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How to Build a Sukkah

How to Build a Sukkah

Your sukkah-building manual: the what, where and how of sukkah construction

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For forty years, as our ancestors traversed the Sinai desert prior to their entry into the Holy Land, miraculous “clouds of glory” surrounded and hovered over them, shielding them from the dangers and discomforts of the desert. In the words of the verse (Leviticus 23:42–43), “For a seven-day period you shall live in booths. Every resident among the Israelites shall live in booths, in order that your [ensuing] generations should know that I had the children of Israel live in booths when I took them out of the land of Egypt. I am the L‑rd, your G‑d.”

Ever since, we remember G‑d’s kindness, and reaffirm our trust in His providence, by “dwelling” in a sukkah for the duration of the Sukkot festival, from the 15th through the 22nd of the Hebrew month of Tishrei (in Israel, through the 21st only).

A sukkah is essentially an outdoor hut that is covered with vegetation, known as sechach. But there are many guidelines and requirements that must be followed in its construction, and regarding the location where it is erected, in order for a sukkah to be deemed “kosher”—fit for use.

There are excellent prefabricated sukkahs available, in a variety of sizes, from many Judaica vendors. If you choose this less adventurous (and less time-consuming) route, make sure that the sukkah comes with proper rabbinical certification that it meets the requirements.

Where Do I Build My Sukkah?

Construct your sukkah outdoors, ideally in a spot that’s most accessible to your residence. Popular sukkah locations include: porches, backyards, courtyards, lawns, balconies and rooftops. Basically, any location under the open sky.

An important requirement is that there should be nothing between your sukkah and the open sky. So make sure that there are no trees, canopies or roofs of any sort overhanging your sukkah.

What Materials Do I Need?

If you’re building your own sukkah, here are the basic materials you will need:

The Walls: The walls of a sukkah can be made of any material, provided that they are sturdy enough that they do not move in a normal wind. You can use wood or fiberglass panels, waterproof fabrics attached to a metal frame, etc. You can also use pre-existing walls (i.e, the exterior walls of your home, patio or garage) as one or more of the sukkah walls. An existing structure that is roofless or has a removable roof can also be made into a sukkah by covering it with proper sechach.

The Roof Covering: The sukkah needs to be covered with sechach—raw, unfinished vegetable matter. Common sukkah roof-coverings are: bamboo poles, evergreen branches, reeds, corn stalks, narrow strips (1×1 or 1×2) of unfinished lumber, or special sechach mats.

Mats made of bamboo, straw or other vegetable matter can be used only if they were made for the purpose of serving as a roof covering.

The sechach must be detached from its source of growth—thus a live trellis, or branches still attached to a tree, cannot be used.

You may use only vegetable matter that has not been previously used for another purpose. Additionally, it must never have acquired the status of a utensil (through being used as part of a crate or tool), nor have been capable of becoming ritually impure.

You may also need some plain, unfinished wood beams to construct a framework on which to lay the sechach.

Lighting: If you’d like to set up a lighting system, and your sukkah is built close to an outlet, purchase a lightbulb with a rain protection cover and electrical cord.

Chairs and Tables: Remember, you will be taking all your meals in the sukkah for the duration of the festival. Plus, it is a special mitzvah to invite guests to share your sukkah.

Decorations: Many communities decorate the sukkah with colorful posters depicting holiday themes, by hanging fresh fruits or other decorations from the sechach beams, or both. (The Chabad custom is not to decorate the sukkah, as the mitzvah itself is considered to be an object of the greatest beauty.)

The Dimensions and Other Requirements

The Walls:

A sukkah must have at least two full walls plus part of a third wall (the “part” needs to be a minimum of 3.2 inches wide). It is preferable, however, that the sukkah have four complete walls.

The walls must be at least 32 inches high, and the entire structure may not be taller than 30 feet. In length and breadth, a sukkah cannot be smaller than 22.4 inches by 22.4 inches. There is no size limit in how large—in length and width—a sukkah may be.

The sechach:

There must be sufficient sechach to provide enough shade so that in a bright midday there is more shade than sun seen on the floor of the sukkah. The sechach has to be spread out evenly over the entire sukkah, so that there should not be any gap larger than 9.6 inches.

Anything that is directly supporting the sechach should not be made out of materials that are not fit to be used as sechach. Thus, if the sechach is resting directly on the sukkah walls, and the walls are not made out of wood, strips of wood should be placed between the sukkah walls and the sechach. In larger sukkahs, where a framework of beams is needed to hold up the sechach, wood or bamboo poles should be used, not metal. Nor may the sechach be tied on with wire or fastened with any metal object.

Some More Details:

  • A sukkah must be built anew every year for the purpose of the mitzvah. This requirement, however, applies only to the sechach, since it is the sechach that makes the sukkah a sukkah. Thus, one can leave the walls standing all year, and place the roof covering before the festival. If the sukkah and the sechach have been up all year, one can simply lift up and replace the sechach, which allows the sukkah to be considered as new.
  • One must first erect the walls and only then place the sechach covering. If the sechach is put up before there are walls in place, the sechach should be lifted up and reapplied.
  • It is best that a sukkah have four solid walls (aside from the doorways and windows). However, under certain conditions, incomplete walls will qualify, as follows:
    1. If there is a gap between the bottom of the walls and the ground, the bottom of the walls must be less than 9.6 inches from the ground.
    2. If the walls are at least 32 inches high, the roof may be higher (up to the maximum height of 30 feet off the ground), as long as the walls are beneath the roof.
    3. There may be gaps of empty space in the walls, as long as these are less than 9.6 inches wide. (Thus, a fence made of upright or horizontal slats can be used, as long as the spaces between the slats are less than 9.6 inches.)
    4. The sechach should be placed on the sukkah by a Jewish person—one who is obligated to sit in the sukkah.
Chabad.org Staff
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Discussion (87)
September 16, 2014
Growing then cutting the sukkah and sechach?
I think I might have figure it out:
I have purchased a kit to be able to build a sukkah out of 2 by 4s. The idea is to plant the sunflowers so they will stand inside the walls of the sukkah, so the flowers contribute to the harvest decorations inside. The walls I will make with sheets or canvas that the kids can help me paint. Then, during the summer, I will have the frame for the schach built to the right dimensions and and standing on its side, with strings stretched lengthwise to grow the morning glories on, along with other decorative vines. They will be a feature of my garden all summer long, and then, come Sukkot, all I need to do is cut the stems at the base and place the frame on top of the sukkah. The flowers will, indeed, dry as the week progresses, but I think the color will remain for quite a while, and the net made of plants will provide a nice place to hang other harvest decorations from...It is too late to try this year, but I will see if I can do it next year :)
Anonymous
September 16, 2014
Thanks!
Dear Tzvi,

Thank you so much for clarifying! I have been wondering this for so long, it is nice to have an actual answer that makes sense! I will definitly keep thinking about how to incorporate the flowers. Will keep you posted!
Anonymous
Bellevue, WA
September 15, 2014
Growing then cutting the sukkah and sechach?
Sounds beautiful, and I really don't like to pop such beautiful bubbles, but there are a few problems. The walls have to be firm enough that they won't sway in the wind. And the schach has to be placed upon the sukkah after it's been cut. You could get around that by moving it around after cutting it--but you still have the wall issue. And the schach will likely dry up before the holiday is over.

But there must still be a way to get the same effect. Keep trying.
Tzvi Freeman
September 14, 2014
Growing then cutting the sukkah and sechach?
I was wondering whether it would be ok to grow a sukkah out of giant sunflowers (planted in the place of walls) and planting a morning glory seed at the bottom of each one, then tying a string from one sunflower head to the next for the morning glory to climb and make the roof, if right before Sukkot we were to snip the morning glories off at the base? The Sunflowers are annuals, so right after the festival they would have to be cut down and grown again the following year.
Anonymous
Bellevue, WA
August 4, 2014
portable sukkah
Very comprehensive article - Thank you
Anonymous
Brooklyn
September 19, 2013
Sukkah and the city
How can a Jew who lives in an apartment with no balcony or terrace fulfill the mitzvah of dwelling in the sukkah? I understand that the sukkah must be built in the outside, under the sky, so an indoor sukkah would not be kosher. Is the mitzvah fulfilled by visiting one of Chabad's sukkot, if only to wave the lulav? I mean, it's still not dwelling, but...
Maria
New York
September 16, 2013
More on a Handicapped Sukkah
Rabbi Tzvi Freeman said:

A sukkah needs walls, so no, that wouldn't work.

I answered:
I could attach a tent wall to the umbrella.

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman said:
You can order a pre-fabricated sukkah and have it put up. In Chicago, call Rosenblum Judaica at 773-308-3734. Or call your local Chabad House and see if they can help

I answered:
I can't afford a prefab Sukkah. I also don't want to bother our local Chabad Rabbi. He is very busy. We will try to figure something else out. Thank you for your advice..
Lael
Chicagoland
September 15, 2013
Re: Questions (walls before schach)
Yes, the schach has to be placed on walls, so that the placement of the schach creates the sukkah. If you place the schach first, then build the sukkah, you will need to lift the schach and let it fall back again. But that's not optimum.

The walls should not move in the wind. If you are using canvas walls, make sure they are well anchored. Even then, most rabbinic opinions would have you place a firm wall (could be lattice work) 10 tefachim tall (2.5 feet) at the base of at least three walls.
Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
September 15, 2013
Questions
Why do you need to put walls up before the Sechach? Where does it say that or is that a custom? Also, we use curtain walls and anchor them; however, could we use lattice walls that you can see through as long as the openings are less than 9.6"?
Andrea Lee
PA
September 9, 2013
Re: Handicapped Sukkah?
A sukkah needs walls, so no, that wouldn't work.

You can order a pre-fabricated sukkah and have it put up. In Chicago, call Rosenblum Judaica at 773-308-3734. Or call your local Chabad House and see if they can help.
Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
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