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Laws of building the Succah

The S’chach

32. Which materials are kosher for s’chach?

  • 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 s’chach (see questions ‎35, ‎37 and ‎39).

33. What is the best type of s’chach?

  • According to one opinion, the best s’chach is cut branches of trees. This is hinted by the numerical value of the word succah (סוכה – 91), which is identical to that of the Hebrew word for a tree (‘ilan’ – אילן).

34. 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 s’chach is required.

·          Those whose leaves tend to fall off into the succah.

·          Those that have an unpleasant smell.

·          Those that are liable to contain flies or bugs, which may fall into the succah.

35. 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.

36. May one use wooden boards for s’chach?

  • No, since the succah would then appear like a house.

37. May one use wooden planks for s’chach?

  • 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.

38. 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.

39. May one use matting or wickerwork?

  • These should not be used unless they have a reliable hechsher.

40. How much s’chach 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 s’chach than open spaces.

·          Sparse refers to an area where there are more open spaces than s’chach.

The succah is kosher if the following two conditions are met:

    1. The overall area of the roof is dense.
    2. The total area of dense sections exceeds the total area of sparse sections.

Therefore, if 60% of the succah is covered densely and 40% very sparsely, the succah is not kosher if the overall area is sparse, since the first condition is broken.

Conversely, if 40% of the succah is covered very densely and 60% sparsely, the succah 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 s’chach evenly, so that every part of the succah is covered densely.

41. May one sit under a sparsely covered area?

  • Yes, unless the area measures 56cm by 56cm.

42. May one cover the succah with very dense s’chach?

  • If the s’chach is so dense that rain cannot penetrate, the succah is invalid according to some opinions, since it resembles a house.
  • If there are no spaces in the s’chach but rain can penetrate, the succah is kosher but not mehudar. One may do this in cold or windy places, where a person may be tempted to leave the succah if there is insufficient s’chach.
  • Preferably, there should be a few small spaces.
  • Ideally, there should be enough spaces that one can see some stars at night.

43. May there be a space in the roof between the s’chach 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.

44. What if the space between the s’chach 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 s’chach reaches the other three walls the succah is kosher, but if two walls are invalidated by such spaces, the entire succah is invalid. In any event, it is advisable to correct the situation by filling in the space.

45. May the space be filled with anything?

  • Yes, but the extent of coverage depends on the type of material.

·          If one uses kosher s’chach, 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 s’chach. This method invokes a halachic principle called dofen akumah – a bent wall. We imagine that the wall of the succah extends upwards and then bends in horizontally until it reaches the kosher s’chach. One may not sit under this area of the roof, but only under the kosher s’chach.

46. Is there any limitation to the second method?

  • Yes. If the non-kosher s’chach is 1.92m wide, that wall is invalidated and cannot be included in the minimum three walls. This is relevant when making a succah indoors under a removable section of the ceiling.

47. May one place s’chach directly on metal?

  • Ideally, the s’chach should not rest directly on metal, whether the metal is a free-standing frame or is attached to a wall. Rather, the s’chach 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 s’chach directly on metal.

48. May one recite the b’racha for the succah when the s’chach rests on metal?

  • Yes, since this does not invalidate the succah.

49. May one tie or nail the s’chach to the wooden supports?

  • Ideally, string or nails should not be used as a primary support for the s’chach. If a person is afraid that the s’chach 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 s’chach, since they qualify as kosher s’chach. 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 s’chach with vegetation, such as palm leaves or twigs.
  • If the s’chach would not be blown away except in an unusually strong wind, it may be tied down even with string.
  • In extenuating circumstances, the s’chach may be tied down with string, even if it may blow away in a normal wind (see question ‎48).

50. May one tie down the s’chach with plastic fasteners?

  • These have the same rules as string.

51. Must the walls be built before the s’chach is placed?

  • Yes. Therefore, if a frame is used, the s’chach should not be placed until the walls are constructed. If the walls were built after the s’chach was in place, the situation should be corrected by raising and lowering the s’chach. Similarly, if making one of the three essential walls of the succah involves using the ‘bent wall’ method (see question ‎46), this must be constructed before the s’chach is placed.

52. May one build the succah under a roof and then remove the roof?

  • If the roof is hinged or on tracks, it must be opened before the s’chach is placed on the succah. If the s’chach was placed on the succah before the roof was opened, the situation should be corrected by opening the roof and raising and lowering the s’chach.
  • If the roof is totally removed for the week of Succos, the s’chach may be placed before removing the roof.

53. May the roof be closed after the s’chach 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.

54. What should one think about when placing the s’chach?

  • Ideally, one should think that the s’chach is being placed in order to provide shade, or to fulfill the mitzvah of succah. If one did not think about either of these, the succah is still kosher

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