Tuesday, October 05, 2004

More on sukkah nightlife

Fortunately, my cold passed almost as quickly as it came; by Sunday morning I was rested and ready to enjoy the countryside. Only one more night left for sleeping in the sukkah. I'm gonna miss it.

Meanwhile, I notice Soccer Dad has reacted to my comments on the rarity of sukkah-sleeping these days. He rightly notes that "unless I'm very wrong 30 to 40 years ago, people generally didn't have Sukkahs. It's only since the 1970's that they have become commonplace in America." Then: "if one was introducing a new practice, what would meet with less resistance? Eating or sleeping?"

This explanation only goes so far. Certainly, urban apartment buildings and Jewish social awkwardness made private sukkahs a rarity until not long ago. If the failure to sleep in the sukkah were a modern phenomenon, this might help explain why.

In fact, however, sleeping in the sukkah had nearly disappeared among Ashkenazi Jews by the 16th century, when Rabbi Moshe Isserlis published his notes on the Shulchan Aruch, the Code of Jewish Law. R' Isserlis, "the Rema," wrote regarding Ashkenazi practices:

Regarding our lenient practice today about sleeping, that we do not sleep in the sukkah except for those who are most careful about mitzvot: Some say it is because of the cold, that it is distressful to sleep in cold places.

(Orach Chaim 639:2)

Rema is apparently not satisfied with this explanation - possibly because if it's cold you should bundle up - and offers another:

To me it seems that it is because the mitzvah of sukkah is "a man and his home" - a man with his wife as he lives all year. And in a place where one cannot sleep with his wife, as one has no special sukkah, one is exempt. And it is good to be strict, and to be there with one's wife as he lives all year if he can possibly have a special sukkah.

By "a special sukkah" he is apparently referring to one in which one can sleep with one's wife in privacy.

This explanation, too, is problematic, as it seems to contradict an explicit Talmudic passage which says that the mitzvah of sukkah does not require living there with one's wife (Sukkah 28b).

The Mishna Berura notes that the Vilna Gaon rejects Rema's explanation, suggesting instead that one's inability to sleep with one's wife is itself sufficient distress to exempt one from sleeping in the sukkah.

Other explanations have been proposed, but none of them is particularly convincing. When did it disappear? Why? Should it be reinstated? Must it? I think it's a terrific experience, and should at least be encouraged where practical.

Incidentally, in case the mention of "special sukkahs" wasn't clear enough, rabbinical authorities clearly rule that, assuming adequate privacy, one may certainly sleep with one's wife in the sukkah - in every sense.

Unlike Aishel, though, having neither a laptop nor WiFi, I can't blog in my sukkah. To each his own.


A Simple Jew said...

See my post below for my thoughts on this:


Natan said...

I saw Soccer Dad this morning in Shul, and he mentioned that you mentioned me. :-D