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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 (94)
September 29, 2014
For James Davis
Without looking at it, it sounds okay (can't know for sure without seeing it)—except for one problem: If you lay down those tree limbs before you put up the walls, it's not yet a sukkah. The walls have to come first.

Simple solution: Lift up the tree limbs (you can use a long stick to do this) and let them back down again.

Also, make sure the tree limbs aren't more than a foot wide, and that there's more covering than gaps. And no gaps bigger than a 9 and a half inch square.

Tarp is okay for walls as long as it doesn't flap in the wind. Then it would be a tent, not a sukkah.

Enjoy!
Tzvi Freeman
September 24, 2014
I used my carport as my sukkah tore the fiberglass roof off left the framing then put tree limbs across the framing.so it is mostely shaded in the sun .stood 2 by fours up to make wall studs. And wrapped blue tarp as walls tthen screwed the tarp down.this is my first sukkah that i built .dous this sound kosher.shallom elahem yahooda ben abraham
james davis
hollister, ca
September 21, 2014
when to start
I wonder if we can buy the materials before yom kippur
malkah
Benin City
September 21, 2014
Re: Netting
You are correct. Not only must the schach itself be of Kosher materials, the support for the schach as well must be something that would be fit to use for schach. If the net would not be fit to use as schach, it may not be used to suspend the schach either.
Shaul Wolf
Chabad.org
September 19, 2014
Can S'chach Be Placed on Existing See-Through Netting
I have a porch with see-through netting (woven from material that's not kosher for a sukkah with gaps between the strands) permanently affixed as a sun-shade to wooden beams. You can easily see the stars through the netting. The strands of the netting take up more space than the gaps between them. Must the netting be removed or can the s'chach be placed directly on it? I suspect the former.
Bernhard
Los Angeles
September 17, 2014
a see-through schach and Seattle rain...
Thanks! I have found out that there are gourds that grow on vines. If I do this correctly, the gourds will hang down from the ceiling once the plants are cut and the frame is placed as the roof. Thanks for the admonition on shade...in the Seattle area we need to worry about rain at that time of the year, :) So I guess my question now would be: how much plant coverage can I get away with? I believe I should still be able to see the stars through the schach, but hopefully with enough plants we can prevent most of the rain from pouring in? How much is too much?
Núria Coe
Bellevue, WA
September 16, 2014
Re: Growing then cutting the sukkah and sechach?
Everything sounds right, if I get what you are saying. Just make sure you have more shade than sun inside your sukkah.
Tzvi Freeman
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
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