A Succah is a temporary booth that Jews "dwell" in on the Festival of Succot (Succot is the plural of Succah). I'll deal with two key points in this WU.
- What constitutes a Succah
- What is meant by "dwell", and how and when do we do it
What constitutes a Succah
As mentioned above, a Succah is a temporary structure. But what constitutes temporary? The "Ikar" - the "key point" of the Succah is the roof. Hence it's only the roof which has to be temporary - the walls can be permanent. Therefore, some people have a garden shed with a removable roof (on a pulley). Or some people even have a large skylight in one of their rooms, and use this as their Succah.
On the other hand, some people build their Succah totally from scratch. Any design can be used - some have metal frames, some have wooden frames. Some have solid walls (such as pieces of hardboard or fence panels) and some have flexible walls (such as tarpaulin). All these are ok. A Succah can have 2.5, 3 or 4 walls (where 2.5 means 2 complete walls, and a token amount of a third wall). Most people either build freestanding Succot, or a Succah with 3 temporary sides that comes off their house, often directly off doors into the house.
The walls must be at least 7 "Tefachim" (an ancient unit meaning a fist, taken to be about 4 inches) long - or about 28 inches. They must be at least 10 Tefachim (40 inches) high. If they are made of tarpaulin, they must be tied down securely so they do not flap around in the wind.
As mentioned above, the key point of the Succah is the covering - the "S'chah" (the two "ch"s are guttural). The material used for S'chah must be natural material that grew from the earth, that is no longer attached to a living plant, and that cannot be spiritually "impure". So, metal and plastic are excluded, as are living trees. Also, woven cloth isn't allowed as it can become impure. Most people use either small cut branches (often laurel as it remains green for the whole festival), or bamboo matting. The S'chah must cover more than half of the roof, providing more darkness than light, but you must be able to see the light through the S'chah. The S'chah must be renewed each year. Of course, the bamboo lasts forever, so if you use this, you should take it off and replace it each year before the festival. The S'chah mustn't be tied down, but must just rest on its supports.
Many people put a plastic or tarpaulin removable roof over the top of the Succah. When this is in place the structure technically isn't a Succah as the roof isn't all natural. However, especially in places like England where the weather isn't great around September / October, it means you can lay the table in the Succah even if it's raining, and then remove the cover when the weather dries up. See below for more details on when to use the Succah.
As an example, my Succah is constructed as follows.
- The structure is completely temporary.
- The frame is made mainly of dexion (metal), with some wood.
- The walls are mainly hardboard, with some corrugated plastic.
- There is wooden trellis on the top, resting on the walls. This is technically part of the S'chah, but on its own won't provide enough cover.
- Laurel is placed on top as the main S'chah.
- There is a plastic removable roof.
A Succah is often decorated with pictures on the walls, and with hanging fruit and vegetables from the ceiling (or some people also have the custom of hanging miniature bottles of whisky from the ceiling!). My Succah also has carpet and electric lighting (on a timeswitch) - these are far from essential, but are nice to have!
What is meant by "dwell", and how and when do we do it?
Technically, when one "dwells" in a Succah, they should "live" in there - eat, sleep, and spend all their time in it. Indeed, in places with hotter climates (such as Israel, people will often sleep in their Succot. On the other hand, it is forbidden to be unhappy or uncomfortable on the festival, so people rarely sleep in their Succah in England!
The key thing that is done in the Succah is eating your meals. Again, though, one should not make oneself uncomfortable, so if it is raining, one should eat inside (or put on a plastic cover if one is available). However, one should at the very least try to eat in the Succah on the first night of the festival.
When one is eating in the Succah, there is a special Bracha (Blessing) that is made. If the meal is on one of the main festival days, it is made as part of Kiddush - otherwise it should just be made as you sit down.
Baruch Atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech HaOlam, Asher Kidishanu B'Mitzvotav, V'Tsivanu L'Shev B'Succah - Blessed are you Oh Lord, our G-D, King of the Universe, who has made us holy with your commandments, and commanded us to sit in the Succah
The first time you use the Succah in each year, the Bracha "shechehiyanu" is also made. This is a special Bracha which is made the first time you use anything new in the year, and also on the first night of every festival.
The Succah is used for all seven days of Succot.