Webster’s Dictionary defines a tabernacle as a temporary dwelling, which is why the Jewish holiday of Sukkot is known as the Feast of the Tabernacles. A sukkah, however, is a lot more specific than simply a temporary dwelling–which is often taken to mean something like a tent or a recreational vehicle.
THE WALLS of the sukkah may be made out of any material–wood, plastic, even canvas–as long as they can withstand normal gusts of wind without swaying noticeably. A sukkah must have a minimum of 2 ½ walls and have a doorway. The sukkah walls may actually be walls from a pre-existing structure. The sages set the minimum length and width of a sukkah at seven handbreadths (approx 28″) and the minimum height at 10 handbreadths (approx 40″) tall. The maximum height is 20 amot (approx 30’).
THE ROOF of the sukkah, known as s’chach, is a critical factor in determining the sukkah’s halachic acceptability. S’chach is defined as anything of plant origin that is now detached from the ground but has not undergone any manufacturing process nor had a previous use (such as a wooden post designed to hold up a sapling) nor may it be edible. Additionally, the s’chach pieces should be less than four handbreadths wide.
For the sukkah to be “kosher,” there must be enough s’chach so that there is more shadow than sunlight. It may not, however, be so dense that one is unable to see the larger stars at night or that the rain cannot penetrate.
PLACEMENT of the sukkah is important because to meet the s’chach requirements, the area above the sukkah must be clear (no building overhangs or branches from a tree).
The holiday of Sukkot begins this Sunday night at sunset.
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