Painting by Joan Landis
Today, 14 Tishri, is Erev Sukkot. That means that if you wish to be observant of the holiday, you have until sundown tonight to erect a sukkah. According to tradition, G-d instructed Moses to tell the Jewish people: , “You shall live in booths seven days; all citizens in Israel shall live in booths, in order that future generations may know that I made the Israelite people live in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt” (Lev. 23:42-43).
Sounds easy enough, right? Not so fast, the ancient Israelites (and Jews today) have been given some pretty exact specifications regarding the suitability (kosherness) of a sukkah, such as:
-as a symbol of impermanence the sukkot should be built each year anew (you may use the same kit or parts, but not a structure that is left up year-round). In order to eat and dwell in the sukkah, it must be at least ten handbreaths but less than 20 cubits.
-the location should allow for no obstructions between the sky and the roof of the sukkot (the sechach). Find a spot free from branches, power lines, or overhangs.
-the walls can be made of any material that is strong enough to not be moved by normal wind. The walls of an existing structure can be used as part of the support. According to the rabbis, the walls must not exceed 30 feet in height. At least three walls are required, four is preferable. Gaps are premissable in the walls as long as they are less than 9.6 inches wide (the same gap allowed between the walls and the floor).
-the roof (sechach) cannot be added until the walls are complete and must be made from raw, unfinished or treated vegetable matter such as leaves, stalks or branches. This material must be removed from its source (no longer growing), attached to the walls without the use of leather, string or metal, and cannot be used as food. The roof must allow for more shade than sunlight, not have gaps over 11.5 inches wide, and allow for rain penetration. On a clear night you must be able to view the stars through the sechach.
-Decorating the sukkah is considered to be Hidur Mitzvah (beautifying a mitzvah) and is highly encouraged in the Talmud, albeit avoided by Chabad and some orthodox groups.
In partnership with Moishe House, G-dcast provides some guidance in the form of an animated short: http://www.g-dcast.com/moishe-house-rocks-how-build-sukkah
Tomorrow’s post will cover the Sukkot topics of the 4 Species, Hashanot and Ushpizin, but in the meantime, enjoy this sukkah short by G-dcast: http://www.g-dcast.com/sukkot
For inspiration (and sometimes frustration) see sukkah’s designed by architects and artists as part of the Sukkah City project: http://www.sukkahcity.com/
or Sukkah Arbor: http://www.sukkaharbor.com/Default.aspx?pageId=1384888
or Sukkahville: http://www.sukkahville.com/