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How much does one have to sit in a Succah?

Tishrei 5783 | September 2022


Different people experience Succot in different ways. Some take advantage of Chol Hamoed to travel with their families, visit friends or go sightseeing, while others try to spend as much time as possible sitting in the succah. These differences may be based in personality, but they also express different approaches toward the mitzvah of the succah. These two approaches date back to Mishnaic times.

The Mishnah (Succah 2:9) states that for the duration of seven days the house becomes a temporary dwelling, while the succah turns into a permanent one. The Gemara (Succah 28b) explains that the Biblical mitzvah of lashevet b’succah does not merely mean “sitting” in the succah, but rather “dwelling” in the succah. This is fulfilled by turning the succah into the home, by bringing one’s nice vessels and sheets into the succah, and also by spending time in the succah – eating, drinking, relaxing and sleeping.

When we think of the succah becoming one’s home, we need also to think how much time one tends to spend in his or her home. R. Eliezer (Bavli Succah 27b) holds that one should make his succah so that it lasts for the whole seven days, and he commends those who are “lazy” and don’t leave their succah at all. He does allow one to leave the succah to greet his rabbi on the holiday, but only if he returns to his succah to rejoice with his wife and family that same day. The (rest of the) Sages disagree with R. Eliezer. They state that one can erect a temporary succah, as one doesn’t have to be prepared for all seven days in advance. Additionally, when one has a good reason, one may leave his succah; in some cases, one is even exempt from the relevant halakhot.

The Mishnah (Succah 2:4) states that people who are traveling for the sake of a mitzvah are exempt from the mitzvah of succah; when a person is busy doing one mitzvah he or she is exempt from other mitzvot (“osek b’mitzvah patur min ha’mitzvah”). The Gemara adds a braita that further elucidates exemptions – those traveling for the sake of a mitzvah are exempt for the whole traveling time – day and night, but other travelers are exempt only when they are walking. If they stop over, they are obligated to eat and/or sleep in the succah.

The Rishonim and Achronim disagree as to the extent of exemption of those traveling for the sake of a mitzvah. According to some of the scholars they are exempt even if a succah is available to them,[1] while other scholars maintain they are only exempt if sitting in the succah would delay their fulfillment of the mitzvah purpose of their journey.[2]

The Achronim also discuss how much effort one should put into finding a succah when traveling.[3] Since the succah is meant to replace a person’s home, one might say a traveler is exempt altogether; just as one will leave home to travel for a while, one may also leave his succah to travel.

In the Gemara we find a disagreement regarding people who are exempt from the succah because they guard fields or orchards out of the city. According to Abbaye, they are exempt because of the nature of the mitzvah “to dwell in the succah”. One is obligated to dwell in the succah as they do in their home, and since the nature of this job is to leave the home and dwell somewhere else one could say they are exempt. Alternatively, Rashi explains that such a worker is exempt because he can’t properly fulfill the mitzvah as it’s not possible to bring his fancy vessels and sheets to the fields. According to Rava, these people can’t dwell in a succah because they would not be able to effectively guard the produce, since potential robbers would know the guard’s whereabouts. Based on this explanation some Achronim learn that one is only permitted to leave his succah-home on Succot if there are negative financial implications.[4] One may not go traveling for the sake of traveling, but only for necessary business that cannot be delayed. They strongly discourage leaving the succah for the sake of leisure and recreation. This is in stark contrast to those opinions in the Rishonim that do not limit the circumstances permitting travel on Succot.[5]

From the time of the Tanaim we can see two main approaches – R. Eliezer who views the succah as an all-encompassing mitzvah one should strive to experience as much as possible, and the Sages’ approach, that regards the succah as a home where one comes and goes as he pleases, life as usual. As the succah is a temporary home, it can be a temporary structure, built anywhere; dwelling is defined by the usual amount of time one dwells in his home.  

The general rule is that halakha is determined according to the Sages’ opinion. In this case the bottom line halakha follows the Sages, yet later rabbinic authorities incorporated R. Eliezer’s approach into the halakha, creating something of a joint vision of succah. One may leave the succah-home (and be exempt from sitting in a succah), but only for a good reason – such as a mitzvah or necessary business. If one leaves his succah for any another reason we follow the Sages’ opinion that he may erect an even-more temporary succah, to fulfill his obligation to dwell in a succah.

 To learn more about leaving the succah for the sake of recreational hiking or traveling, see part II.

[1] For example, Rashi (Succah 25a “mitzvah messengers” and 26a “those going for the sake of a mitzvah”), Ran (on the Rif,Succah 11a), Rema (OC 640:6) and Magen Avraham in the name of Hagahot Maymoniyot (ibid.).

[2] Tosfot Succah 25a “mitzvah messengers”, Magen Avraham OC 640:14. Note summary in Bi’ur Halacha OC 640:6 and 38:8.

[3] According to the Levush (OC 640:8) and seemingly the Rema, one does not need to make more of an effort to find a succah than the effort one would make to find a home to dwell in. According to Magen Avraham (OC 640:15) one must either build a succah on the way or return to his home.

[4] Rav Yaakov Ariel, Responsa “Be’ohala shel Torah” II:93, based also on Rashi (Succah 26a “those traveling”) who writes that the travelers go for the sake of commerce.

[5] Tosfot Succah 26a “those traveling”.

Rabbanit Dr. Adina Sternberg

was in the first cohort of the Matan Kitvuni Fellowship program and her book is in the publication process. She has a B.A. in Bible from Hebrew University and a M.A. and Ph.D. in Talmud from Bar Ilan University. Adina studied in Midreshet Lindenbaum, Migdal Oz, Havruta and the Advanced Talmud Institute in Matan. She currently teaches Bible and Talmud at Matan, and at Efrata and Orot colleges. Adina lives in Adam (Geva Binyamin) with her family.