The Jewish Festival of Booths, also known as the Feast of Tabernacles and in Hebrew “Sukkot”, is the most joyous of the three feasts mandated in the Bible. God told Moses to command the people: “On the first day you shall take the product of hadar trees, branches of palm trees, boughs of leafy trees, and willows of the brook” (Lev. 23:40), and “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).
Today Jews in Israel and around the world continue to commemorate the shelters their ancestors constructed while living in the Sinai wilderness by building sukkahs – temporary outdoor huts. There are many guidelines and requirements that must be kept in the construction of a sukkah, including where it can be erected, in order for it to be considered “kosher” or fit for use. Here are a few of the basic requirements:
The roof of the sukkah must be made out of organic materials (sechach) that are detached from their source of growth such as bamboo poles, evergreen branches and palm leaves. There must be sufficient sechach to provide enough shade so that in a bright midday there is more shade than sun.
The sukkah must have at least three walls, which can be made of any materials provided they are sturdy enough to withstand a normal wind. If the sukkah sways in the wind it is not kosher.
Many communities decorate the sukkah by hanging pictures, streamers, shiny ornaments or other decorations from the interior walls and sechach beams. Fresh, dried or plastic fruit – including etrogs and the seven species for which Israel is praised (wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates) – are popular decorations.
While the Sukkot holiday is considered a joyous occasion and is referred to in Hebrew as Yom Simchateinu (the day of rejoicing) the sukkah itself symbolizes the frailty and transience of this life and our dependence on God.