Teishvu Ke-Ein Taduru – Fashioning a Sukka like a Residence

  • Rav Moshe Taragin


This shiur is dedicated to the refua sheleima of our alumnus

 Rabbi Daniel ben Miriam Chaya Rut Beller.


One of the interesting guidelines which governs the mitzva of sukka is the rule of teishvu ke-ein taduru – the sukka experience should resemble normal home residence. Although the architectural structure of the sukka must be DIFFERENT from that of a house and is temporary than a house, the actual EXPERIENCE must resemble residential living. This shiur will examine the parameters of this clause.

The gemara in Sukka (28b) describes the desirability of furbishing the sukka with the finest furniture and tableware to achieve a home-like and regal ambience. The gemara cites the verse “be-sukkot teishvu” and interprets it as a mandate of teishvu ke-ein taduru, to simulate a residential environment. This gemara presents teishvu ke-ein taduru as an embellishment; ideally the sukka should be enhanced to recreate a comfortable residential experience. It makes no mention a DISQUALIFICATION of a sukka that meets the halakhic architectural standards but does not provide this level of comfort.

Many Rishonim suggest that teishvu ke-ein taduru is the basis of a halakha known as mitzta’er. Several gemarot discuss the exemption for someone who “suffers” by sitting in the sukka and exposing himself to the outdoor elements, including cold, heat, wind, smell, and insects. The Ritva (28b) and many other Rishonim trace this exemption to the teishvu ke-ein taduru requirement. The discomfort experienced renders the sukka substandard and inferior to residential experience.

This is clearly an expansion of the gemara’s original application of teishvu ke-ein taduru, as it doesn’t simply present the principle as an IDEAL enhancement. of the Sukka environment. Instead, these Rishonim assume that the principle establishes a minimum baseline of comfort beneath which the sukka is disqualified and cannot facilitate the mitzva. However, the disqualification is still based upon a structural limitation of the sukka; its inability to sufficiently shield a person from the elements renders it inferior to a home. Even if the insufficiency is a result of the unique needs of an ill person, it still reflects a structural discrepancy between a home and sukka; the former is capable of shielding an ill person, while a sukka cannot.

A different application of mitz’taer may represent a new model of teishvu ke-ein taduru. The gemara in Sukka (25b) discusses the situation of a chatan who is exempt from Sukka. The Ra’avad (in his comments to the Rif) claims that a chatan is exempt because the mitzva of sukka would prevent him from experiencing simcha, which is best realized in a chupa and not a sukka. This is an interesting application of mitzta’er. The chatan has special needs of simcha that a sukka cannot accommodate, but in this case, the sukka’s lacking is not a flaw in its ability to shield from natural elements. A person simply cannot be in two places at once; he can’t be both in the sukka and a chupa at the same time. The chatan’s suffering at being deprived of an alternate experience incompatible with a sukka is acknowledged as suffering sufficient to exempt him from sukka.

If the Ra’avad associates this form of mitzt’aer with teishvu ke-ein taduru, a new model of this halakha emerges. Not only must the sukka’s ambience be home-like and its protective capacity as comprehensive as a home, but the sukka must also facilitate the personal “accredited” needs of the resident. Self-imposed needs may certainly be dismissed as not essential enough to disqualify the sukka. For example, the gemara does not excuse an avel from sukka because he is deprived of his full mourning in the public sukka. As the gemara explains, aveilut is personal and self-imposed; it cannot be factored in as a required service of the sukka. Similarly, an interesting Ohr Zarua addresses a position which wanted to exempt someone who was suffering from the lingering effects of bloodletting from the mitzva of Sukka. One of the Ohr Zarua’s objections is that this need is self-imposed; its absence in a sukka does not constitute a flaw in teishvu ke-ein taduru.

Based on this paradigm, the Magen Avraham (siman 639) justifies the minhag in many Jewish communities not to sleep in a sukka. Many authorities attempted to justify this practice based on cold weather or dangerous conditions. The Magen Avraham, in contrast, speaks about the “suffering” of one who must spend an evening in a sukka without his wife (due to space constraints or privacy issues). His suffering renders him mitzta’er, which in turn represents a lack of teishvu ke-ein taduru (although the Magen Avraham doesn’t mention teishvu as the source of this form of mitzta’er). Once again, the sukka is considered deficient not because it lacks protective capacity, but because it does not service all the legitimate needs of the resident.

Despite the novelty of these applications of, teishvu ke-ein taduru they all still represent a flaw in the sukka itself and its inability to provide full residential-like utilities and experiences. A gemara (26a) that discusses watchmen may extend the teishvu ke-ein taduru principle even more radically – beyond the definition of the sukka itself. The gemara excuses watchmen from the mitzva of sukka. Sentinels for the population typically served night and day shifts in rotation; hence, they are obligated to dwell in the sukka during their “off” shift. Orchard and field watchmen, in contrast, would attend to the field full time, and they are therefore entirely excused from the mitzva. The gemara questions this exemption, and Abaye states ambiguously that these watchmen cannot achieve teishvu ke-ein taduru levels of the mitzva.

Rashi and the Meiri attribute this deficiency to the watchman’s inability to furnish the sukka with residential furnishings. As such, his sukka does not fulfill the baseline obligation to create a sukka that provides protection, comfort, and utility. The Ritva disagrees and claims that since the watchman doesn’t live continuously in his home, he does not enjoy permanent residence and cannot replicate that in a sukka. Theoretically, he may build a “top of the line” sukka which provides full protection. However, since he has no permanent residential living space, his ACTION is flawed. This is a case of lack of teishvu ke-ein taduru not in the structure of the sukka, but in the ma’aseh mitzva of the person. Similarly, the Shibolei Haleket (347) cites several Geonic opinions which disqualified performing the mitzva in a Sukka built “in” a Beit Knesset. As no one typically resides in this area the Sukka – though built comfortably – cannot serve in parallel to a home.  Said otherwise, teishvu ke-ein taduru does not represent a definitional requirement of the sukka, but rather qualifies the type of ma’aseh yeshiva (living, or literally, sitting) which is necessary to fulfill the mitzva.

An interesting comment of Rashi may reinforce a more extreme paradigm of teishvu ke-ein taduru. The gemara (26a) excuses travelers from sukka performance. Presumably, people are allowed to travel on Sukkot. Since a sukka is not available during travel, the travelers are considered ones and are excused from the mitzva. Rashi, evidently, maintains that these travelers are not halakhically allowed to insert themselves into a compromising situation and claim that they are ones. Instead, Rashi justifies their ability to travel (and compromise their sukka abilities) based upon the principle of teishvu ke-ein taduru. People who live in residences are typically not trapped within those homes, but rather travel regularly. Inability to travel would ruin the parity between sukka and a home, and thus invalidate the sukka!

Once again, this flaw is not INTERNAL to the sukka, but rather based on the behavioral patterns of the resident. His inability to behave “as he would in a house” demands that he be allowed to travel. Once compelled to travel, he is excused from the mitzva, since he does not have access to a sukka. More over teishvu ke-ein taduru doesn’t just impose standards on the experience. It can also RELAX the requirements of the mitzva Just as year round residence doesn’t deny travel similarly Sukka experience must allow travel – even if it compromises the ability to enter a Sukka.

As we have seen, teishvu ke-ein taduru may merely provide a gauge for the quality of the sukka, or it may measure the execution of the actual mitzva. This question may underlie an interesting discussion in Arachin (3b) about a Kohen and the mitzva of sukka. The gemara raises the possibility that a Kohen is excused from the mitzva of sukka because his wife cannot accompany him to the sukka. Since he must be “on call” for Mikdash ceremonies, he cannot engage in marital activities. This limitation reflects an experience that is inferior to typical residential life and may therefore be a flaw in teishvu ke-ein taduru. This possibility clearly considers teishvu ke-ein taduru to be a general yardstick of the performance of the mitzva and not a gauge of the comfort level of the actual sukka. His inability to live with his wife is unrelated to the actual sukka.

The gemara ultimately concludes that a Kohen – despite this limitation – is indeed obligated to dwell in a sukka, but it is unclear why. Perhaps the gemara rejects the fundamental premise and rules that since this actual sukka approximates residential comfort, there is no exemption as a result of teishvu ke-ein taduru and the Kohen is obligated. Alternatively, the gemara may maintain the assumption that teishvu ke-ein taduru also gauges the overall experience of the mitzva. It may simply conclude that when the Kohen is not involved in a Mikdash ceremony, he may enjoy marital interaction and fulfill even the broader opportunities of teishvu ke-ein taduru. The gemara’s language is unclear and supports either perspective. Fundamentally though, teishvu ke-ein taduru may still demand the presence of typical residential family members. In fact, the Rema (Orach Chaim 639) famously ‘apologized’ for those who didn’t sleep in a Sukka by claiming that the inability of a wife to sleep in public areas compromised the ‘residential’ environment of a Sukka.

Relatedly the mishna (28a) records Shammai who retrofitted the nursery of his baby grandchild into a Sukka. Though the infant didn’t personally require a Sukka his presence in his parents’ Sukka was necessary for the quality of THEIR mitzva. The ‘residential’ environment necessary for the mitzva of the parents required the presence of their baby infant!