Masechet Sukkah 20a-26b

hero image
21 Sep 2006

The Coming Week’s Daf Yomi by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim (original ideas) of Talmudic scholar Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, as published in the Hebrew version of the Steinsaltz Edition of the Talmud.

This month’s Steinsaltz Daf Yomi is sponsored by Dr. and Mrs. Alan Harris, the Lewy Family Foundation, and Marilyn and Edward Kaplan

Sukkah 20

The second perek of Masechet Sukkah focuses on defining the commandment that one must “sit” in the sukkah for seven days (Vayikra 23:42). The perek deals with such questions as – Is one obligated to sit in the sukkah during both day and night? Must one remain throughout the day, or only when performing specific activities? Are women and children obligated to sit in the sukkah, too? Are there circumstances in which an individual may be freed of this obligation?

Another type of question dealt with in this perek involves clarifying whether a person – for reasons of comfort, for example – can cover the sukkah or cover himself while sitting in the sukkah. The first Mishnah deals with this question when it teaches that a person cannot sleep under a bed in the sukkah, a ruling disputed by Rabbi Yehuda, who testifies that it was common practice to do so. Furthermore, Rabbi Yehuda argues, the Sages never objected to such behavior.

The Mishnah closes with Rabbi Shimon’s testimony about Rabban Gamliel’s slave, Tavi, who would sleep under the bed in the sukkah. According to Rabban Gamliel he did so specifically because he knew that non-Jewish slaves were not commanded in the mitzvah of sukkah, from which we can derive that someone obligated in the mitzvah would not be permitted to do so.

Tavi is a character who appears throughout the Gemara, identified as the slave belonging to Rabban Gamliel d’Yavneh. In all of these stories he is presented as someone who was well-known for his personal piety and learning. Not only Rabban Gamliel, but other sages sang his praises. Rabbi Elazar ben Azaria, for example, was known to say that based on Tavi’s Torah knowledge it would have been appropriate for Tavi to be reclining and for Rabbi Elazar to be serving him. Rabban Gamliel tried on several occasions to find a way to set him free, but was stymied in his efforts because of the prohibition to set Canaanite slaves free. Nevertheless, when Tavi passed away, Rabban Gamliel accepted consolation as if he was a family member, explaining that Tavi was different than other slaves – he was a good and honest man.

Sukkah 21

The second Mishnah in the perek discusses a case of someone who built his sukkah by resting it on bedposts – al karei ha-mitah.  The Tanna Kamma rules that the sukkah is fit for use; Rabbi Yehudah rules that if the sukkah cannot stand on its own it is disqualified.

Several explanations are given that attempt to clarify the case of building a sukkah al karei ha-mitah. Most commentaries appear to accept the definition offered by the TalmudYerushalmi that the bed is part of the sukkah – in effect, the floor of the sukkah. According to the Tosafot Ri”d, we are talking about a case where the bed is so large that it is the size of a kosher sukkah, and the s’khakh is being placed on the four poles that extend up from the head and foot of the bed. A similar explanation has the bed acting as support for the sukkah on one side.

The Ra’avad disagrees, and offers an alternative understanding of the case in the Mishnah. He argues that the bed is not part of the structure of the sukkah at all; it is merely near the supports for the sechach which are leaning against it. The concern is that if the bed falls down or is removed, without the support offered by the bed the entire sukkah may collapse. The Ramban offers another approach, suggesting that we are talking about a case where the legs of the bed are ten tefachim (handbreadths) high (i.e. the minimum height of a kosher sukkah), and that the bed is turned over so that its legs are used to hold the sechach. The concern in this case is that the bed might be removed by someone who wants to use it for its actual purpose.

As far as Rabbi Yehuda’s position is concerned – that if the sukkah cannot stand on its own it is disqualified – the Rosh sees this comment as a clarification, rather than a disagreement with the position of the Tanna Kamma. Other commentaries disagree, and according to them it is not clear whether halakha follows the opinion of the Tanna Kamma or that of Rabbi Yehuda.

Sukkah 22

Our daf opens with a new Mishnah, which teaches one of the most basic rules of a sukkah – that its shade must be greater than the sunlight in the sukkah. In that context we are taught that a sukkah meduvlelet is kosher.

What is a sukkah meduvlelet?

According to Rav it is a “poor” sukkahaniyah – i.e. one whose s’khakh is not very thick.

According to Shmuel it is a “confused” sukkahmebulbelet – i.e. one with some pieces of s’khakh pointing upward and others downwards.

Several of the commentaries feel a need to explain Rav’s position. If the sechach is not very thick, but there is more shadow than sunlight, then the sukkah is kosher. Why does a separate clause need to be added to the Mishnah to teach this obvious law?

In explaining the case as presented by Shmuel, most commentaries follow Rashi‘s lead that because of the height differential of the different pieces of s’khakh in the “confused” sukkah there is actually more sunlight than shadow (the angle of the sun finds the openings in the s’khakh and makes its way into the sukkah). This, in fact, is the explanation presented by the Jerusalem Talmud.

Some commentaries (the Me’iri, for example) suggest that even according to Shmuel it is essential that there be more shadow than sun in the sukkah, and what is unique about Shmuel’s teaching is that we do not perceive this case as a sukkah with two sets of s’khakh, a situation that would present halakhic problems regarding the kashrut of such a sukkah.

Sukkah 23

The Mishnah (22b) teaches that a sukkah can be built on the back of a camel, although such a sukkah cannot be used on Shabbat or Yom Tov (it can be used on the intermediate days of the holiday) due to Rabbinic restrictions on the use of animals on those days.

The Gemara on our daf identifies this opinion as being authored by Rabbi Meir, who rules that a sukkah can be built on an animal. Nevertheless, Rabbi Meir rules that an animal cannot be used as one of the walls of a sukkah. The Amoraim disagree as to the source of this prohibition – Abayye claims that it stems from a fear that the animal will die, and in falling over it will no longer be of the proper height needed for a sukkah wall (the Gemara will later discuss whether this concern exists if the animal is an elephant, which has considerable height even when lying on its side); Rabbi Zeira argues that the concern is that the animal may run away, leaving the sukkah without a wall.

These concerns are what make Rabbi Meir wary about using a living animal for a number of other uses, as well. Aside from the case of a sukkah wall, Rabbi Meir also restricts the use of a live animal –

The commentaries disagree about how to define a gollel. Rashi explains that it is the cover to a casket. Tosafot point out that it is difficult to imagine a live animal being used for that purpose. They suggest that it is a rounded stone that was used to close up a burial cave (several such stones have been found near ancient burial caves in Israel). During the times of the Mishnah, common burial practice was to place the dead body in a temporary grave where it would decompose. At a later date, the bones would be removed and transferred to a family burial cave. The round shape of the gollel stone allowed it to be rolled, closing the cave, yet easily opened when necessary.

Sukkah 24

As we learned on yesterday’s daf, Rabbi Meir forbids the use of a live animal as one of the walls of a sukkah, while Rabbi Yehuda permits it. Abayye explained Rabbi Meir’s position as reflecting a concern lest the animal die, resulting in a wall that is no longer high enough for the minimum necessary for a kosher sukkah.

The Gemara perceives Abayye’s explanation as representing a larger issue. When we face a given situation, do we anticipate that it will remain static or do we need to be concerned that it may change? Take, for example, the case of a married couple, when the husband is a kohen and the wife – who is not from a family of kohanim – eats teruma (tithes) thanks to her status as the wife of a kohen. If the husband sets out on an overseas journey, can she continue to eat terumah, or does she need to be concerned that he has died on his journey and she no longer has the right to do so?

The Gemara (23b) finds two tanna’itic statements regarding this very question, which seem to contradict one another. Abayye argues that this is exactly the argument between Rabbi Meir and Rabbi Yehudah. According to the former, she cannot eat teruma when her husband is traveling; according to the latter, she can assume he is still alive and can continue eating terumah based on their relationship.

Yet the Gemara on our daf points to a Mishnah where Rabbi Yehuda does seem to be concerned that the status quo will change. On Yom Kippur, it is essential that the Kohen Gadol be married. This is derived from the passage (Vayikra 16:6) that teaches how the Kohen Gadol entering the Holy of Holies as part of the Yom Kippur service must seek atonement “for himself and for his household.”  The term “his household” is understood by the Gemara to mean his wife. Thus, the Kohen Gadol must be married. According to the Mishnah in Yoma (2a) Rabbi Yehudah requires the Kohen Gadol to marry a second wife (which is Biblically permitted. Contemporary Jewish tradition that forbids bigamy is a relatively late institution) just in case his first wife dies – which seems to indicate that Rabbi Yehudah agrees that we cannot assume that the status quo will remain intact.

In answer to this question, the Gemara quotes Rav Huna the son of Rabbi Yehoshua who explains that this is a unique case because of the heightened concern that we have for the process of atonement that takes place on Yom Kippur.

Sukkah 25

The Mishnah on today’s daf teaches about situations where people can forgo the mitzvah of sukkah. According to the Mishnah, sheluhei mitzvah – people occupied with performance of a mitzvah – are not obligated in the commandment of sukkah. Also included on this list are people who are ill, together with their caretakers. Finally, the Mishnah teaches that only a formal meal needs to be eaten in the sukkah; a snack can be eaten outside of the sukkah.

The idea that ha-osek be-mitzvah patur min ha-mitzvah – that someone engaged in a mitzvah is free from his obligations in other commandments – is derived from a passage in keri’at shema. We read in Shema that we are obligated to discuss the words of shema – be-shivtikha be-veitekha u-velekhtekha va-derekh – when you are sitting in your home and when you are walking on your way. The emphasis on “your home” and “your way” teaches that when you are occupied in matters that are not your own choice, that is to say, matters that you are obligated to be involved with – i.e. mitzvot – then you are not obligated in shema, nor, for that matter, are you obligated in other mitzvot.

One point that is not clear, and is the subject of debate among the poskim, is whether we apply the rule of ha-osek be-mitzvah patur min ha-mitzvah only in a case where performing the additional mitzvah will adversely affect fulfillment of the first mitzvah (for example, if spending time looking for a sukkah will limit the amount of time the travelers will be able to devote to their travel, making fulfillment of the mitzvah take a longer time). Others argue that involvement in a mitzvah simply creates a situation whereby a new obligation cannot be imposed on the person who is already occupied with a mitzvah. According to this view, even if the second mitzvah can be done with no additional strain or effort, the person is still not obligated to do it.

Sukkah 26

As we learned, the last Mishnah (25a) permitted eating a non-formal meal outside the sukkah. The Mishnah on our daf records that when asked to taste the food that was being cooked on Sukkot, Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai insisted that it be brought into the sukkah, as did Rabban Gamliel when he was brought two kotavot with water. In contrast to these Sages, the Mishnah also tells of Rabbi Tzadok who would eat less than a ka-beitzah of food by wrapping it in a napkin and eating it outside the sukkah without an after-blessing.

The Gemara objects that it seems odd to find that the Mishnah would bring stories of Sages who insisted on eating even small amounts of food in the sukkah immediately after presenting the rule that such foods can be eaten outside of the sukkah. The Gemara responds that the Mishnah is teaching that such behavior is an accepted stringency, and that such behavior is not considered yuhara – haughtiness.

Rabbi Aryeh Leib Yellin in his Yefei Einayim explains that there is no yuhara in this case because it is not evident to people why he is not eating a small amount outside – perhaps he is simply not hungry! In any case, there are people who even during the year will eat and drink only in their own homes, so there is no clear indication that they have accepted this stringency upon them.

The Me’iri suggests that the reason these stories were placed together in the Mishnah was to emphasize that stringency may be lauded, but leniency is also acceptable, as long as it is within the framework of what halakha accepts, since we see that among the Sages of the Mishnah both positions were considered normative.

Rabbi Tzadok’s behavior is subject to a difference of opinion between Rashi who says that he took the food in a napkin because of his fastidiousness, while Tosafot explain that his religious devotion was such that he treated all food as though it were teruma, so he refrained from touching food lest it become ritually defiled. In any case, it is clear that the baraita tells Rabbi Zadok’s story in order to emphasize that just as there were Sages who were stringent upon themselves, there were also those who made a point of emphasizing that it was appropriate to stick to the letter of the law without stringencies. In this story, Rabbi Tzadok was lenient with regard to sukkah, ritual hand washing and the blessing after food.

In addition to his monumental translation and commentary on the Talmud, Rabbi Steinsaltz has authored dozens of books and hundreds of articles on a variety of topics, both Jewish and secular. For more information about Rabbi Steinsaltz’s groundbreaking work in Jewish education, visit or contact the Aleph Society at 212-840-1166.

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.