Masechet Sukkah 6a-12b

hero image
05 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 6

A minimum of three walls is needed to create a sukkah. Nevertheless we have learned that only two of those walls need to be complete – the third wall can be just a tefach (handbreadth) wide and from a legal perspective it will be viewed as a complete wall.

Rava in our Gemara argues that on Sukkot such a wall will allow the creation of a reshut ha-yahid – a “private domain” for Shabbat purposes, permitting one to carry from a house to the sukkah. Even though on an ordinary Shabbat such a structure would not suffice to create a reshut ha-yahid, since the wall is considered sufficient to act as a wall of the sukkah, we recognize it as a significant wall for Shabbat, as well.

There are obvious parallels that exist between the laws of sukkah and the laws of Shabbat, since the need for defining partitions is an important part of each of these halakhot. It is clear, however, that the rules and regulations governing the definitions in each of these areas are not identical. One suggestion explaining the differences between these laws is based on an examination of the purposes served by the walls in each case. When dealing with hilkhot Shabbat the purpose of the walls is to separate – to create a partition between one area and another. On Sukkot, however, the point of the walls is to create a structure that will be sufficient to serve as a sukkah in which a person will live for the duration of the holiday.

These differences will sometimes lead to stringencies in defining the terms in one case, but to leniencies in another. In our case, where the two definitions coincide, Rava teaches that defining a wall as having legal standing in one case will extend to the other, as well, even if it would not ordinarily be sufficient in that case.

Sukkah 7

Rava’s teaching (see Sukkah 6a), which allows for walls that are considered significant with regard to sukkah to be perceived as sufficient for creating a reshut ha-yachid – a private domain – on the Shabbat of Sukkot, is applied by him to a number of inverse cases, as well. He teaches that in both the case of mavoy she-yesh lo lechi (a courtyard with a beam across the entrance) and the case of pasei bira’ot (an area surrounding a well that is partially closed off by four right-angled walls in each corner), partitions that are sufficient to create a reshut ha-yachid for Shabbat can be used as walls of a sukkah, even though they do not meet the normal criteria of sukkah walls.

The case of pasei bira’ot is a method of fencing off the area of the well or water-hole with four right-angled walls in response to the needs of olei regalim – pilgrims headed to Jerusalem for the holidays of Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot. In this case, the walls are so poorly designated that it was only the desire to assist people involved in this mitzvah that led the Sages to permit their use. Since the olei regalim invariably brought with them animals for sacrifices in the Temple, there was a desperate need to make water as readily accessible as possible. During the times of year that the masses are commanded to travel to the Temple in Jerusalem, the only available water is in cisterns that collected rain water or wells.

The Jerusalem Talmud brings a dispute among the Amoraim on the question of who is allowed to make use of these pasei bera’ot and carry within them on Shabbat. According to one opinion, such walls can only be used as an eruv by olei regalim. A second opinion argues that the ruling was made with the olei regalim in mind, but during the times of year when people are oleh regel, anyone – even those not coming to Jerusalem – can benefit from them. The third opinion agrees that the special leniency was approved by the Sages with the olei regalim in mind, but argues that once it was adopted, the ruling works for all, and anyone can use the water in these wells.

Sukkah 8

Our Gemara offers two lists of huts that are not built specifically for Sukkot, but can be used as a sukkah if they have been properly covered.

The first list contains huts referred to by the acronym – “Ganbakh“:

The second list includes huts called – Rakbash:

The Gemara explains that each list has its advantages and disadvantages as far as being considered appropriate for use as a sukkah. The huts in the first list are fairly permanent while the second list is seasonal; the huts in the second list are used by people who are obligated in the commandment of sukkah, while the people in the first list are not.

Rav Chisda explains that “properly covered” in this case does not mean that it needed to have been done with the intent that it would be used as a sukkah – as the Gemara makes it clear that it is not necessary for a sukkah to be built specifically for the mitzvah – rather it must clearly be built “for shade.” Several definitions are offered to explain Rav Chisda’s intent that the hut needs to be built “for shade.” Rashi suggests that it must be well-covered with branches so that it is clear that it was built for shade, and not for some other purpose, like privacy. Rabbeinu Tam explains that if the thatch is too thick – to the extent that it appears to be a wall or roof – it cannot be considered a sukkah for shade. According to the Ran it is a question of intention. The hut must have been built as a place that would be used for shade, not as a storage area or a permanent structure where people will live.

Sukkah 9

Once a sukkah has been built, it is set aside for the holiday and should not be used for other purposes.

This is the conclusion of Rav Sheshet in the name of Rabbi Akiva, who points to the passage Hag ha-Sukkot shivat yamim la-Shem – the holiday of Sukkot is seven days for God (Vayikra 23:34) – and its interpretation as given by Rabbi Yehuda ben Beteira. He compares the word chag to the sukkah, teaching that just like the chagigah sacrifice belongs to God, so the sukkah belongs to God.

There are a variety of opinions about how to define the prohibition in this case. Tosafot suggest that the pasuk actually confers a level of holiness on the structure of the sukkah, so it is forbidden to use, just as kodashim – things belonging to the Temple – cannot be used. Others compare it to the standard rules of muktzah that we are familiar with from the laws of Shabbat. The wood used for the sukkah has been set aside for a specific mitzvah purpose, so it cannot be used for other purposes.

Connected to this discussion is whether the prohibition applies to all parts of the sukkah or only to the main parts of it – that is to say, the minimum needed for the sukkah to be kosher (this is a disagreement between the R”i and Rabbeinu Tam quoted in Tosafot) – and whether it only applies when the sukkah is standing or even if it falls down over the course of the holiday (see the discussion in the Me’iri and the Rosh).

Finally, some distinguish between different component parts of the sukkah. The sechach may be seen as an issue of kodashim, the walls as a question of muktzah, while use of the decorations might be perceived as making a mockery of a mitzvah.

As far as the halakha is concerned, according to the Shulchan Arukh (Orach Chaim 638:1) it is forbidden to take even a chip from the sukkah to use as a toothpick.

Sukkah 10

The Mishnah on our daf teaches about the case of a person who places a sheet above the sechach in order to protect it from the sun or underneath it to keep it from falling onto the people below. In both of those cases the sukkah would become unusable.

How about a poster bed that has a sheet hanging above the sleeping person?

In such a case, the Mishnah teaches that the halakha will differ depending on how the bed is set up. In the case of kinof the sheet would be a problem, but in the case of naklitim the sukkah would remain kosher and the bed can be slept in.

The case of kinof is where there is a full four-poster bed, where the sheet that is spread across the top creates the effect of a full roof, like that of an ordinary house.

The case of naklitim is when there are just two posts that rise from the bed in the middle of the head and the foot of the bed. This creates the effect of a tent over the bed.

According to the Jerusalem Talmud, the case of naklitim is not a problem because it is similar to a person who is sleeping under a blanket who occasionally will lift the blanket over his head. Just as a blanket used for sleeping does not negate the fact that this person is sleeping in a sukkah, similarly a tent-like structure does not do so.

The Ran explains that there are three levels of bed coverings discussed in the Gemara.

A kilah, which is a canopy over the bed that is not permanent and is not part of the structure of the bed at all, does not present any problems for someone sleeping in a sukkah.

With Naklitim, although the two posts are permanent parts of the bed, the sloped tent that they create is not considered a significant covering to negate the fact that the individual is sleeping in a sukkah.

Only the case of kinofot, which are both permanent and create the effect of a full roof, will establish a covering that is significant enough to make it seem as though the person sleeping in such a bed is not considered to be in his sukkah.

Sukkah 11

The Mishnah on our daf  teaches the basic rule about sechach. The “roof” of the sukkah must be made from something that grows from the ground and is in its original form – i.e. is has not been made into a serviceable item (a keli) which is subject to ritual defilement. Nevertheless, the s’khakh must be detached from the ground. If a person were to cover his sukkah with a growing grapevine, gourd or kisos, the sukkah could not be used, unless there was more kosher s’khakh than growing vines, or if the vines are cut.

Rabbeinu Yehonatan explains that these particular plants are mentioned because they are climbing plants that offers a lot of shade, which makes them ideal, in theory, to put on top of a sukkah.

The kisos mentioned in the Mishnah is a climbing plant from the family of Araliaceae. In Israel the most common form of the plant is the Hedera helix, a green ivy whose leaves are similar to grape leaves. The ivy climbs on walls, fences and trees with the assistance of grasping roots that grow from its leaves.

Rashi points out that the general principle limiting sechach to things that grow from the ground is not as clear as would initially appear. There are areas of halakha, for example, that consider living animals as “growing from the ground”, since their sustenance comes from eating plants.

In fact, the continuation of our Gemara presents Rav Dimi in the name of Rabbi Yochanan who suggests that the pasuk chag ha-sukkot ta’aseh lekha (Devarim 16:13) can be understood as teaching that the sukkah must be like the sacrifice of the chagigah. Just as the chagigah is not subject to ritual defilement and grows from the ground, so the sukkah must not be subject to ritual defilement and must come from the ground.  The Gemara on the next daf points out that this would seem to include animals as being appropriate to use as sechach, but Rabin quotes Rabbi Yochanan as pointing to that same passage (Devarim 16:13), which defines the holiday of Sukkot as taking place during the harvest season, which is understood to connect the sukkah and the schach to crops or plants.

Sukkah 12

The Gemara on our daf discusses a variety of plants, some of which cannot be used as sechach once they have begun to be processed. Flax, for example, is fine for sechach as long as it has not begun the process turning it into linen. Once that process has begun it is no longer raw material and becomes unfit for use on the sukkah.

Flax – Linum usitatissimum. It is an erect annual plant growing between 30 and 100 cm tall, with slender stems. The flowers are pure pale blue, 1.5-2.5 cm diameter, with five petals. The fruit is a round, dry capsule from which oils are derived. Flax is one of the oldest cultivated crops on record; its growth is mentioned in ancient Egypt. Today it is cultivated mainly in tropical areas. The main product of flax is the fibers from which linen is made. Flax fiber is extracted from the bast or skin of the stem of flax plant. Flax fiber is soft, lustrous and flexible. It is stronger than cotton fiber but less elastic. It is removed via a lengthy process whereby the plant is dried out and then soaked until almost rotten. At that point they are once again dried out and the fibers combed out.

While all agree that shushi can be used on the sukkah, there is a disagreement between Rav Yehuda and Abayye regarding shvatzri, as Abayye is concerned that the strong smell will drive people from the sukkah.

Shushi is, apparently, from the glycyrrhiza family, whose sweet roots are the source of licorice today. These are short, annual plants with leaves and bluish flowers. This plant grows in Israel and Babylonia in wet areas and is used both in medicines and confectionaries.

Shvatzri has been identified as artemisia – wormwood – which are shrubs that have small, hair-like leaves that are a whitish-grey color. The wormwood has a bitter taste and a strong smell. It is used in medicines, as well as being an ingredient in certain types of wine. It can be easily understood how the smell of this plant could cause discomfort to people sitting in a sukkah that has it as sechach.

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.