Friday, September 25, 2015

Room for Creativity

A few years back, The Atlantic Magazine featured a story about a project that came to be known as “Sukkah City” held in New York. Sukkah City challenged architects to create unique sukkot with only one guideline: halacha, Jewish law.

A basic sukkah is really quite simple: three walls and a bunch of branches overhead. (For a more detailed review of the laws, click here.) However, any of the Sukkah City architects who looked to the Talmud for design inspiration must have been quite surprised by the creative sukkot described therein. For instance, while a sukkah’s roof must be made of detached tree branches, can the sukkah itself be built in a tree? The discussion, which begins on page 22b of Talmud Tractate Sukkah, presents different rulings, depending on the nature of the walls.

Also on age 22b of Talmud Tractate Sukkah, the sages discuss a sukkah built on a wagon or on a ship - the issue being whether it can withstand a normal wind. It is easy to understand why they ask about a wagon or a ship, since these common means of transportation would have an obvious place to build a sukkah. But, the Talmud also discusses building a sukkah on the back of a camel. (And people were impressed at the innovation of the modern day pop-up sukkah, which works like a tent!)

Speaking of animals, the sages ruled that a securely-bound elephant would be valid as a sukkah wall. This was due to the elephant’s size, so this rule applies to no other animal. No one in this day and age would ever contemplate such strange building materials (indeed, most probably, no one ever used an actual elephant as a sukkah wall), but these passages demonstrate the flexibility and creativity that are inherent in Jewish tradition.


This Treat was last posted on September 17, 2013.

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