Monday, October 10, 2005

Camping out can be a mitzvah... or not

Last year I wrote (here and here) about the biblically-obligated but, these days, oddly rare practice of sleeping in the sukkah over Sukkot. Though the festival doesn't start for a week, this seems a good time to revisit the topic. Maybe I can inspire someone to give it a try.

I bring it up because I was talking to a friend the other day about plans for Sukkot. As it happens, over chol hamoed they're planning a family camping trip to the Negev desert. So he called ahead to the campsite to ask whether there will be a sukkah. "Certainly - we have sukkot on the premises year round."

Knowing the flexible way non-religious Israelis can define a sukkah, he tried to ascertain whether there would indeed be halachically acceptable walls and skhakh, and considered whether they should bring some extra skhakh of their own in case the shade cover was inadequate. The logistics could be difficult, and they could be disappointed to discover that the sukkah they expected to find was far from being kosher.

"Sounds like a challenge," I said, "but it's worth it. It's wonderful to sleep in the sukkah."

"Sleep?" he responded. "No, we're just looking for a place to eat. I never sleep in the sukkah. We'll be sleeping in tents."

I was at a loss to respond. They're going on a camping trip to the desert, where they're going to great lengths to make sure there will be a kosher sukkah, but they intend to sleep in tents? The only difference between sleeping in a tent and sleeping in the sukkah is that in the former you're camping out, but in the latter you're also doing a mitzvah d'oraitha!

"Yes, but what if it rains? We're better off in tents."

I might note that the chance of rain in the Negev in October is only slightly higher than the chance of snow. The desert is generally characterized by a distinct lack of rain.

So how do I explain this odd behavior, in which religious people make every effort to do what the halacha requires on Sukkot, except they'd rather sleep in a tent than in a sukkah, specifically avoiding the very mitzvah central to the festival? Is it, as I suggested, the "weird factor" or the "bourgeois factor"? Sleeping in a sukkah is hardly more weird or less bourgeois than sleeping in a tent. Is camping out fun and exciting in a tent, but onerously obligatory in a sukkah?

I don't get it. All I can suggest is that, for many Orthodox Jews today, sleeping in a sukkah is the furthest thing from their minds - even when they're sleeping in a tent next to a sukkah.


Cosmic X said...

Sleeping in the Sukkah is quite common here in Jerusalem. I've been doing it fo the last 20 years!

Ze'ev said...

Persoanlly, I am super excited about sleeping in my own succah this year. It's going to be my first time ever owning my own Succah, and I am really looking forward to making it my home for a week...

Elie said...

We never slept in the sukkah growing up, and I never really considered starting after I was married. That being said, my impression is that the excuse for not sleeping in the sukkah was the colder/wetter climate in Northern Europe (and now North America) as opposed to Eretz Yisrael. So for those living in Israel the excuse doesn't apply, yet as you point out the custom is still in wide disregard. Old habits die hard.

Zman Biur said...

Don't get me wrong. Sukkah sleeping is certainly far more common in Israel than in Europe and North America. The climate (in both senses of the word) is more conducive.

Yet I still can't get over the number of religious people who look at you funny when you talk about it. And camping out next to a succah takes the cake!