This week’s article discusses fabric succas: why is a fabric or canvas succa not the most kosher one – aren’t they the easiest to put up? And are they valid at all? Can a canvas succa be made mehudar? In recent years some succa merchants have begun including additional stretchable straps for the canvas walls. What are these straps for and how do they work?
The walls of a sukkah should be not flap with the wind. What about a flimsy succa erected where there is no wind at all? What defines the walls’ tightness? Can a succa be built out of cardboard? Of this and more in the coming article.
A Fabric Succa
This article will provide a general overview of the halachos pertaining to building a succa with the focus on fabric succas.
The Walls of the Succa
A kosher sukkah must have at least 3 walls. There are several halachos l’Moshe m’Sinai allowing for the kashrus of a wall despite it not being completely whole. One is called gud asik – if the wall is 10 tefachim high (1 meter, according to the most stringent opinion) even if it does not extend till the sechach it is nevertheless a valid wall.
Anther halacha is lavud – if there is a gap in the wall less than 3 tefachim wide (24 cm according to the most stringent opinion) the wall is nevertheless still considered whole. This halacha can be taken far – even if the entire wall consists of lavud strings every 23 centimeters it is a full, kosher wall.
However, the Rama writes (Orech Chayim 630:5, Mishna Brura 28) that the custom is to erect whole walls without relying on the halacha of lavud or tzuras hapesach. The Mishna Brura adds, quoting Rabbi Yitzchak Giat, that three full walls in a succa is a mitzva l’mehadrin and it is preferable not to rely upon these halachos.
The poskim are undecided on the exact dimensions of a tefach. Rav Chaim No’eh is of the opinion that a tefach is 8 centimeters (3.15″) while the Chazon Ish rules it is 9.62 cm (3.79″). This difference in opinion, although named for recent gedolim, is actually a much earlier argument, dating back to much earlier times. Therefore, with the succa which is a mitzva m’doraisa it is preferable to be stringent and accommodate both opinions. The walls should be at least 10 Chazon Ish tefachim high (96.2 cm/37.88″), preferably adding another 3.8 cm in total. On the other hand, there should not be a hole that is larger than 3 tefachim of Rabbi Chaim No’eh (24 cm/9.45″).
Gone With the Wind
Succa walls that move in a regular wind are not valid walls (Orech Chayim 630:10). Although at the moment there may not be any wind and they stand firm, if the succa cannot remain erect with the common wind, it is pasul.
There are different opinions in the Achronim as to what type of movement invalidates a succa. The Mishkenos Yaakov (Orech Chaim 123) writes that if the wind moves it even slightly the wall isn’t kosher, even when there is no wind. This is also the opinion of the Machatzis Hashekel (362:21) and Yad Eliyahu (Rav Eliyahu Raguler, 24). According to the above, this rule is true whenever walls are necessary for halachic purposes — an eiruv, for example.
The Kiryat Sefer (Succa, chapter 4, 5) is of the opinion that the invalidity of the wall is because the wind moves the wall from its rightful place under the sechach. Therefore, in his opinion, if the wind doesn’t move the wall from under the sechach the succa remains valid.
Reasons for Invalidation
Several reasons are mentioned in the poskim to explain why the wall of a succa are invalidated by wind:
- Yad Eliyahu (ibid) explains that the definition of “a common wind” is a general definition suggesting many forms of external forces – a wall that cannot withstand a common wind is incapable of standing for the entire 7 days of the holiday and therefore invalid.
- Another reason is mentioned in the Yad Eliyahu: a wall that cannot withstand a common wind is not considered a wall at all. This is also the understanding of the Emek Bracha (Succa 19) in the Rambam (Hilchos Succa chapter 4:8).
- Rabbi Moshe Feinstein (Igros Moshe, Orech Chaim, part 5, 40:2) opines that a moving wall is a problem only with a succa and not in other Torah-required walls, contrary to the Mishkenos Yaakov’s opinion. He explains that Succos has a special halacha because it must be suitable for living, and as we find in the Gemara (Maseches Succa 27a) a person does not live where the wall moves in the wind.
- Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zata”l (Halichos Shlomo, Succos, chapter 7, Dvar Halacha 1) explains that when the wind blows there is never a stable wall anywhere.
- According to the Kiryat Sefer, the explanation is simple: there is a halacha that the succa must be suitable for use for the entire 7 days of the holiday. Since the wall will be invalid when the wind blows, therefore a succa made from materials that will move in the course of the seven days is rendered invalid from the start.
The Mishna Brura rules (630:48) that a wall that moves with the wind is an invalid wall. Rav Moshe Feinstein, Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach and Rav Ovadya Yosef (Yechave Daat part 3, 46; Yabia Omer part 9, chapter 59) all follow this opinion.
The Chazon Ish (Orech Chayim 77:6) agrees with the Kiryat Sefer — only if a regular wind moves the wall in a way that renders it pasul – such as if tree branches were used for the walls and the wind moved the branches 3 tefachim one from another – is the wall pasul.
Both according to the Kiryat sefer and the Chazon Ish, unless the wall moves a lot, the succa is kosher. But how do we define the movement? Fabric that blows with the wind, according to this opinion does not render the succa unkosher. Therefore, if the fabric is tied securely in the four corners, there is no problem with the billowing canvas when the wind blows, because even a concave wall is kosher.
However, according to the Mishkenos Ya’akov and Machatzis Hashekel even a wall that moves ever so slightly is unkosher, both for a succa and for an eiruv. The Aruch Hashulchan, though, differentiates – for a succa it is unkosher, but for the eiruv, only strong shaking like that of tree branches is unkosher, but slight shaking does not render it pasul.
Rabbi Moshe Feinstein writes that if the fabric is pulled taught and moves only ever-so slightly, it is kosher, but if the wind causes a billowing of 3 tefachim (23 cm) deep it is certainly not kosher. Anywhere between the two he is unsure of, and he writes it is preferable to be stringent. Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach holds of the same opinion.
This difference in opinion has two practical implications:
- Securely tied fabric that moves with the wind is pasul according to the Mishkenos Yaakov. Only if it is pulled so taught that it does not move at all is it kosher. According to the Kiryat Sefer the wall remains a wall whether is billows with the wind or not.
Accordingly, the Chazon Ish permits a fabric succa, but Rav Moshe Feinstein, Rav Shlomo Zalamn Auerbach and Rav Ovadya Yosef do not. Rav Elyashiv quotes both opinions while seeming to favor the stringent opinion.
- A succa built in a wind-free environment such as a yard encircled by walls or a skylight that requires walls installed inside a house:
According to the Magen Avraham (630:16) and Mishna Brura (ibid, 48) the walls still need to be strong enough to withstand a regular wind.
The Halachos Ketanos (part 2 50) and Chazon Ish (Orech Chayim 52:14) rule that this is true only where the wind can possibly move the succa walls, but where there is no wind, this halacha is inapplicable.
Sheets for Walls
The Shulchan Aruch writes (orech Chayim 630:10) that sheets of fabric that move with the wind are not viable succa walls. In order to render them viable the fabric must be stretched taught and tied well so even if a regular strong wind blows the fabric will remain in place. He adds that linen should not be used even if it is tied well, because there is concern that the knot will come loose, thus rendering the wall inviable.
The Shulchan Aruch suggests a solution for a fabric succa – placing reeds with less than 3 tefachim between each reed.
This solution is based on the halacha of lavud mentioned above. This halacha is not limited and can be used as many times as one wishes. As long as there is no difference of more than 3 tefachim between each reed the wall is considered a full wall. The wall needs to be at least 10 tefachim, so if a reed is placed every 23 centimeters along the first 10 tefachim the wall will be halachically valid.
Contemporary Fabric Succas
Commercially sold fabric succas are produced with a metal frame and canvas or polyester sheets stretched between them. The more mehudar succas have stretchable lavud straps that don’t move with the wind. These straps should be fastened with less than 23 cm between each strap.
If the fabric it taught and anchored well to the frame, moving only slightly in a regular wind, m’ikar hadin this succa is kosher. However, it is exactly this kind of succa that the Shulchan Aruch mentioned to refrain from building without adding lavud.
Practically, though, many of these succas’ walls do indeed move in the wind, and at times a great deal. So great, in fact, that there can be a billowing of 3 tefachim. In this case, the Chazon Ish permits the succa, while the Mishna Brura, Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach and Rav Ovadya Yosef render this succa pasul, m’ikar hadin. Rav Moshe Feinstein adds that the common commercial fabric succa in the US is not halachically viable (circa 1980).
Rav Moshe Feinstein was asked about using thick canvas succa walls that are tied tightly in a way that will not come untied over the yomtov, without lavud. He answers that the Shulchan Aruch paskens that it is best to add lavud whenever the succa walls are made of fabric, regardless of the tightness of the fabric.
Moadim U’zamnim attempts at excusing those who build a fabric succa without lavud bands with writing that they nail the fabric in so well that there is no concern the fabric will come dislodged. He writes though, that since the Shulchan Aruch specifies it, l’chatchila a succa should not be constructed without lavud.
If the succa is kosher l’mehadrn — the fabric bound tightly in a way that will not become untied over the chag, and the lavud bands placed only to fulfill the Shulchan Aruch’s extra precaution, it is permissible to rely upon the lavud bands. However, if the walls are made of fabric that billows or flaps with the wind, which are not walls at all according to most opinions — with only the lavud bands maintaining the succa’s kashrus, it is preferable not to use this kind of succa, and in any case — it is not a mitzva min hamuvchar (Mishna Brura, quoting Rabbi Yitzchak Giat).
An additional issue might arise, if the lavud succa only consist of three walls. The Magen Avraham (introduction to 630) and the Mishna Brura (7) write that a 3-walled succa cannot be made of lavud walls, but rather whole walls. Only a 4-walled succa can rely upon the halacha of lavud.
The Magen Avraham implies this is true whether or not the fabric it tied tightly, and the Mishna Brura opines that if the fabric is tightly anchored and the lavud is only an additional chumra, it is possible to do so even with a 3-wall succa.
Many restaurants offer patrons a succa with lavud straps running across, in which case the lavud straps are the main walls of the succa. These succas should have four walls, not three.
Ma’amid – Support
An additional problem with the fabric sukkah is the problem of ma’amid, or support. Many commercially sold succas contain a metal frame. Laying the sechach directly on the frame presents a problem when the sechach is directly supported by the metal. The Shulchan Aruch’s ruling in this case is unclear (629:7) and the issue is debated in the Achronim. The Mishna Brura (ibid 22) writes that l’chatchila the sechach should not be placed directly upon something that receives tuma’h. B’dieved, if one has no other succa he can use whatever he has.
If, however there are additional wooden slats on top of the frame in a way that allows the sechach to lay upon them and not the frame the succa is kosher. However, if the wooden slats just sit on the metal frame the problem has not been resolved since the sechach is still supported by metal.The Chazon Ish (Orech Chayim 143:2) however, rules this to be unkosher, while most contemporary poskim rule it is permissible.
In Halichos Chag B’chag, the author remains undecided as to a cardboard succa, which, although stable for the 7-day holiday, in event of rain it will collapse and fall. Since a succa made of vegetables that dry up and collapse is not permissible – is cardboard the same? Or, is it permissible since the rain is something exterior to the succa?
The latest innovation in succas is the inflatable succa – small enough to fit into a bag so it’s comfortable for travel and inflates and ready for use within minutes. The problem with this is that in addition to the fact that some models are not stable in a common wind and therefore unkosher according to most opinions, there are models that receive their stability from a battery-run electric pump. Just as one cannot use a waterfall as a succa wall because the water changes all the time (regardless of how stable the flow is – even the Niagara Falls would not serve as a suitable succa wall!). Therefore, since it is constantly renewed electric current (or air generated by that current) that holds up the succa, those models would not be kosher.
L’chatchila, it is preferable to construct a succa from non-flexible materials that do not move with the wind, at least for the lowest 1st meter of the succa. If this is not an option, one should try to stretch the fabric so it will not become untied over the holiday. It is best to add a number of additional ties on the sides so the walls don’t get untied over the holiday. In addition, it is proper to add the lavud straps as per the Shulchan Aruch’s ruling. The straps should be positioned less than 23 cm apart in the lowest 1st meter of the succa. For the sechach, it is recommended to place wooden slats over the frame and only then place the sechach on top in a way that the sechach does not sit directly on the metal and the wood can support the sechach without the metal frame.