Why Do So Many People Not Sleep In A Sukkah?

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by R. Gil Student

Maseches Sukkah holds a special place in my heart as it is the first tractate I completed. It is clear from this masechta (e.g. Sukkah 20b and 26a) that men are commanded to sleep in a sukkah during the yom tov of Sukkos. And yet, so many frum Jews today do not. How are we to understand this disconnect between the texts we study and the contemporary practice of so many pious Jews?

To answer this question, we first have to remember that Jewish law emerges not only from primary texts but also from communal practice. In this regard, it’s important to note that Ashkenazic society for over 700 years has considered sleeping in the sukkah to be a chumrah, not a requirement.

Reasons to Exempt

The Mordechai (13th century, Germany; Sukkah, ch. 2 no. 741) writes that most people in his time (at least in Germany) did not sleep in a sukkah, which he justifies based on the weather being cold (which halachically exempts a person from this requirement).

Approximately three centuries later, the Rema (16th century, Poland; Shulchan AruchOrach Chaim 639:2) quotes the position of the Mordechai as normative but rejects his justification. He suggests that the popular practice is based on the difficulty of a man sleeping together with his wife in a sukkah. He encourages men, however, to be strict and find a way around this problem while maintaining privacy.

Continued at The Jewish Press: link

About Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of TorahMusings.com, a leading website on Orthodox Jewish scholarly subjects, and the Book Editor of the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Action magazine. He writes a popular column on issues of Jewish law and thought featured in newspapers and magazines, including The Jewish Link of New Jersey, The Jewish Echo and The Vues. In the past, he has served as the President of the small Jewish publisher Yashar Books and as the Managing Editor of OU Press. Rabbi Student serves on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America and as Director of the Halacha Commission of the Rabbinical Alliance of America. He also serves on the Editorial Board of Jewish Action magazine and the Board of OU Press. He has published five English books, the most recent titled Search Engine volume 2: Finding Meaning in Jewish Texts -- Jewish Leadership, and served as the American editor for Morasha Kehillat Yaakov: Essays in Honour of Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.

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