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    Sitting in the sukkah

    Sukkah meal, by Bernard Picart, 1722

    Sukkah means “covering” (Lev. 23:42-43). It symbolises the portable dwellings of the Israelites in the wilderness. The walls may be of any substance but the covering must be something that grows from the earth.

    A sukkah may be of any shape but must be big enough to accommodate a person sitting at a small table. Maximum height is 20 cubits (about 30 feet); minimum is 10 handbreadths.

    Though a sukkah covering (s’chach) must be something that grows, it must be detached from its source. Therefore a sukkah should not be built under the overhanging branches of a tree. A removable rainproof covering may be placed above the s’chach but must be taken off when the sukkah benediction is said.

    The obligation of sitting in the sukkah can be fulfilled in someone else’s sukkah; one may borrow but not steal a sukkah (Deut. 16:13 says that a sukkah must be l’cha, “yours”; borrowing is regarded as “yours”).

    The sukkah is sometimes used as a metaphor. Examples are Sukkat David hanofelet – “David’s fallen tabernacle” (Amos 9:11), the royal dynasty or the Temple which will be restored in messianic times; and Sukkat Shalom – “Tent of peace”; the sukkah symbolises the prayer that the Divine protection of peace may cover all Israel and mankind.

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