QUESTION: In recent years, specially designed bamboo schach mats have become popular. Is there any halachic objection to using them?
DISCUSSION: The succah, the temporary structure in which we dwell during the Festival of Succos, gets its name from the word schach,(1) the flimsy covering placed over the frame or the walls of the succah to protect it from the sun. By definition, a succah may not be a diras keva, a permanent structure such as a house or even a shed; it must be a temporary home. The schach, therefore, may not be a solid roof or a ceiling.(2) Indeed, even the nonpermanent material used for schach should not be so thick that it would totally block rain from entering the succah.(3)
There are two basic rules which govern the type of material that can be used for schach and the manner in which it may be placed on the succah. The following are the basic rules that govern kosher schach:
* Only a natural plant substance that originally grew from the ground, but is no longer attached to the ground – such as thin slats of wood,(4) loose branches, bamboo or uprooted reeds or stalks – may be used for schach. Schach cannot be made out of synthetic materials such as nylon, or out of non-plant materials such as metal or glass.(5)
* Schach may not be made from any item which could possibly be mekabel tumah (become ritually impure). Thus anything which qualifies halachically as a “vessel,” whether whole or broken, may not be used for schach.(6) In addition, processed plant substances, such as wads of cotton or strips of canvass, are also disqualified, since the processing changes their natural appearance and they no longer resemble the plant from which they were processed.(7)
While some contemporary poskim are hesitant about permitting bamboo mats for schach altogether(8) and others are leery about introducing non- traditional forms of schach,(9) the majority of poskim(10) agree that there is no halachic reason to prohibit using mats for schach(11) and their use has become widespread. The poskim do require, however, that the threads that bind the bamboo rods together be made from material which is kosher for schach, since these threads are considered as “supports” of the schach.(12) Thus, the mats should not be woven with nylon or any other synthetic threads, as those materials may not be used for schach (see above, 5 Tishrei). The acceptable mats are woven with unprocessed substances, such as flax strands or reeds. If these are difficult to obtain, some poskim permit using mats that were woven with processed cotton threads.(13)
QUESTION: Does the schach need to be placed on the succah l’sheim mitzvas succah?
DISCUSSION: While there is no requirement to place the schach on the succah specifically l’shem mitzvas succah, it does need to be specifically placed l’sheim tzeil, i.e., for the sake of creating shade in the succah. If, for instance, the schach was previously installed for decorative purposes, or to insure privacy, it is not valid and must be replaced l’sheim tzeil.(14)
QUESTION: Is it permitted to place the schach on the frame of the succah before its walls are erected?
DISCUSSION: No. The succah walls must be put up before the schach is placed upon them.(15) As explained earlier, schach must be placed on the succah l’shem tzeil, for the sake of providing shade. If the walls are not up and there is no structure, the schach’s placement does not “create shade.” According to many poskim, schach that was placed on the frame before the walls were put up is invalid even b’diavad and must be removed and replaced.(16)
QUESTION: Does it make any difference who puts the schach on the succah?
DISCUSSION: The basic halachah permits any person – male or female, adult or minor, Jew or non-Jew – to put the schach on the succah as long as it is placed either l’shem mitzvas succah or l’shem tzeil.(17) Nevertheless, l’chatchilah it is preferable to be stringent and allow only an adult Jewish male to place the schach over the succah.(18)
QUESTION: In the face of an approaching storm, is it permitted to nail or tie down the schach to the walls or the frame of the succah?
DISCUSSION: It is permitted to tie down the schach to the walls or the frame of the succah with any string or rope that is available. Although we previously stated that l’chatchilah schach supports must also be made from materials that are kosher for schach, in this case the rope or string is not considered as support, since under normal weather conditions the schach will remain intact without being tied down.(19)
However, to nail the schach down is not permitted. As explained earlier, a succah must be a temporary structure. When schach is nailed down, especially if it is nailed down so well that it blocks the rain from entering the succah, the succah takes on the character of a permanent structure. Such a succah is not valid, even b’diavad.(20)
QUESTION: When reciting Havdalah over wine (or grape juice) in the succah, does one recite leisheiv ba-succah?
DISCUSSION: The general rule is that leisheiv ba-succah is recited only before a kevius seudah, a sit-down meal consisting of at least a k’beitzah (approx. 2 fl. oz.) of either bread or cake. Sitting in the succah merely to drink wine (or grape juice), even if the drinking takes place with an entire group and for a long period of time, is not considered a kevius seudah and a blessing is not recited.(21) Some poskim rule, therefore, that leisheiv ba-succah is not recited over wine when it is drunk for Havdalah.(22)
Other poskim, however, make a distinction between drinking wine just for enjoyment and drinking wine in the performance of an important mitzvah such as Havdalah. In their opinion, the blessing of leisheiv ba-succah is recited when wine is drunk for Havdalah, since the mitzvah of Havdalah elevates the drinking and gives it the dignity of a kevius.(23) Although either opinion may be followed as there is no prevalent custom, those who want to avoid a potentially questionable situation should make sure to eat some bread or cake immediately after Havdalah, which allows them to recite leisheiv ba-succah according to all opinions.(24)
1 Rashi, Succah 2a.
2 Tosafos, Succah 2a (s.v. ki).
3 Mishnah Berurah 631:5-6.
4 While the basic halachah permits using planks of wood as wide as 14 inches for schach, it has become customary not to use wood strips which are wider than 3.5 inches; see Mishnah Berurah 629:49, Tzitz Eliezer 15:28 and miluim to Ha-Sukah ha-Shalem 8:49.
5 O.C. 629:1.
6 O.C. 629:2.
7 Mishnah Berurah 629:12-13. Min ha-Torah, processed material is kosher for schach but the Rabbis disallowed its usage due to its changed appearance.
8 Harav Y.S. Elyashiv (quoted in Az Nidberu 2:66 and 12:35). His objection is based on a very strict interpretation of gezeiras tikrah, the rabbinic decree which includes the prohibition against using small pieces of wood which are nailed together for schach, since it appears as if a permanent roof is being placed on the succah. In his opinion, a woven bamboo mat is included in gezeiras tikrah, since here too, small pieces of bamboo are woven together to create a large mat. See also Tzitz Eliezer 10:29.
9 Chelkas Yaakov 1:187.
10 Harav S.Z. Auerbach (Ha-Succah ha-Shalem #7); Shevet ha-Levi 6:74; Az Nidberu 2:61; 12:35; Kinyan Torah 4:71.
11 In their opinion, a soft, porous mat that is easily folded or rolled does not resemble a permanent roof at all and is not included in gezeiras tikrah.
12 See Igros Moshe O.C. 1:177 who prohibits using venetian blinds that were made out of wooden slats and are held together by woven material.
13 This is because processed cotton is invalid only mi-deRabanan for schach (because of the lack of resemblance to the plant), and in this case, when it is only being used as a support for the schach it may be permitted altogether; Harav S.Z. Auerbach (Ha-Succah ha-Shalem #7); Harav S. Wosner (Koveitz mi-Beis Levi, vol. 4, pg. 21).
14 Mishnah Berurah 635:1.
15 Rama, O.C. 635:1.
16 Mishnah Berurah 635:10. See Aruch ha-Shulchan 635:5.
17 O.C. 635:1. See Avnei Nezer, O.C. 475.
18 Based on Mishnah Berurah 14:4 and 649:14. See Bikurei Yaakov 635:2 and Kaf ha-Chayim 8.
19 See Shevet ha-Levi 6:74 and B’tzeil ha-Chochmah 5:44.
20 Sha’ar ha-Tziyun 633:6 and Aruch ha-Shulchan 629:32. See also Ha-Elef Lecha Shelomo 366.
21 Mishnah Berurah 639:13.
22 Shevet ha-Levi 6:42.
23 Chazon Ish (quoted in Rivevos Efrayim 1:428) and Luach Eretz Yisrael.
24 Harav Y. Y. Kanievsky (Orchos Rabbeinu, vol. 2, pg. 228); Harav S.Z. Auerbach (Shemiras Shabbos k’Hilchasah 58:22), who recommends reciting the leisheiv ba-succah before borei peri ha-gafen; see Minchas Shelomo 2:58-35 and Ma’adanei Shelomo, pg. 70.
Rabbi Neustadt is Rav of Young Israel in Cleveland Heights. He may be reached at 216-321-4635 or at [email protected]