As a child, I remember hearing a story about a rabbi who had to build a sukkah.
While it doesn’t take a great deal of wood to build a little sukkah, it does require some wood, time, and effort. After rummaging through all the leftover wood he could find and putting in hours of work, the rabbi finally put his little sukkah together – one piece of wood here and one piece there. Every halachic loophole was used to make it a kosher sukkah. The gaps between each board were not bigger then three hand-breadths, some boards did not extend all the way up to the schach, and so on. But when all was said and done, the rabbi had a kosher sukkah. He brought in a table and chairs, put his silver kiddush cup on the table along with his wife’s silver candlesticks, and put a lock on the door and went to sleep. The next morning, when he unlocked the sukkah, he was shocked to see that someone had stolen the kiddush cup and candlesticks. “How can this be?” he wondered. The halacha dictates that a sukkah is considered to have a solid wall if the spaces are no bigger than three hand-breadths. So how did the thief get in? The rabbi concluded that obviously the thief did not know the laws of building a sukkah!
Today it is rare to find a sukkah made from wooden planks, with gaping spaces between them. A drive through any Jewish neighborhood will showcase very interesting and creative sukkahs, but the most ingenious sukkah design is the instant, portable, pop-up sukkah.
How did the idea for a pop-up sukkah come about? What were the halachic challenges? And how does it work?
First the sukkah needs to be sized just right – portable but halachically correct. The minimum size for a sukkah is seven tefachim (hand-breadths) wide by seven tefachim deep and ten tefachim high (26.46” wide x 26.46” deep x 37.8” high). Though this sukkah would be a truly portable sukkah that could literally be taken anywhere, it could not be smaller than 7x7x10. Therefore, the pop-up sukkah was made to be 42 inches square and over 6 feet tall, to avoid any halachic questions on its size.
A sukkah must be able to withstand a normal windy situation. If a sukkah were to blow over from a regular wind it would render the sukkah not kosher. The pop-up sukkah is made out of a thin, waterproof, tent-like material and weighs only seven pounds. To combat the halachic problem of its weight and stability, two long velcro straps were sewn into the sukkah. When one sets up the sukkah, one must tie the straps to something solid, like a car handle or a parking meter. Tying the sukkah to a tree could cause other problems, like having the tree branches hovering above the sukkah, which would render the sukkah unfit because a sukkah must be directly under the sky.
In addition to the requirement of withstanding a normal wind, the sukkah cannot move or sway. Walls that wave to and fro pose questions regarding the structural integrity of the sukkah. To solve this problem, tension rods that snap together cause the material to stretch tightly from corner to corner and special cross-ties were installed to make the sukkah structure stiff.
The Shulchan Oruch states that, optimally, the schach of a sukkah should not rest upon something that is susceptible to tumah (ritual impurity), i.e. metal or any utensil used to hold liquid. Therefore, two plain bamboo sticks are included to hold the schach.
For more information regarding the way the OK gives a hechsher for the production of bamboo mats for the schach, see Rabbi Levy’s article on page 10.
With its zippered door and windows, the pop-up sukkah offers no compromise in kashrus, privacy, and portability. It is noteworthy to mention that although the pop-up sukkah is a kosher sukkah, one cannot always recite the brocha of “leishev b’sukkah” in it. Making the brocha depends on where one has set up the sukkah. If the sukkah is on private property and you have permission to erect it there, one can make the brocha. However, if the sukkah is built on public property it is halachically questionable if the brocha can be made. This rule does not only apply to the pop-up sukkah, but to any type of sukkah erected on public property.
How did you come up with the idea for a Pop-Up Sukkah?
In 1992, I was flying back to London after Pesach. Looking through the Skymall magazine, I noticed a pop-up tent. Immediately I thought, “If I could create a pop-up sukkah that could be set up in seconds, how many more people would keep the mitzvah of sukkah!” After many prototypes, I finally got what I thought was the perfect product. I took the sukkah to the OK and thought they would say, “It’s perfect!” Boy was I wrong. It had many halachic issues. I met with Rabbi Chaim Fogelman and other rabbis from the OK and over the next year spent hours on the roof top of the OK, each visit with a new prototype from the factory, until finally I heard the words I was waiting for: “Mazal tov, the sukkah is now kosher.” To date we have sold close to 10,000 sukkahs worldwide and I know all the effort paid off when I hear the stories about where the pop-up sukkah has been used: at hospitals, atop skyscrapers, in the Iraq war, and many other unimaginable places. Although there are some other “portable sukkahs” the pop-up sukkah is the fastest to set up and one of the few with a hechsher.
OK Kosher, I couldn’t have done it without you.