Building the Sukkah
When should one begin to build the sukkah?
- According to most opinions, one should begin on the day after Yom Kippur. It is praiseworthy to make a small start on motzaiYom Kippur in order to go immediately from one mitzvah to another. If this will not leave him sufficient time to complete the sukkah, he may begin to build before Yom Kippur, but he should not place the sechach until after Yom Kippur.
- According to some opinions, one should begin to build the sukkah before Yom Kippur, as an added merit.
When should one finish the construction?
Ideally, the sukkah should be completed on the day after Yom Kippur. However, if by doing so, the sukkah will not be built properly and sturdily, he should devote more time on the following days to erect a better and more beautiful sukkah.
May one build the sukkah on erev Shabbos or erev Yom Tov?
Yes, but one should stop building at mincha ketana.
May one build a sukkah on chol hamoed?
If a person did not build a sukkah before Yom Tov, or if he built one but it fell down, he may build one on chol hamoed. Preferably, skilled work should be avoided and the sukkah should be a simple construction. If necessary, even skilled work is permitted.
Who should build the sukkah?
There is a mitzvah for every man to participate personally in the building, and whoever sweats over this task receives atonement for serious sins. However, women and children may assist with the building, and if necessary may build the entire structure. It is preferable not to ask a gentile to build the sukkah.
Who should place the sechach?
Ideally, the sechach should be placed by a Jewish man.
What if it was placed by a child?
Preferably, a small part of the sechach should be raised and lowered by a Jewish man. The same applies if the sechach was placed by a Jewish woman or a gentile.
May one build a sukkah anywhere?
A sukkah must be built under the sky. In most cases, nothing may intervene between the sechach and the sky. For example, one must not build a sukkah under:
- a roof (see also question 53),
- an overhanging balcony,
- a tree,
- sechachof another sukkah.
What if part of the sukkah is not under the sky?
If the section under the sky has sufficient walls and the minimum dimensions (see Chapter Two), the sukkah is kosher. Nevertheless, a man may only eat in the part of the sukkah that is under the sky. Sometimes, the invalid section may be included in calculating the size of the sukkah and a rav should be consulted.
May one build a sukkah near a tree if branches sway over the sechach in the wind?
Yes. Preferably, one should chop off these branches if he has permission to do so. Nevertheless, the sukkah is still kosher even when branches sway over the sechach.
May one build a sukkah underneath washing lines?
Yes. Since the lines are very narrow and there is space between them, they do not invalidate the sukkah. This is true even when laundry is hanging on the lines. If the laundry becomes entangled, it invalidates the sechach beneath it and sometimes the entire sukkah.
May one build a sukkah in a public area?
- In Eretz Yisroel, this is allowed since permission is granted to use the street for this purpose.
- In chutz la’aretz, one should ideally avoid doing this unless specific permission is obtained from the authorities. However, the custom is to be lenient in this matter if no other area is available, especially if the sukkah is built close to the house.
May one build a sukkah in a communal yard?
Yes, since each tenant has a share in the yard. However, he should not build it in a place where it will be an obstruction or inconvenience to neighbors, without prior permission.
May one build a sukkah near garbage?
Yes, provided that no foul smell enters the sukkah.
May one build it near sewage pipes?
Yes, provided that the pipes are closed and no foul smell is emitted.
May one build a sukkah on soil?
Yes, but it is forbidden to sweep the floor on Shabbos or Yom Tov. It is therefore advisable to cover the soil with suitable flooring.
May one build a sukkah on grass?
It is preferable not to do so, unless the grass is covered with suitable flooring. This is because one might accidentally spill liquid on the grass, which should be avoided on Shabbos and Yom Tov.
May one build a sukkah in a place where he is afraid to sleep?
See question 91.
Does the sukkah require a mezuzah?
No, since it is only a temporary dwelling.
Note: The figures given in this chapter are approximate. When the measurements of one’s sukkah are close to these figures, a rav should be consulted.
What is the minimum size of a sukkah?
The inside of the sukkah must measure at least 70cm long by 70cm wide. This is the smallest area in which a person could reasonably be expected to sit.
May the sukkah be long and narrow?
Even if the sukkah is very long, it should still measure at least 70cm wide.
May a low balcony wall be included in the width?
Some narrow balconies lack the required width in the floor measurement but meet the requirement when including the width of the balcony wall. This could also occur if the balcony is wider than 70cm but an overhanging roof invalidates some of the floor width. The width of the wall may be included in the measurement provided that:
- the wall is less than 80cm high, and
- the sechachis at least 1m higher than the wall.
What is the required measurement of a different shaped sukkah?
A different shaped sukkah, e.g. circular or triangular, must be large enough to contain a square area measuring 70cm by 70cm.
What is the maximum size of a sukkah?
There is no maximum size.
What is the minimum height of a sukkah?
The internal height should measure at least 1m and this is normally the case.
What is the maximum height of a sukkah?
The sechach must not be higher than twenty amos from the floor of the sukkah (approximately ten meters). This is rarely applicable.
How many walls must a sukkah have?
The minimum requirement is three walls. However, the custom is to build a sukkah that has four walls.
May one have gaps in the walls?
Besides the door, the walls should ideally be complete without any gaps. A sukkah whose walls have gaps should be checked by a rav to ascertain if it is kosher.
May sheets be used for the walls?
- Ideally, one should not use sheets even when firmly tied down on all sides. The reason is that one may not notice that they have become detached, which could invalidate the sukkah.
- In extenuating circumstances, one may use sheets that are tied down on all sides.
- If three walls are made from sturdy materials, one may certainly use sheets for the fourth wall.
How could sheets be made perfectly acceptable?
By tying several horizontal strings around the sukkah at intervals of less than 24cm, to a height of at least 80cm (preferably to a height of 1m). This method invokes a halachic principle that considers the strings to be equivalent to a complete wall.
Must the walls reach the sechach?
No. One may support the sechach on posts, if the walls are the minimum height. The remaining spaces may be left open or filled with sheets or any other material. In this situation, the sechach should preferably reach the line directly above the wall (compare question 44).
Must the walls touch the ground?
No, but the space between the bottom of the wall and the ground must be less than 24cm.
Which materials are kosher for sechach?
One is required by the Torah to use a material that satisfies these three conditions:
- It is vegetation.
- It is detached from the ground.
- It is incapable of becoming tamei.
In addition, there are other conditions required by the Sages that disqualify certain types of sechach (see questions 35, 37 and 39).
What is the best type of sechach?
According to one opinion, the best sechach is cut branches of trees. This is hinted by the numerical value of the word sukkah (סוכה – 91), which is identical to that of the Hebrew word for a tree (‘ilan’ – אילן).
Are all branches suitable?
Most are suitable, but one should not use the following:
- Those whose leaves tend to shrivel, since it is difficult to estimate how much sechachis required.
- Those whose leaves tend to fall off into the sukkah.
- Those that have an unpleasant smell.
- Those that are liable to contain flies or bugs, which may fall into the sukkah.
May one cut branches from trees in the street or countryside?
It is forbidden to fulfill a mitzvah through stealing. Therefore, permission must be obtained before cutting any such trees, unless one is certain that they are ownerless.
May one use wooden boards for sechach?
No, since the sukkah would then appear like a house.
May one use wooden planks for sechach?
- According to some opinions, wooden planks of any width should not be used.
- According to other opinions, one may use planks narrower than 8cm, but preferably narrower than 5cm.
May one use narrow planks sawn from a crate?
- If the crate was very large (approx. 20 cubic feet), one may use the planks.
- If the crate was less than this size, opinions differ whether one may use the planks. The same applies to planks made from boxes, tables, closets, etc.
May one use matting or wickerwork?
These should not be used unless they have a reliable hechsher.
How much sechach must one use?
In order to explain this issue, we shall use the terms dense and sparse as follows:
- Dense refers to an area where there is more sechachthan open spaces.
- Sparse refers to an area where there are more open spaces than sechach.
The sukkah is kosher if the following two conditions are met:
- The overall area of the roof is dense.
- The total area of dense sections exceeds the total area of sparse sections.
Therefore, if 60% of the sukkah is covered densely and 40% very sparsely, the sukkah is not kosher if the overall area is sparse, since the first condition is broken.
Conversely, if 40% of the sukkah is covered very densely and 60% sparsely, the sukkah is not kosher, even if the overall area is dense, since the second condition is broken.
Note: Due to this, it is advisable to spread the sechach evenly, so that every part of the sukkah is covered densely.
May one sit under a sparsely covered area?
Yes, unless the area measures 56cm by 56cm.
May one cover the sukkah with very dense sechach?
- If the sechach is so dense that rain cannot penetrate, the sukkah is invalid according to some opinions, since it resembles a house.
- If there are no spaces in the sechach but rain can penetrate, the sukkah is kosher but not mehudar. One may do this in cold or windy places, where a person may be tempted to leave the sukkah if there is insufficient sechach.
- Preferably, there should be a few small spaces.
- Ideally, there should be enough spaces that one can see some stars at night.
May there be a space in the roof between the sechach and the wall?
Yes, provided that the space is less than 24cm wide. Nevertheless, one must not sit under the empty space, unless it is less than 20cm wide.
What if the space between the sechach and the wall is 24cm or more?
If this space runs along the entire length of the wall, the wall cannot be used as one of the three minimum walls. Therefore, if the sechach reaches the other three walls the sukkah is kosher, but if two walls are invalidated by such spaces, the entire sukkah is invalid. In any event, it is advisable to correct the situation by filling in the space.
May the space be filled with anything?
Yes, but the extent of coverage depends on the type of material.
- If one uses kosher sechach, it is sufficient to reduce the width of the space to less than 24cm.
- If one uses other materials, the entire space should be filled in. Sheets, metal, boards, or anything else may be used, although these items may not be used as sechach. This method invokes a halachic principle called dofen akumah – a bent wall. We imagine that the wall of the sukkah extends upwards and then bends in horizontally until it reaches the kosher sechach. One may not sit under this area of the roof, but only under the kosher sechach.
Is there any limitation to the second method?
Yes. If the non-kosher sechach is 1.92m wide, that wall is invalidated and cannot be included in the minimum three walls. This is relevant when making a sukkah indoors under a removable section of the ceiling.
May one place sechach directly on metal?
- Ideally, the sechach should not rest directly on metal, whether the metal is a free-standing frame or is attached to a wall. Rather, the sechach should be placed on wooden support beams that rest on the metal. However, it is not sufficient to simply place wooden strips directly on top of the metal bars.
- In extenuating circumstances, one may place the sechach directly on metal.
May one recite the b’racha for the sukkah when the sechach rests on metal?
Yes, since this does not invalidate the sukkah.
May one tie or nail the sechach to the wooden supports?
- Ideally, string or nails should not be used as a primary support for the sechach. If a person is afraid that the sechach may slide off or be blown away in a normal wind, he should not tie or nail it down since this is considered a primary support. Rather, he should place heavy planks of wood (see question 38) or branches over the sechach, since they qualify as kosher sechach. The planks or branches may be tied or nailed down since the string or nails would then be considered a secondary support. Alternatively, he may tie down the sechach with vegetation, such as palm leaves or twigs.
- If the sechach would not be blown away except in an unusually strong wind, it may be tied down even with string.
- In extenuating circumstances, the sechach may be tied down with string, even if it may blow away in a normal wind (see question 48).
May one tie down the sechach with plastic fasteners?
These have the same rules as string.
Must the walls be built before the sechach is placed?
Yes. Therefore, if a frame is used, the sechach should not be placed until the walls are constructed. If the walls were built after the sechach was in place, the situation should be corrected by raising and lowering the sechach. Similarly, if making one of the three essential walls of the sukkah involves using the ‘bent wall’ method (see question 46), this must be constructed before the sechach is placed.
May one build the sukkah under a roof and then remove the roof?
- If the roof is hinged or on tracks, it must be opened before the sechach is placed on the sukkah. If the sechach was placed on the sukkah before the roof was opened, the situation should be corrected by opening the roof and raising and lowering the sechach.
- If the roof is totally removed for the week of Sukkot, the sechach may be placed before removing the roof.
May the roof be closed after the sechach has been correctly placed?
Yes, but it is praiseworthy to re-open it just before Yom Tov commences. It is certainly permitted to close and re-open the roof after Yom Tov has begun (see question 159).
What should one think about when placing the sechach?
Ideally, one should think that the sechach is being placed in order to provide shade, or to fulfill the mitzvah of sukkah. If one did not think about either of these, the sukkah is still kosher.