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How to Build a Sukkah

How to Build a Sukkah

The basics of building a sukkah and living inside it

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This article presents an introduction to the basic how and what of the sukkah. For a more comprehensive guide to the construction of the sukkah, especially for the more creative-minded and those who like to understand everything, jump to Sukkology 101 by Tzvi Freeman.


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 rests directly on the sukkah walls, strips of wood may need to be used to support the sechach. In addition, the sechach should not be be tied 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.
By Chabad.org Staff
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Roland Queens October 6, 2017

Are we allowed to put on tefillin through the holiday of Sukkot? Reply

Chabad.org Staff October 8, 2017
in response to Roland:

We do not put on Tefillin on the first two days of Sukkot. With regard to the Intermediate Days, there are differences of opinion.

Sephardic Jewry, chassidim, and certain non-chassidic segments of Ashkenazi Jewry, do not wear tefillin on Chol Hamoed.

Most Ashkenazis, however, do don tefillin on Chol Hamoed. Most do so without reciting the tefillin blessing, while others do say the blessing, albeit in an undertone. The tefillin are removed before the recitation of the Hallel, and some remove them even earlier, immediately after the kedushah of the Shacharit Amidah. Reply

Moriah October 2, 2017

I live in an apartment. Can I build a sukkah indoors, maybe near a window so I can see the sky? Reply

Simcha Bart for Chabad.org October 3, 2017
in response to Moriah:

As the article states the Sukah must be directly under the open sky, not even a tree branch may block it from the open sky. Living in an apartment building is quite common, and people have come up with different and even innovative solutions. One is to find any open area on the property, a rooftop, or a yard etc. If there is no such area for your Sukah, you can usually use your local Synagogue's Sukah or Chabad Center. Similarly, you may have acquaintances that will happily allow you to use their Sukah. For more ideas please write directly to our Ask The Rabbi service. Reply

Joanie Lampel Pittsburgh September 29, 2017

In the North American Reform tradition, the Sukkos booth is built and decorated with harvest symbols at the temple by the congregation and children are given apples after the service. It is interesting to read about the Orthodox rituals. Reply

Simcha Bart for Chabad.org October 19, 2016

Dwelling in Sukkah It is correct that we need to live in the Sukah for the duration of the holiday. Yet there are certain situations, for example sleeping, which are exempt as it is not similar to the way one would live at home. Please see here for a fuller discussion of this.

Reply

Simcha Bart for Chabad.org October 8, 2016

I understand that you are asking in a case that the sechach fell and you need to eat in the Sukkah on Yom Tov, when it is forbidden to put it back up yourself.

In such a case you can try to get a non-Jew to replace the sechach without telling him directly to do so. Rather, hint to him "we cannot eat until the sechach is back up" or something similar.

On the intermediate days (chol hamoed), you should have a Jew put the sechach back up.

Reply

Jason October 7, 2016

Would burlap be considered kosher sechach? As it is generally made from fibrous vegetable matter and primarily used as an outdoor covering in winter Reply

Anonymous October 1, 2016

Can a non-Jew put on the sechach if it blows off during chag? Reply

John Bergin USA October 1, 2016

Sukkot_Dwell in for 7 days? Have I missed something, as I have the understanding that we are to dwell in, ie live in (sleep, wake, eat, visit,) for the duration of the feast. Reply

Leon lipschitz September 26, 2015

Thank you for the feedback
Will pass it into my daughter Reply

Yehuda Shurpin for chabad.org September 25, 2015

Re: Sukkot Sechach Mat Ideally the sechach should only rest on something that itself is kosher for sechach. However, if that cannot or wasn't done, then the Succah is still kosher as long as there is more of the kosher sechach than whatever is holding it up. For more on this see Sukkology 101 - Sukkah-building basics from the inside out (see especially the sub-section The All-Natural Sukkah) Reply

Yehuda Shurpin for chabad.org September 25, 2015

Re: Mesh clothe While it is difficult to give a definitive reply without actually seeing the Succah, in general, there can be no roof under or over the schach. As such, the plastic mesh should be removed. Reply

Anonymous Boston.MA September 25, 2015

Sukkot Sechach Mat Does the bamboo mat need to rest on wood
planks --if it rests on the top metal frame or
touching the frame--does this interfere with the
Kosher Integrity of the Sukkah--I must find a way
to not resy on the middle metal cross beam
Can you please elaborate on this concern
Chag Samauch L'Sukkot Reply

Leon lipschitz Johannesburg South Africa September 25, 2015

Mesh clothe My daughter wants to put up a sukkah for her children
She has a place that steady has a sukkah area with thick wood n poles boding the open roof up
It has plastic mesh as a roof
Can it be used as a sukkah
If she puts palm leaves on will it be kosher
Must she remove the plastic mesh then put the skach on to be kosher Reply

Tzvi Freeman September 21, 2015

Re: triangular sukkah It would be kosher as long as it was large enough to contain a square of 56 cm. by 56 cm.

The optimum sukkah, however, has four complete walls. Why settle for less?

Have a wonderful Sukkot, and enjoy your Sukkah! Reply

Anonymous West Hills, CA September 20, 2015

Can the roof of the sukkah (sechach) be supported by several pvc poles?

Thank you, Reply

Lael Northwestern Chicago suburbs August 4, 2015

I am very worried. I am a disabled widdow, and I have been looking for a Sukkah kit that I could afford and put up easily. Such a thing does not exist, or I couldn't find it. I can't drive or walk to a synagogue. I live in the Northwest Chicago suburbs because it was the cheapest place I could find that I felt was safe. I would appreciate any constructive ideas. Reply

Tzvi Freeman October 20, 2014

Re: triangular sukkah It would be kosher as long as it was large enough to contain a square of 56 cm. by 56 cm.

The optimum sukkah, however, has four complete walls. Reply

C. Waite Adelaide, SA October 9, 2014

Triangular (for stability) with a door in one of the walls/sides... OK? Is there any reason that a succah could not be triangular (seen from above)? Reply

Tzvi Freeman October 7, 2014

Concerning the latest questions I've added a short note at the beginning of this article. This year, we published a much more comprehensive guide to what's kosher and what's not when building a sukkah. Instead of just listing the rules, we provide the reasoning behind it all. That makes it much easier to absorb.

So please visit Sukkology 101—Sukkah Building From the Inside Out. There, I think you'll find many of your questions answered, along with sources for everything. Reply

Shira Kline Brooklyn, New York October 6, 2014

Could you point me to the source of the Sukkot laws? Thank you! Reply

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