What is Sukkos?
Sukkos, also known as the Festival of Tabernacles, is a Jewish festival which occurs five days after the awesome day of Yom Kippur. During Sukkos we are commanded to eat our meals in temporary booths called Sukkahs (similar to the ones shown on the home page), to commemorate how we were surrounded by the protective "clouds of glory" during the forty years of wandering in the wilderness after leaving Egypt. Sukkos lasts for seven days and is a joyous festival. Some have the custom of decorating the Sukkah with elaborate ornaments, whilst others preserve its unadorned simplicity. The Sukkah is the only mitzvah in which we are completely surrounded from head to toe. Eating festive meals and spending time in the outdoor sukkah is a unique religious experience.
Observances of Sukkos
During the entire seven days all meals are eaten in the Sukkah. Fruit and light drinks do not need to be eaten a Sukkah.
When partaking of a meal containing at least two ounces of bread or cake, we say the following blessing :-
Bo-ruch A-toh Ado-noi E-lo-hei-nu Me-lech Ho-olom A-sher Ki-de-sha-nu Be-mitz-vo-sov V-tzi-vo-nu Le-shev Ba-su-ka
What Makes A Kosher Sukkah
The walls of a Sukkah can be made from any material sufficiently sturdy to withstand normal winds, but the roof may only be made from plants cut from their roots (prior to being placed upon the sukkah) that have not been used or prepared for any other purpose. The roof of a Sukkah must contain enough plants so that there is more shade than sunlight in the Sukkah, but not too much plants so that the rain can still get in. The plants used for the roof of a Sukkah should be placed in a way that ensures that a normal wind will not cause them to come off the Sukkah. These plants should ideally be placed on thin wooden beams, and should not be attached by nails (see note below). A Sukkah must be positioned directly under the sky, an overhanging branch or awning makes the Sukkah unfit for use. One must first put up the walls, and only afterwards put up the roof. The Sukkah must not be less than 10 tefachim (approximately 31.5" or 80cm) high, and not more than 20 Amos (approximately 31.5 foot or 9.6m) high. The minimum size for a Sukkah is 7 tefachim (approximately 22.05" or 56cm) by 7 tefachim (approximately 22.05" or 56cm). A tree or second storey cannot be above the Sukkah, neither can the roof of the Sukkah be covered with plastic, or the like, to keep the rain out (whilst in use). A Sukkah does not need to be fully enclosed; but it has to have a minimum of 3 walls, one of which doesn't need to be complete (see note below). There must not be an open space of more than 3 tefachim (approximately 9.45" or 24cm) at the bottom of any of the walls of the Sukkah. One is not permitted to construct or to fix a Sukkah on Shabbos or Yomtov.
Please note that the above is only a brief outline of the main laws regarding the making of a Kosher Sukkah. However, these laws are very detailed. This is especially the case with regards to Sukkahs: that have less than three complete floor-to-ceiling walls, or do not have a kosher Sukkah roof that meets the full length of each of the walls of the Sukkah, or have walls that sway in the wind (e.g. sheets, canvas, or the like, which have not been secured very tightly), or have a roof which is somehow attached to the structure of the Sukkah. Therefore, it is recommended that you consult your local Rabbi in cases of uncertainty. You may also want to check out some of the websites in the Links section, or to check out the following links:
The Four Kinds
Another special mitzvah of Sukkos is the shaking together, during the daytime, of the "Four Species" - the esrog (citron), lulav (palm branch), three hadassim (myrtle branches), and two aravos (willow branches) - on each day of Sukkos, except Shabbos. The four species represent the four different types of jews, symbolising our oneness as a people. The four species are waved in all four directions, and up and down, signifying that G-d is everywhere.
The Intermediate Days of Sukkos
The third through the sixth days of Sukkos are called Chol Hamoed - the intermediate days. We do not recite Kiddush or light candles (unless one of these days falls on a Shabbos). However, only very necessary work should be done on the weekdays of Chol Hamoed. In Israel the second day of Sukkos is also called Chol Hamoed.
The seventh day of Sukkos is called Hoshana Rabba. This observances of this day are the same as those of Chol Hamoed, however, on this day we have a some extra observances. It is customary to stay awake the night before Hoshana Rabba and recite the Book of Deutronomy and the Book of Psalms. In the morning, we circle the bimah (platform) seven times, the Four Species in hand. Then we recite special prayers, called Hoshana, with the Four Species still in hand. In an ancient rite of profound mystical significance, we beat on the floor five willow branches which are bound together, symbolically "sweetening" G-d's judgement.
Shemini Atzeres / Simchas Torah
Immediately following the Festival of Sukkos we have the festivals of Shemini Atzeres and Simchas Torah. In Israel both these festivals fall on the one day, but everywhere else these festivals are celebrated on different days with Shemini Atzeres being the first day and Simchas Torah being the second day. Simchas Torah is the culmination of a month filled with uplifting experiences, enriching every aspect of our spiritual, intellectual, and emotional lives. We have stood in awe before the King of the universe and accepted his sovereignty over us. We have been forgiven and cleansed by His mercy, and we have experienced the joy of uniting with G-dliness through His beautiful commandments. Now, we rejoice with His Torah. It is said that the Torah itself rejoices when we take the sacred scrolls in our arms and dance together, the accomplished scholar and novice alike. During the dancing, the scroll remains in its cover, for this is not a time for study. The joy of Simchas Torah is far greater than any delight we may derive from intellectual understanding. Here again, we emphasize that sublime level of the Jewish soul where we are all one.
Observances of Shemini Atzeres / Simchas Torah
On Shemini Atzeres some people are still accustomed to eat in the Sukkah (however, they do not recite the blessing "leishev basukkah"), but on Simchas Torah we all resume eating indoors.
The Yizkor memorial prayers are recited on Shemini Atzeres day.
On the evening of Simchas Torah (and in some communities, on the evening of Shemini Atzeres as well), we make seven hakofos (circlings) around the bimah, singing and dancing with the Torah scrolls. On the morning of Simchas Torah the final portion of the Torah is read, completing the yearly cycle. Then we immediately start reading the beginning. Thus, we continue to delve into the infinite wisdom of G-d's Torah - the eternal force that has bound us together and sustained us for more than 3300 years.
It is customary that all males (even young boys under Bar-mitzvah) are called to the Torah on Simchas Torah.