The Sukkah is a temporary structure, referred to as a booth,
in which we are supposed to eat our meals during the week of this harvest festival.
It is constructed of four walls and covered with a roof of tree branches. If
you don't have already existing walls, the sides of a house or fence may be
used. It is constructed before the the beginning of Sukkot, but not usually
before Yom Kippur. It is used for the first time Sukkot eve.
Today, the Sukkah is used mostly for eating. There is a special obligation to
eat in the Sukkah the first night of Sukkot. Even if it is raining, kiddush
is recited over wine and the blessing is said over bread. We are encouraged
to study, read, and entertain guests in the Sukkah, but only if it can be done
with a reasonable degree of comfort.
Exemptions: There are exemptions from the obligation of dwelling in the Sukkah.
If sitting inside the Sukkah causes physical discomfort such as being bothered
by the wind, flies or bees, or if it is raining heavily, you are excused. Obviously
if you are elderly or sick, or if you are a mother with young children, you
do not have to eat every meal in the Sukkah.
Also, if you are traveling or away from home on business, you do not have to
find a Sukkah in which to eat. But, if you have an opportunity to eat in someone's
Sukkah, you should take advantage. Interestingly, a bride, groom or wedding
party are exempt from the traditional seven day-long celebration, since sleeping
and eating in a Sukkah is not the most comfortable.
Materials: There are rules regarding a Sukkah's minimum size, maximum height,
and wall dimensions. The minimum height of the walls should be approximately
three feet. The Sukkah must be at least twenty-six inches long and twenty-six
inches wide. The walls may not be higher than thirty feet.
Almost any kind of materials may be used to make the walls. You can use cinder
blocks, scrap lumber, old doors, bamboo shades, canvas or nylon sheeting attached
to a frame of wood or metal piping with nails or grommets and rope. But the
one aspect of the Sukkah that makes it kosher, is its skhakh, or roof.
S'khakh: The skhakh must also be of a temporary nature. It must be made of organic
material, something grown from the ground. Branches, specifically evergreens,
and bamboo poles are the most commonly used materials.
There must be enough S'khakh so there is more shade than sun in the Sukkah,
but not so much that you can't see the stars at night. The S'khakh must also
be spaced evenly with no gaps wider than eleven-and-a-half inches. In addition,
boards or beams wider than sixteen inches may not be used since they are similar
to those used for a house roof or ceiling.
Decorations: It is a mitzvah, a religious obligation, for every Jew to build
a Sukkah. The Talmud suggests hanging ''handmade carpets and tapestries, nuts,
almonds, peaches, pomegranates, branches of grape, vines, decanters of oil,
fine meal, wreaths of ears of corn'' (Betzah 30b). However, today, standard
decorations include hanging paper chains, or using crepe paper, fruits, real
or plastic, Indian corn, gourds, as well as new year's cards and pictures of
Jerusalem. You can decorate any way you wish.
Ushpizin: There is a custom of inviting Ushpizin, symbolic guests, each day
to the Sukkah. The guests include Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron
and David. Recently, some people have invited the matriarchs and other important
women of the Bible as well. One list includes Sarah, Rachel, Rebecca, Leah,
Miriam, Abigail and Esther.
Sephardim set aside a specially decorated chair for the special guest and recite,
''This is the chair of the Ushpizin.''
The custom originated in Safed, a northern city of Israel which is famous for
its resident kabbalists. For the kabbalists, each guest represented one of the
sefirot, the spheres that make up the universe, in the kabbalistic system. By
inviting one guest each day, they were infusing a special mystical element to
Another connection between the Ushpizin and Sukkot is that all the original
Ushpizin were wanderers or in exile.
Abraham left his father's house to go to Canaan; all three patriarchs wandered
in the land of Canaan and suffered at the hands of local rulers; Jacob fled
to his uncle Laban; Joseph turned up in Egypt after being sold by his brothers;
Moses fled from a life of privilege in Egypt to Midian after killing an Egyptian
officer and later, with his brother Aaron, wandered in the desert for forty
years; and David fled from King Saul, who, suffering from a temporary mental
illness, was trying to kill him.
Greetings: Gut Yom Tov (Yiddish) and hag samei'akh (Hebrew), both meaning happy
holiday are appropriate greetings on Sukkot.
Hospitality: Sukkot is a holiday with some of the best opportunities for inviting
guests. In some communities, people go from Sukkah to Sukkah making kiddush,
looking at each other's decorations, sampling goodies, a special favorite among
children. Sometimes this custom is called a Sukkah Hop. Like the Passover seder,
in which we are encouraged to invite the needy, Sukkot is a great opportunity
to invite those who may never have had the experience of being in a Sukkah.
Candlelighting: All Jewish holidays are ushered in with the lighting and blessing
of candles the night before.
The first Blessing: Barukh Atah, Adonai Eloheinu, Melekh Haolam, asher kishanu
b'mitzvotav, v'tzivanu lehadlik ner shel (Shabbat v'shel) yom tov.
Blessed are You, Lord our G-d, King of the universe, Who has sanctified us with
His commandments and commanded us to kindle the (Sabbath and) festival lights.
The second Blessing: Barukh ata Adonai Eloheinu, Melekh Haolam, shehekheyanu,
v'kiyamanu, v'higgiyanu lazman hazeh.
Blessed are You, Lord our G-d, King of the universe, Who has kept us alive,
sustained us, and allowed us to reach this season.
Kiddush: Seated or standing, the special festival kiddush is recited followed
by the blessings recited every time we eat a meal in the Sukkah. The text for
this kiddush can be found in any siddur.
Blessing Said Before Sitting in the Sukkah:
Baruch Ata Adonai Eloheinu, Melekh haolam, asher kidshanu bn'mitzvotav, v'tzivanu
Blessed are you, Lord our G-d, King of the universe, Who has sanctified us with
His commandments and commanded us to dwell in the Sukkah.
Blessing Said For Washing Hands: A blessing is said for washing hands in remembrance
of the temple service which required cleanliness.
Baruch Atah Adonai Eloheinu Melekh Haolam, asher kidshanu b'mitzvotav, v'tzivanu
al netilat yadayim.
Blessed are You, Lord our G-d, King of the Universe, Who has sanctified us with
His commandments and commanded us regarding washing the hands.
Baruch Ata Adonai, Elohaynu Melekh Haolam, hamotzi lekhem min ha'aretz.
Blessed are You Lord our G-d, King of the Universe, Who brings forth bread from
Foods: There aren't specific foods linked to Sukkot. Since most meals are carried
from the kitchen and served in the Sukkah, it is common to eat a lot of casseroles,
hearty soups, and stuffed cabbages.
The Four Species: The other important mitzvah associated with Sukkot is having
the arba minim, the four species, also known the lulav and etrog, the palm branch
On the first day you shall take the product of goodly trees, branches of pam
trees, boughs of leafy trees, and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice
before the Lord your G-d seven days. (Leviticus 23:40)
The oral tradition as recounted in the Talmud identifies the ''product of goodly
trees'' as the etrog; the ''branches of palm trees'' as the lulav; the ''boughs
of leafy trees'' as hadasim, or myrtle; the ''willows of the brook'' as aravot,
The Arba Minim, or the four species, represent the abundant, agricultural nature
of Sukkot. Just as the farmer gathers his crops, we are also instructed to gather
four kinds of growing things and use them to praise and rejoice with G-d.
While the temple existed, the four species were used each day of Sukkot. Outside
the temple, they were only used on the first day. When the temple was destroyed
in 70 A.D., the rabbis said the people should use the Arba Minim every day of
the holiday as a remembrance of the temple. The custom has continued to this
Using the Four Species: The basic commandment of the four species consists of
holding them in your hand and shaking them. This is done two times during the
synagogue service, once during the prayer, hallel, and once during the prayer,
The four species are made up of a long palm branch that has a holder made of
palm leaves. On the left side of the holder are two willows, or aravot, and
on the right side are three hadasim, or myrtle leaves.
The lulav picked up by your right hand with the spine toward you, and the etrog,
or citron, is held in the left hand with pittam, or tip, pointing down, so it
is closer to your heart. Hold the etrog and lulav together and recite the blessings:
First Blessing: Baruch Ata Adonai Eloheinu Melekh Haolam asher kishanu b'mitzvotav,
v'tzivanu al netilat lulav.
Blessed are You Lord our G-d, King of the universe, Who has sanctified us with
His commandments and commanded us concerning the taking of a palm branch.
Second Blessing: Baruch Ata Adonai Eloheinu Melekh Haolam, shehekheyanu, v'kiyamanu,
v'higgiyanu lazman hazeh.
Blessed are You, Lord our G-d, King of the universe, Who has kept us alive,
sustained us, and allowed us to reach this season.
Next, turn the etrog so the pittam faces up, and keeping your hands close together
so the lulav and etrog are touching, wave them in six directions: east, south,
west, north, above, and below. A warning: a broken pittam, renders the etrog
passul, unkosher for use.
The blessings can be performed at home or once you reach the synagogue, but
it is custom for it to be done in a Sukkah.
Interpretations: On a deeper level, the four species are often compared to four
types of Jews. The etrog has taste and smell, so it stands of people who possess
both learning and good deeds. The palm tree has taste but no smell, so it stands
for those with learning, but no good deeds. The myrtle has smell but no taste,
so it stands for people who have good deeds but no learning. The willow, has
neither taste nor smell, and it stands for those without learning and without
Another view sees the lulav as one person. The lulav represents the spine of
a person; the myrtle the eyes; the willow the mouth; and the etrog the heart.
Through them, we express our desire to praise and worship G-d with our entire
Another theory is that the lulav and etrog symbolize roots, such as land and
living, fruit and fertility, while the Sukkah is a symbol for the temporary,
exile and wandering.
Storage: The four species, which are plants, will require a little bit of care
throughout the holiday. One idea is keeping the hadasim and aravot (in the holder)
in the refrigerator wrapped in a damp or moistened paper towel. The lulav and
etrog itself will not dry out. It is, however, very important, to take proper
care of the etrog. The etrog can become halachically unusable, or pasul, if
its pittam, the little stem, falls off or breaks.
To prevent that from happening, it has become custom to store the etrog in a
special decorative box, the majority of which containing velvet or a soft lining.
If you do not already have a specially designated box, keep your etrog wrapped
in its original packaging material, usually a corrugated box.
Hallel: During Sukkot, Hallel, psalms of praise, are recited every day after
the morning amidah, silent devotional. During certain verses, the lulav and
etrog is shaken. When it is time, you point the lulav in front of you, to the
east, and shake it three times. Then you repeat the same motion three times
to the right, which is south; over the shoulder, which is west; left, which
is north; then above you; and last, below.
Hoshanot: Hoshanot are hymns recited everyday during the morning service, except
on Shabbat. They are called hoshanot since they each begin with the words, hosha
na, meaning save us. Hoshanot, which are chanted while walking around in a procession,
are a reminder of a similar procession which took place during the temple. Hoshanot
are actually medieval poems and prayers composed by the eighth century rabbi,
Elazar Hakallir. They consist of 22 verses or stanzas which ask for G-d's deliverance
Hol Ha-Moed: Only Passover and Sukkot have Hol Ha-Moed, intermediate days, that
separate the first and last days of the holiday. Hol Ha-Moed lasts five days,
but carry no biblical prohibitions against work or travel unless one of the
days falls out on the Shabbat. However, the intermediate days, are still regarded
as special, but people can go back to work. In more traditional circles, some
people only do work they feel is essential.
In Israel: In Israel, the first day is yom tov, a festival. The second, third,
fourth, fifth and sixth days are Hol ha-Moed, a semi-festival, where work is
permitted. The seventh day is Hosanna Raba. The eighth day is celebrated as
both Shemini Atzeret and Simhat Torah.
In the Diaspora: In the Diaspora, The first and second days are considered Yom
Tov, festivals which carry prohibitions against work and travel. The third,
fourth, fifth and sixth days are Hol ha-Moed, the semi-festival. The seventh
day is Hoshana Raba. The eighth day is Shemini Atzeret, and the ninth is Simhat
The reason that Jews in the Diaspora keep an extra day of Yom Tov is because
before calendars were established, months was announced by the sighting of a
new moon. The sighting had to be ratified by an expert court in Jerusalem. Those
who lived near Jerusalem received the news in time to make preparations for
the holiday. Those living far away, where information did not travel quickly
or accurately, established extra festival days, to be sure the correct day was
observed. The custom was so universal, that even after a calendar was established,
and technology was available, Jews living outside Israel still observed an extra
During Hol Ha-Moed, the intermediary days, we continue to eat all of our meals
in the Sukkah, and we continue the practice of blessing the lulav and etrog
each day. In the synagogue, the complete Hallel is recited daily and the Torah
reading consists of four aliyot, honors given men when called up to the Torah
reading, which describe the daily sacrifices for Sukkot.
Shabbat Hol Ha-Moed: On Shabbat there are seven aliyot and the Torah reading
is from Exodus 33:12-34:36. The Haftorah is from Ezekiel 31:18-39:16, which
talks about the climactic war of the final days, which expresses another messianic
theme of Sukkot.
Kohelet: Kohelet or Ecclesiastes, is one of five biblical scrolls, or megilot,
that are assigned to five different holidays. Kohelet, which is read on Shabbat
Hol Ha-Moed Sukkot, is attributed to King Solomon, who also wrote the Song of
The most obvious connection between Kohelet and Sukkot is their common lack
of permanence. Kohelet is a treatise on what brings permanent joy. In contrast
to the more sensual Song of Songs, which was written at an earlier point in
King Solomon's life, the book of Kohelet was written after the king experienced
of life's pleasures. Solomon concludes with the message, ''The end of the matter,
all having been heard, fear G-d and keep His commandments; for this applies
to all mankind.''
Simhat Bet Ha-Sho'eivah: This ceremony has all but disappeared except among
certain sects of Hasidim who mark this ancient temple ritual with singing and
dancing. If you are fortunate to be in Israel during the holiday of Sukkot,
take time to experience this holiday in Safed, a northern city with ancient,
mystical roots. There, Chassidim in traditional dress dance through cobbled
streets, singing and dancing. It is an experience you will not likely see anywhere
else except maybe in certain parts of New York where groups of Chasidim still
Translated as ''the rejoicing at the place of the water-drawing,'' this ancient
water libation ceremony took place every day in the temple except for the first
day of yom tov and on Shabbat.
The Talmud in Sukkah 51a-b describes it in detail, including a portrait of our
sages juggling lighted torches and performing somersaults as part of the celebration.
The Talmud says, ''He who has not the rejoicing at the place of the water-drawing
has never seen rejoicing in his life.''
Hoshana Rabbah: Translated as the Great Hoshana, this seventh day of Sukkot
should have been its own festival, but isn't because of the festival day, Shemini
Azeret, which follows. Its two most important rituals include circling the synagogue
seven times, instead of once, and beating the willows, or aravot.
The custom of beating the aravot stems from a temple ritual where the willows
were struck against the ground near the altar. The custom symbolized a casting
away of sins and is the reason that Hoshana Rabbah is still known as the final
day of judgment, the last moment forgiveness can be attained. Today, the custom,
where performed, involves beating willows against the ground. No blessing is
recited, as some beat the willows five times and some shake the willows before
This ritual, which is a rabbinic commandment, was meant to supersede the laws
of Shabbat. Rabbis in the fourth century of the Christian Era set the calendar
so that Hoshana Rabbah would never fall on Shabbat, though Yom Kippur, the most
important fast day, could. According to most, Hoshana Rabbah marks the conclusion
of the High Holiday period in which judgments can still be changed.
One well known custom is staying up the night of Hoshana Rabbah to recite and
study a text called tikkun leil hoshana rabbah. It is believed that at midnight
the gates of heaven open to receive prayers.
Shemini Azeret: Immediately following the last day of Sukkot (Hoshana Rabbah),
is Shemini Azeret, the eighth day of Sukkot.
On the eighth day you shall hold a solemn gathering; you shall not work at your
occupations. Numbers 29:35
The rabbis interpreted this to mean that G-d asks all those who made a pilgrimage
for Sukkot to stay longer, which is a translation for azeret, from the root
to hold back.
Shemini Azeret is a full festival day, including candle lighting and kiddush.
Work is prohibited. The lulav and etrog are not used although kiddush is recited
in the Sukkah, both evening and morning.
In the synagogue, during the musaf service following shacharit, the prayer for
rain, tefillat geshem, is recited. Shemini Azeret is also marked by the recital
of yizkor, the memorial prayer for the dead.
Simchat Torah: The celebration of Simchat Torah revolves around the completing
and beginning again of the cycle of Torah readings. The completion is marked
by seven hakafot, circling, similar in form to those of hoshanot during Sukkot.
The celebration begins with ma'ariv, the evening prayer. A series of verses
praising G-d are sung with the congregation chanting responsively.
Children are especially encouraged to participate in the simchah, the joy, of
the evening. It is custom to hand out flags with apples on top, a symbolic reminder
of the tribal flags under which the Israelites marched in the desert.
The morning service has its own amidah, silent recitation, and Hallel, psalm
of praise. Every male in the shul is invited to the bimah for an aliyah, the
blessing before Torah reading. After everyone has received his aliyah, there
is one last aliyah for children. Called kol ha-ne'arim, Hebrew for all the boys,
every little boy not yet bar-mitzvah, is called to the Torah. A talit is spread
over their heads like a canopy and the child says the blessings along with an