Thursday, October 12, 2006

The Museum Sukkah

I went today to the Long Island Children's Museum with my family and some cousins (I was the guy who davened Minchah from the "amud" outside, after the museum closed). At one point in the afternoon, we took a snack break and went outside to a sukkah that had been erected on museum property. I looked it over and was impressed. It was clearly made, or at least designed, by someone intimately familiar with the laws of a sukkah. The walls do not reach the roof -- but are about four feet high, well above the required height for walls of a sukkah. The sekhakh overhead consisted of a wooden lattice made of small pieces of wood and a bunch of leaves thrown on top. Who but someone very knowledgeable (or totally ignorant but phenomenally lucky) would make such a sukkah.

The only remaining question was who actually built the sukkah. Maybe it was designed by a local rabbi but built by museum staff who may or may not be Jewish. I suspect that it was built by the rabbi (the decorations were clearly made by a Jew -- good old construction paper chains, hanging fruit and a Hebrew sign). But even if built by the staff, and assuming that the workers were not Jewish, is the sukkah still kosher?

Daf Yomi learners who are a month behind can tell you that the answer can be found on Sukkah 8b. There, the Gemara says that "Sukkas Ganba"kh" are kosher. "Ganba"kh" stands for Goyim (non-Jews), Nashim (women), Behemos (animals) and Kusim (sectarians). They all have huts made for uses other than sukkah but, nevertheless, their huts are kosher as sukkos. This would seem to imply that regardless of who built this museum sukkah, since it was clearly designed as a sukkah it is kosher.

However, there are some posekim (e.g. Bikkurei Ya'akov 635:2; Chokhmas Shlomo 635:2) who rule that Sukkas Ganba"kh is only kosher bedi'eved, post facto but not ab initio. It is noteworthy that neither the Mishnah Berurah nor the Arukh Ha-Shulchan quote this view, and that the She'arim Metzuyanim Ba-Halakhah (Sukkah 8b) disagrees with this position. Regardless, I would argue that this view is only about who should build a sukkah. But once the sukkah is built, it is entirely kosher. This, I believe, can be seen in the words of the Bikkurei Ya'akov. If that is true, then even after combining all of the strict views and assumptions, this sukkah is still kosher.

Nevertheless, when some guy came by and, after being asked by his daughter whether the sukkah is good, responded "I don't know", I resisted the temptation to say "Sukkas Ganba"kh".

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