Editor’s note: In 2010, an architectural competition in New York City called on entrants to “re-imagine” the sukkah.
The competition’s rules required all sukkah designs to conform to basic halacha, but many of the 600 people who entered the contest were not Jewish (let alone Orthodox), so their creations often were either pasul or at least halachically questionable.
In honor of Sukkos, The Jewish Press decided to feature pictures of six of the winning designs – 12 in total were selected and featured at Manhattan’s Union Square Park – with halachic commentary by Rabbi Avrohom Gordimer, a prolific author, senior rabbinic fellow at the Coalition for Jewish Values, and rabbinic coordinator at OU Kosher.
Fractured Bubble: The gap between the two sections of this sukkah is too large – i.e., more than three tefachim – for it to be considered a single sukkah. But each section is adequately surrounded by walls, rendering them both independent sukkahs, which are kosher assuming s’chach covers the majority of each one from above.
Single Thread: It’s not clear if the s’chach is covering the majority of the sukkah; if the s’chach is natural foliage; or if the walls are sturdy enough not to sway in a regular wind. All three are necessary for the sukkah to be valid.
The fact that the walls and s’chach of this sukkah are basically one continuous material is not a problem per se. But since they are continuous, the walls in all likelihood were not built before the s’chach was placed on top as required (Rema, Orach Chayim 635:1). The Bach and a few other authorities maintain that a backwards-built sukkah (s’chach first, walls second) is valid, but many others (such as the Levush and Taz) disagree, and common practice is to disallow such a sukkah.
Sukkah Gathering: This sukkah might be kosher, but it’s far from ideal. According to Chazal, wooden beams that are four tefachim wide may not be used for s’chach. The bars of this sukkah are not that wide, but Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 629:18) states that even narrower beams are customarily not used and some Rishonim rule that a sukkah with such beams is not kosher.
(This rule is based on a Talmudic enactment against using beams for s’chach that are commonly employed for roofing lest a person remain at home on Sukkos under the impression that his home – with its wooden-beam roof – qualifies as a sukkah.)
Furthermore, metal rods connect the wooden bars of this structure, and some halachic authorities rule that metal – or any other invalid s’chach material – cannot be used to support s’chach (see Shulchan Aruch, ibid. 629:7 with Mishnah Berurah).
Timeless: This sukkah is not kosher as its s’chach covers far less than the majority of its roof area as required by halacha. Furthermore, it has large gaps at all four corners. While a sukkah’s walls need not touch one another, the gaps between them cannot be more than three tefachim if they aren’t perpendicular – as is the case here (Rema, Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 630:5, with Mishnah Berurah).
Star Cocoon: This fascinating little edifice is not kosher. The hole on top is not problematic (although a person shouldn’t eat under any hole in a kosher sukkah that he can fit his head [or body?] through [Rema, Shulchan Aruch 632:2]). The sukkah, though, is not kosher because:
1) It lacks three walls. Even though the third wall of a sukkah need only be one tefach long, it must be situated away from one of the walls (at a distance of slightly less than three tefachim) with a tzuras ha’pesach (shape of a door frame) connected to its other end, thus extending its length to a minimum of seven tefachim. This little sukkah lacks such a construct.
2) The walls of the sukkah very likely were not in place before the s’chach was formed as the sukkah is basically a single weave entity. (See our comments on “Single Thread.”)
Log: This sukkah is not kosher as is lacks three perpendicular walls, and the four walls it does have are divided in the middle by a gap of more than three tefachim.
Furthermore, it is preferable – even required according to some halachic authorities – for rain to be able to get through s’chach, which is obviously impossible when the s’chach is a massive solid log. Although primary halachic sources do not directly address using a single enormous log as s’chach, the rule that (wide) wooden beams commonly used for roofing cannot be used would arguably apply here.