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DANI PASSOW (Religious Consultant, Sukkah City): The major ritual component of Sukkot is dwelling in booths, in these temporary houses for seven days. We learn that from the Torah, from the Bible, where we are told B’Sukkah teshvu shevat yamim, you should dwell in a sukkah for seven days. We leave our permanent dwelling, our home, and we move to this temporary dwelling to remember the transience of the Israelites and their journey from Egypt to Israel, and also to remind us that in some ways all of life is really temporary, and all of life, life is very fragile, and so that is what we do. We dwell in these sukkahs. We eat in them, we sleep in them, we try and spend as much time as possible within them.
The fundamental laws about a sukkah that make it kosher—it needs to have two-and-a-half walls. Just about anything can be used for walls. It can’t be material that will ultimately smell, which would cause someone to want to leave the sukkah, or can’t be something that will fall over in the wind. But aside from that, any material can really be used. There is a big distinction made between what’s allowed to be used for the walls and what can be used for the roofing material. The roofing material needs to be kosher roofing material, which is basically organic growth which has been cut from the ground. It needs to provide more shade than sunlight, and it also needs to be somewhat temporary, so it can’t be a full plank or a full roof. There is a custom to be able to see the stars through the roof. So we’re pretty careful to be sure that one can, at least in some way, see the stars.
There are minimum sizes for the sukkah. It has to be a minimum of about 28 inches by 28 inches. It has to be 40 inches tall. We see that here in these sukkahs that they conform to Jewish law. They conform to these strict, rigid limitations. At the same time, they don’t look like anything conventional because of the individual creativity and inspiration of the architects.
JOSHUA FOER (Co-Organizer, Sukkah City): So last night, in keeping with the tradition, I slept in one of the sukkahs, the one behind me. These structures commemorate a homelessness that occurred in a desert 3,000 years ago, and the idea of taking that and dragging it into one of the most urban places in America was exciting. Actually sleeping in a sukkah in Union Square Park was not only fun but a little bit scary.