The Sukkah

A temporary dwelling

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On the principle of adorning the precepts (i.e. carrying out the precepts of the Torah in as beautiful and elegant a manner as possible), it is the practice to decorate the sukkah and to hang fruit and fragrant plants from the covering. These must be left in place until the festival has come to an end.

Interpretations of the Sukkah

Modern biblical scholarship sees Tabernacles originally as a harvest festival, the booths being erected as temporary dwellings for the farmers at harvest times. Following the general tendency to connect the ancient seasonal festivals with events in the history of Israel, the reason for the sukkah as stated in Leviticus is to remind Jews of the booths in which the children of Israel dwelt during their journey through the wilderness.

The usual understanding of these "booths" is that they are the tents in which the Israelites dwelt. Rabbi Akiba, however, translates the word sukkot not as "booths," but as "coverings," the reference being, according to him, to the "clouds of glory," which accompanied the Israelites in order to provide them with divine protection from all hostile forces. The sukkah is called a "temporal dwelling," as distinct from the "permanent dwelling" in which people normally live. On the basis of this the idea has been read into the sukkah of a symbolic surrender of too-close an attachment to material things. The Jew leaves his house to stay in the sukkah where he enjoys divine protection. Judaism does not frown on material possessions, if these are honestly acquired, but, by leaving his home to stay in the sukkah, the Jew declares that it is the spiritual side of human existence that brings true joy into life.

Tabernacles is the festival of religious joy. In the Kabbalah, to dwell in the sukkah is to be under the "shadow of faith." A Hasidic master has said that the sukkah is unique in that while the other precepts are carried out by only one part of the body, in the sukkah the whole body enters into the precept, so to speak.

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Rabbi Louis Jacobs

Rabbi Dr. Louis Jacobs (1920-2006) was a Masorti rabbi, the first leader of Masorti Judaism (also known as Conservative Judaism) in the United Kingdom, and a leading writer and thinker on Judaism.