Some things just keep getting bigger, like television sets, stadiums and egos. Other things keep getting smaller, like computers, smartphones and the ozone layer. But without a doubt, one thing that has been growing exponentially over the last 30 years is the size of the average Succah.
The Talmud (Beit Shammai) states that, at a minimum, a Succah must be large enough to contain a person’s head, most of his body and a table. (see Talmud, Succah 2:7) Similarly, there are other settings in life that also have to be big enough to fit one’s head, body and a table, including a ping pong competition, poker tournament and an MRI.
Technically, there are halachic height limitations for a Succah. The s’chach (roof made from vegetation) must not be higher than twenty amot (approximately 32 feet), which means you can easily host a rugby team for Succot but you cannot fit a rugby goal-post inside your Succah.
Halachically, there are no limits to a Succah’s width or depth. That said, your Succah is probably too big if:
* it has its own listing on Zoopla;
* you need a compass and a team of sherpas to help you get to your seat;
* your Succah is located in two different time zones or you need a passport to get from one side to the other;
* you need binoculars and a bullhorn to communicate with those across the room;
* your Succah is EasyJet’s newest hub;
* your Succah makes the Grand Canyon look like a hole on a golf course;
* like the Great Wall of China, your Succah can be seen from outer space;
* in the next election, your Succah becomes a new constituency;
* your Succah has its own currency and dialect;
* Amazon leases your Succah as a distribution centre;
* your Succah is a candidate to host the 2026 Winter Olympics; or
* the government has labelled your Succah “too big to fail.”
Halachically, a Succah is required to have only three walls, which sounds a bit “off the wall.” That reminds me of a Jew named Harvey who, while building his Succah, passed out from exhaustion and knocked half of it down. It was said that he “hit the wall.” His guests were uneasy about dining in his Succah, which they derided as a “real hole in the wall.” They even covered his Succah in negative graffiti, which did not surprise Harvey because, in his view, “the writing was on the wall.” He profusely apologised and, as a result, a delicious dessert cake was named in his honour: Harvey Wallbanger.
While a Succah may not be over 20 amot high, it must be at least three foot tall, which seems like a “low threshold.” That reminds me of the aspiring Succah builder who unfortunately had very limited potential. When he built his first Succah, his head went right through the roof, prompting his doubters to declare that he had already “hit his ceiling.”
There are a number of other rules and guidelines governing a Succah. For example, a Succah should be built on a safe foundation. It therefore should not be built on quick sand or a trampoline.
A Succah must be situated so that its roof is without obstruction and is open to the sky above. Thus, a Succah should not be built in a basement or on a submarine. A Succah also should not be built under the branches of a tree or under the branches of a bank.
Believe it or not, a Succah may be built on a car, train or boat. It, however, should not be built on a log flume, a jet ski or Disney World’s Space Mountain.
The walls of a Succah can be constructed from any material as long as it can withstand normal wind. Thus, your Succah is constructed of the wrong material if it can be knocked down by a strong sneeze, a dog whistle or the blowing out of birthday candles.
The mitzvah of building a Succah can be fulfilled with one that is borrowed but not with one that is stolen. The same is true of other mitzvot, e.g., you should not steal wine to make kiddush, you should not steal candles to light a Menorah and you should not steal your neighbour to make a minyan.
It is a mitzvah to decorate and beautify the Succah but you have gone too far if you hired an interior decorator, took out a home equity loan or charged an entry fee.
Finally, if a Succah cannot be built on private property then, with permission from local officials, it can be built on a public street. If you do so, however, be sure to either check the parade schedule or purchase Succah insurance that does not have a marching band or large float exclusion.
Bottom-line: What did the quarterback say when he was about to raise the walls of his Succah? “Hut . . . hut . . . hike!”