) about various etrogim heated up. The island of Corfu was a leading producer of etrogim. The etrog growers of Corfu knew that the Jews prized their etrogim (the Encyclopedia אוצר ישראל records that according to a widely-held belief a person who did not use a Corfu etrog would die that year). Between the years 1881-1882 the price demanded by the Corfu growers was more than tripled with the belief that the Jews would still buy their produce. However the etrog dealers banded together to boycott the Corfu growers and stopped buying from them. In a rage the farmers in Corfu launched a pogrom and even a blood-libel against their Jewish neighbors but this marketing tactic failed to win the Jewish etrog brokers back.

During this turmoil Jewish pioneers began to return to Israel and one of the first things they did was to begin to raise etrogim. Etrogim grew naturally in Israel and it was taken for granted that these etrogim were never grafted. The leading Poskim of the period agreed that the etrogim of Israel were to be preferred over the etrogim grown in other countries both because of the certainty of their not being grafted and as an act of צדקה to help the nascent Jewish community there.

In our time with some exceptions, most people use etrogim grown in Israel, and these etrogim come with letters certifying that they are from particular stocks which are considered to be non-grafted.

We ended the shiur with a story told by Rav Chaim David Halevi zt”l who was the Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv. Rav Chaim David saw in his shul a man with a particularly nice etrog and asked him how much it cost. When the man replied that it only cost 30 shekels, Rav Chaim David was taken aback, since “pure” etrogim of such quality cost much more.  Thinking that the man’s etrog may have been grafted, Rav Chaim David offered to let the man use his own etrog for the mitzvah. The man was deeply insulted by the rabbi’s offer. He asked the rabbi how he could even consider using an etrog that he did not pay for with his own money. The rabbi did not insist and on the next day the man returned to the synagogue with the same etrog and Rav Chaim David did not repeat his offer.

Rav Chaim David reflected on this incident and wrote a lengthy essay about it in the journal תחומין. Rav Chaim David said there were two conflicting issues that he needed to deal with. One was the mitzvah to have the ארבעה מינים on סוכות. The other mitzvah was to allow this man to rejoice on the holiday- ושמחת בחגיך. After analyzing the subject of grafted etrogim, Rav Chaim David came to the conclusion that there was no certainty that the man’s etrog was not kosher (perhaps it really was not grafted, perhaps grafted etrogim are kosher, etc…) but he certainly did detract from the man’s happiness on the holiday. While a person who has doubts about his own etrog’s kashrut should make every effort to use a non-grafted etrog, a person who has doubts about someone else’s etrog should remain silent.

Thanks to everyone who participated in the shiur. Stuart Fischman




[1] It needs to be pointed out that division of living things into categories is not an exact science. Every person who looked into this subject (from Pliny the Elder to Linnaeus and ever since) had their own basis for saying that “this is related to that.”  This is the area of biology known as taxonomy.

[2]  In general a fruit’s appearance is not altered by being grafted since grafting per se has no effect on the fruit’s genetic endowment.


September 9, 2014 5:00 pm - 6:00 pm
Laws of Lulav and Sukkot: Lesson 2
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Hello Everyone,

In today’s shiur we discussed the permissibility of using a sukkah whose walls are made from cloth. The Gemarah tells us a rule:

תלמוד בבלי מסכת סוכה דף כד עמוד ב

אמר רב אחא בר יעקב: כל מחיצה שאינה יכולה לעמוד ברוח מצויה – אינה מחיצה.

Any wall which cannot stand in a usual wind is not a wall.

What does Rav Acha mean by “cannot stand?” Rashi explains:

רש”י מסכת סוכה דף כד עמוד ב

שאינה יכולה לעמוד ברוח מצויה – שהרוח מוליכה ומביאה.

So even if the wind only causes the walls to sway without blowing them down, the walls do not meet the criteria for valid walls and the sukkah would be פסול. The Shulchan Aruch accepts Rav Acha’s rule and writes:

שולחן ערוך אורח חיים הלכות סוכה סימן תרל סעיף י

העושה סוכתו בין האילנות, והאילנות דפנות לה; אם היו חזקים, או שקשר אותם וחיזק אותם עד שלא תהא הרוח מצויה מנידה אותם תמיד, ומילא בין האוירים בתבן ובקש כדי שלא תניד אותם הרוח, וקשר אותם, הרי זו כשרה;

But the Shulchan Aruch adds another rule:

על כן אין נכון לעשות כל המחיצות מיריעות של פשתן בלא קנים, אף על פי שקשרן בטוב, זמנין דמינתקי ולאו אדעתיה והוי ליה מחיצה שאינה יכולה לעמוד בפני רוח מצויה; והרוצה לעשות בסדינים, טוב שיארוג במחיצות קנים בפחות משלשה.

From the Gemarah we learn that a wall which sways in the wind is not acceptable, it does not meet the requirements set by the Halacha for a “wall.” It would seem to follow that if one was to erect a metal frame and then stretch curtains across it and tie them tightly to the frame one would have a kosher sukkah because the curtains would not sway in the wind. Nonetheless the Shulchan Aruch advises against building such a sukkah because the curtains may become detached without anyone noticing this and as a result the sukkah would be unstable in the wind.

The concern for the cloth walls becoming detached from their frame was first mentioned by Rabbeinu Peretz .It is quoted by the Tur and was accepted by the Shulchan Aruch. But why was Rabbeinu Peretz concerned? How could a wall become detached without anyone noticing it?

Rav Moshe Feinstein explained the ruling of Rabbeinu Peretz. The walls of the sukkah must be stable in the wind. If the walls sway the sukkah is invalid. Therefore, even if only one of the ropes which tie a part of the wall to the frame should become untied this would create slack in the wall and it would no longer be stable in the wind. It is not unlikely that this could occur without anyone noticing, especially if the day is not windy. It must be remembered that walls are invalid when they are capable of swaying, even when they are not actually swaying.

The ideal sukkah is one made out of solid walls. However not everybody has the space to store such a sukkah so “pre-fab” sukkah kits are sold. The sukkot are made out of easily assembled metal pipes and cloth walls and are easy to store until needed. But how can we make the cloth walls “kosher?” The solution to this problem is to be found in the rule of “lavud.”

The rule of “lavud” is that when there is a gap of less than 3 tephachim (approx. 10.5 in./27 cm) the gap is considered to be closed. The minimum height for a sukkah is 10 tephachim. By applying the rule of “lavud” we can construct a Halachically acceptable wall by building a metal frame and attaching to it an additional 3 horizontal bars to a height of ten tephachim with a gap of less than 3 tephachim between each bar (see the diagram below).


The “wall” in this case is made kosher by the horizontal bars. Since the bars are stable and do not sway in the wind they meet the requirements for a sukkah. Over this frame I can hang a cloth wall and even if the cloth

should sway in the wind it would not detract from the kashrut of the sukkah.[1]







Quite often people go out to eat on sukkot. Unfortunately kosher restaurants don’t always have kosher sukkot. Many restaurants use pipe and cloth sukkot which lack “lavud bars.” Is there any room for leniency in these circumstances?

The Chazon Ish zt”l addressed the issue of walls which sway in the wind. He noted that the classic commentators to the Halacha did not quantify the degree of sway which would disqualify a wall. The Chazon Ish felt that the sway would need to be to such a degree that the wall would be made invalid by the breech created by the wind between adjacent walls. In other words the sway would need to be 3 tephachim. So if  one pushes on the cloth wall and the cloth yields less than we 3 tephachim the wall is sufficiently taut and is kosher.

Rav Ovadiah Yosef zt”l objected very strongly to this interpretation of the Chazon Ish zt”l. Rav Ovadiah Yosef zt”l understands the silence of the Poskim on the degree of sway in a totally different way. Whereas the Chazon Ish takes their silence as a sort of invitation to determine the parameters of “sway” Rav Ovadiah Yosef says that their silence means anysway is “too much” sway. The absence of any commentary on the subject of sway means that the walls cannot sway at all.

Rav Menashe Klein-Hakatan zt”l also wrote about sukkah kits. He agreed that they are not ideal (and his teshuvah on the subject was written in 1966 when these kits were simple frames without “lavud bars”). Nevertheless he felt that he could justify their use. Rabbeinu Peretz wrote about cloth walls which were

tied to their frames. Ropes and knots do become detached occasionally and that is why Rabbeinu Peretz advised against their use.[2]However the cloth and pipe sukkah kits are much sturdier than the sukkot known to Rabbeinu Peretz. The cloth walls were made of canvas with metal grommets. Metal hooks attached the canvas walls to metal pipes. Such walls could certainly remain stable in normal winds and would not detach from the pipes. Rav Menashe Klein-Hakatan was very confident that sukkot such as these meet the criteria of the Shulchan Aruch. On the other hand Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l was against any such leniency.

A relatively recent innovation in the United States is to use canvas straps in lieu of metal “lavud bars” (presumably for ease of storage). It seems to me that their kashrut is questionable. On the one hand, they are very strong and once buckled into place do detach easily and so would apparently meet the requirements of Rav Menashe Klein-Hakatan  for “lavud bars.” On the other hand Rav Moshe Feinstein was very skeptical about any leniency involving cloth walls and would apparently reject canvas straps for use as “lavud bars.

Thanks to everyone who attended the shiur. Stuart Fischman.


[1] There is one complexity in the use of these sukkah kits which needs to be resolved on a local basis. There are disagreements between the authorities over the precise size of a “tefach” so it seems prudent to me to consult with one’s local rabbi before buying a sukkah kit.

[2] It is certainly worth noting that the Shulchan Aruch does not forbid the use of tightly stretched cloth walls and the Aruch Hashulchan writes that בדיעבד  they can be used.



September 23, 2014 5:00 pm - 6:00 pm
Laws of Lulav and Sukkot: Lesson 4
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Hello Everyone,

Today we studied the question posed to מהר”י אטינגא who was the Rav of Lemberg/Lviv/Lwow[1] in the mid 19th century.

מהר”י אטינגא was asked by the Rav of קרליוויץ[2] if his townspeople are doing the proper thing when they paint or gold-plate their סכך. At first glance this would seem to be a very admirable custom since the Halacha places great emphasis on performing mitzvoth in an esthetically pleasing fashion. This is the principle of הידור מצוה and a sukkah should certainly be made as beautiful as is possible.

However מהר”י אטינגא raised two issues which need to clarified when deciding if סכך can be painted or gold-plated.

As we mentioned last week, the laws of the sukkah are one of the only areas of Halacha in which lay-people encounter the laws of טומאה וטהרה(“ritual purity”). This is because one of the requirements for סכך is that the סכך not be made from material which can become ritually impure ) מקבל טומאה ). While plain, flat wooden utensils are not מקבל טומאה , plain, flat metalutensils are מקבל טומאה. This raises the question if metal-plated flat wooden utensils are מקבל טומאה. As it happens this question was debated by the greatest authorities in our Halachic heritage. The Rambam and Ra’avad  both have opinions on this matter and they disagree. The matter is discussed at the end of the tractate Chagigah.[3] The Rambam rules that even concave wooden utensils (which are normally מקבל טומאה) are not מקבל טומא  once they are covered with metal. The reason for this is that by plating the wood the owner “nullifies” the wood with respect to its metal coating. And even though metallic “utensils” are certainly מקבל טומאה, metallic coatings are not “utensils” and are not מקבל טומאה. Therefore wooden סכךwould not be מקבל טומאה  even after being plated with gold.

The Ra’avad diasgrees with the Rambam. The Ra’avad writes that there is no basis for the Rambam’s ruling, and that the relevant passages in the Talmud teach that metal plated wooden utensils are מקבל טומאה.

In areas of Halacha which have contemporary relevance a disagreement of this type would be resolved in the Shulchan Aruch. Since the laws of טומאה וטהרה  are not currently relevant (בעוונותינו הרבים) and will not be until the Beit Hamikdash is rebuilt this disagreement between the Rambam and Ra’avad is unresolved. Nonetheless, מהר”י אטינגא  ruled that the gold-plated סכך not מקבל טומאה for this reason. סכך is meant to be a roofing material and the Halacha is that metallic items used in buildings are not מקבל טומאה. Therefore even the Ra’avad would say that gold-plated סכך  is not מקבל טומאה.

The second issue raised by מהר”י אטינגא  also involved a disagreement between the Rambam and Ra’avad. Linen is a textile derived from the flax plant. Flax plants, like all plants can be used as סכך. On the other hand a linen tablecloth is מקבל טומאה and cannot be used as סכך. The Gemarah rules that flax loses its status as being permitted for use as סכך when it its fibers are converted into threads. Threads are not מקבל טומאה  until they are woven together. So why are flax threads not acceptable as סכך? The Rambam and Ra’avad disagree about this. The Rambam says that flax threads no longer resemble flax fibers. Since the threads of linen no longer resemble a material grown from the earth, they cannot be used as סכך. The Ra’avad proposes another explanation for this prohibition. He explains that linen threads are used as filling material for cushions and pillows. Since they could potentially be used like this they are potentially מקבל טומאה and in this case חז”ל ruled that this material cannot be used as סכך.

The Rambam’s idea that  סכך needs to be visibly identifiable as material which grew from the ground is

an important one. A common plant-based material is paper. Paper can be made from wood-pulp or from processed cotton rags. Can paper be used as סכך? Rav Ovadiah Yosef zt”l is quoted by his son as saying that paper cannot be used as סכך because of the Rambam’s ruling.  Paper certainly does not look like anything in a plant nursery.

Based on this ruling of the Rambam מהר”י אטינגא  gave his decision on painted or gold-plated סכך. When wood is painted it is still identifiable as wood, so painted wood can be used as סכך. On the other hand, when the wood is plated with gold it no longer has the appearance of wood and the Rambam would say it can no longer be used as סכך.

At the end of the shiur we reviewed two important Halachot regarding the necessity to eat in a sukkah. People who do not have a sukkah near their workplace are not excused from eating in a sukkah. In such a case the workers must refrain from eating bread with their meals. The second Halacha regards people who live in apartment buildings. The Halacha excuses people from sitting in the sukkah if sitting in the sukkah causes them to suffer. However, if there is nothing wrong with sukkah itself, but going to the sukkah is difficult (and nobody would disagree with the claim that going up and down ten flights of stairs is a nuisance) there is no excuse for not going to the sukkah.

So that was today’s shiur. May we all be blessed with a shana tova. Stuart Fischman



[1] The name depends on where the line on the map is drawn.

[2] A town in Russia

[3] It’s worth noting here that masechet Chagigah is one of the shortest tractates in the Talmud but the discussions of טומאה וטהרה at its conclusion make it one of the most difficult to master.

September 30, 2014 5:00 pm - 6:00 pm
Laws of Lulav and Sukkot: Lesson 5
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Hello Everyone,

Yesterday we reviewed the halachot regarding what and when we need to eat in the sukkah. The most basic rule regarding the sukkah is that we need to view the sukkah as our home. This rule is known as “תשבו כעין תדורו”  .

This rule of תשבו כעין תדורו has several applications. It is well known that we eat in the sukkah, but is this always required? In order to know when we must eat in the sukkah we turn to the rule of תשבו כעין  תדורו and derive this formula:

a) there are things which must be eaten in the sukkah

b) there are things which should be eaten in the sukkah

c) there are things which may be eaten out of the sukkah.

During the course of the year we eat our meals at home but we eat  snacks both in the home and outside. This same distinction between meals and snacks applies to the sukkah as well. Meals must be eaten in the sukkah but snacks may be eaten outside of the sukkah. There is however a subtlety to the Halachic definition of “meal” which explains why in the list there is a “must” category as  well as a “should” category.

The Halacha has a sort of hierarchy for foods which most of us know from the everyday laws of brachot. At the top of the list is bread. Before we eat bread we need to wash our hands, bread has its own particular bracha (המוציא לחם מן הארץ) and when we finish our bread ( and its accompanying meal ) we say the entire ברכת המזון. Bread is unique. Beneath bread in the hierarchy are other foods made from the grains which are used to make bread.[1] Foods made from these grains and eaten also have a particular bracha (בורא מיני מזונות  ) and after we finish eating them we say the abridged ברכת המזון known as מעין שלש/על המחיה. The significance accorded to this food group in the realm of ברכות is also seen in the laws of sukkah. Whenever we eat a meal which includes bread or מזונות we must eat that meal in the sukkah.

The Shulchan Aruch says that a meal made from any other type of food (e.g. meat, cheese, fruit etc….) may be eaten outside of the sukkah. The reason for this is that these food groups are considered insignificant in the Halacha. Nonetheless, since a person is making a meal from them they should be eaten in the sukkah, since during the year such a meal would be eaten at home.

Finally there are snacks. Snacks are eaten both in the home and outside the home so there is no need to eat snacks in the sukkah. However the Shulchan Aruch says it is certainly praiseworthy to enter the sukkah even if it only to drink a glass of water.

Eating habits have changed. When I was a child there was always a loaf of bread on my grandparents’ table. Here in Israel when you enter a restaurant you will be given automatically pitta bread and various dips. On the other hand in more Western households (and restaurants as well) bread is not served as a matter of course. This being the case Rav Moshe Shternbuch שליט”א rules that a meal of chicken and vegetables must be eaten in the sukkah since bread is no longer the parameter which defines a “meal” in our culture. But even though he is convinced of the truth of this ruling he still holds that the blessing said before eating in the sukkah should only be recited when eating bread or מזונות meals. This is because of the rule to “err on the side of caution” before saying God’s name in a blessing ( the rule of ספק ברכות להקל).

The next subject which we addressed was what to do when it rains on Sukkot. This question is also resolved by applying תשבו כעין תדורו. If the rain entering the sukkah is such a nuisance that it would cause me to leave my house then I may leave the sukkah. The only complexity in this area is the question of rain on the first night of Sukkot. The Gemarah finds a textual analogy ( גזירה שוה) between Sukkot and Pesach. On Pesach we are forbidden to eat bread and are offered the option to eat matzah instead. However if I don’t like matzah I can spend the entire holiday of Pesach eating pineapples. Be that as it may, even if I loathe matzah, on the first night of Pesach I  must  celebrate with a Seder meal and I must eat matzah. Sukkot, the Gemarah says, is analogous to Pesach. As long as I don’t eat bread or cereals  I am not required to eat in the sukkah, I can stay in my house and eat pineapples. However on the first night of Sukkot I must eat bread in the sukkah.

The Halacha makes no exceptions for the mitzvah of eating matzah on the first night of Pesach. Unless there is an issue of life-threatening consequences to consider, every Jew must eat matzah on that night. However the mitzvah of sukkah has a consideration which does not exist in the mitzvah of eating matzah. That consideration is the rule of תשבו כעין תדורו.

Rav Yosef Karo , the מחבר, the author of the Shulchan Aruch rules that when it rains we do not need to eat in the sukkah. Rav Moshe Isserles, the רמ”א, who wrote a commentary to the Shulchan Aruch which reports the Ashkenazic rulings, wrote that the ruling of the מחבר does not apply to the first night of Sukkot. Because of the analogy to Pesach the mitzvah to eat in the sukkah on the first night of the holiday is absolute and the rule of תשבו כעין תדורו does not apply on that night.

The Mishnah Brurah of course accepts the ruling of the רמ”א. The question then is what to do? How long should a family wait on the first night of Sukkot if it’s raining before deciding to go out into the rain to say the Kiddush? The Mishnah Brurah quotes various opinions. Some authorities advise waiting until midnight. Other authorities say it is enough to wait one or two hours, since waiting any longer would ruin the festivity of the meal (which is a mitzvah in its own right). The Kaf haChai’im[2] writes that if a person is hosting poor guests ( who are presumably very hungry) he certainly should not postpone the meal since poor people are not required to fulfill all the various opinions of the Poskim.

So thanks to everyone who participated in the shiurim.

גמר חתימה טובה



[1]  The Halacha specifies that “bread” can only be made from five species of grain. They are whea

[2] תרל”ט ס”ק ע”ד


Rabbi Dr. Stuart Fischman graduated from Yeshiva University in 1980 and the dental school of Columbia University in 1985. In 1989 he began studying and teaching at Yeshivat Hamivtar and now studies and teaches at Yeshivat Machanaim in Efrat. He has rabbinic ordination from Rav Zalman Nechemia Goldberg.