Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Festival of Huts (Sukkot)

The last out of five major holidays, and the third of the mandatory holidays, is the Festival of Huts (aka Feast of Tabernacles, Festival of Booths, Sukkot, e.t.c).

The most interesting and important detail about this holiday is the type of dwelling that being celebrated. Let's take a look at the original text first, in Leviticus 23:39-43:
39 Also in the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when ye have gathered in the fruit of the land, ye shall keep a feast unto the LORD seven days: on the first day shall be a sabbath, and on the eighth day shall be a sabbath.

40 And ye shall take you on the first day the boughs of goodly trees, branches of palm trees, and the boughs of thick trees, and willows of the brook; and ye shall rejoice before the LORD your God seven days.

41 And ye shall keep it a feast unto the LORD seven days in the year. It shall be a statute for ever in your generations: ye shall celebrate it in the seventh month.

42 Ye shall dwell in booths seven days; all that are Israelites born shall dwell in booths:

43 That your generations may know that I made the children of Israel to dwell in booths, when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.
39 ‏אַ֡ךְ בַּחֲמִשָּׁה֩ עָשָׂ֨ר י֜וֹם לַחֹ֣דֶשׁ הַשְּׁבִיעִ֗י בְּאָסְפְּכֶם֙ אֶת־תְּבוּאַ֣ת הָאָ֔רֶץ תָּחֹ֥גּוּ אֶת־חַג־יְהוָ֖ה שִׁבְעַ֣ת יָמִ֑ים בַּיּ֤וֹם הָֽרִאשׁוֹן֙ שַׁבָּת֔וֹן וּבַיּ֥וֹם הַשְּׁמִינִ֖י שַׁבָּתֽוֹן׃
40 ‏וּלְקַחְתֶּ֨ם לָכֶ֜ם בַּיּ֣וֹם הָרִאשׁ֗וֹן פְּרִ֨י עֵ֤ץ הָדָר֙ כַּפֹּ֣ת תְּמָרִ֔ים וַעֲנַ֥ף עֵץ־עָבֹ֖ת וְעַרְבֵי־נָ֑חַל וּשְׂמַחְתֶּ֗ם לִפְנֵ֛י יְהוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֵיכֶ֖ם שִׁבְעַ֥ת יָמִֽים׃
‎41 ‏וְחַגֹּתֶ֤ם אֹתוֹ֙ חַ֣ג לַֽיהוָ֔ה שִׁבְעַ֥ת יָמִ֖ים בַּשָּׁנָ֑ה חֻקַּ֤ת עוֹלָם֙ לְדֹרֹ֣תֵיכֶ֔ם בַּחֹ֥דֶשׁ הַשְּׁבִיעִ֖י תָּחֹ֥גּוּ אֹתֽוֹ׃
‎42 ‏בַּסֻּכֹּ֥ת תֵּשְׁב֖וּ שִׁבְעַ֣ת יָמִ֑ים כָּל־הָֽאֶזְרָח֙ בְּיִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל יֵשְׁב֖וּ בַּסֻּכֹּֽת׃
‎43 ‏לְמַעַן֮ יֵדְע֣וּ דֹרֹֽתֵיכֶם֒ כִּ֣י בַסֻּכּ֗וֹת הוֹשַׁ֙בְתִּי֙ אֶת־בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל בְּהוֹצִיאִ֥י אוֹתָ֖ם מֵאֶ֣רֶץ מִצְרָ֑יִם אֲנִ֖י יְהוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֵיכֶֽם׃
As you can see, on this holiday, people are required to dwell in "huts" ("סכת" sukkot, plural). The reason why I'm using the word "hut" and not "booths" or "tabernacles" is not accidental.

In the original text the following major distinctions are made:
  1. "סכה" (sukkah - hut) is a "Temporary Mobile SHELTER". See Lev. 23:40 above.
  2. "אהל" (ohel - tent) is a "Permanent Mobile DWELLING" See Gen. 25:27
  3. "בית" (beit - house) is a "Permanent Stationary STRUCTURE" See Gen. 33:17
For comparison and posterity here are the definitions provided by the Oxford Dictionary for all of these types of shelters:

  1. Hut - "a small single-story building of simple or crude construction, serving as a poor, rough, or temporary house or shelter."
  2. Booth - "a small temporary tent or structure at a market, fair, or exhibition, used for selling goods, providing information, or staging shows."
  3. Tent - "a portable shelter made of cloth, supported by one or more poles and stretched tight by cords or loops attached to pegs driven into the ground."
  4. Tabernacle - "(in biblical use) a fixed or movable habitation, typically of light construction. a tent used as a sanctuary for the Ark of the Covenant by the Israelites during the Exodus and until the building of the Temple."
  5. Building (related - House) - "a structure with a roof and walls, such as a house, school, store, or factory"
Thus, we can't call this holiday a "Festival of Booths", as a "Booth" is not a shelter, it is more of a structure or a dwelling; and it may not be necessarily temporary as "booths" usually constructed out of processed materials.

We can't call this holiday a "Festival of Tabernacles/Tents" either, as the Tabernacle/Tent is also somewhat of a structure rather than a shelter.

The "huts", however, are usually more of a shelter, rather than a structure and is usually made out of the materials specified in the Lev. 23:40.

Thus, in my humble opinions, the "Festival of Huts", or even better, "Festival of Shelters of Branches" is the most appropriate translation of the original text, as well as the most notable detail as far as the comparison with the Tabernacle goes.

Also, as you can see from the description above, these "huts" were to be made out of fresh, UNPROCESSED wood and foliage, as opposed to (i.e.) Tabernacle that was made out of processed  plant AND animal materials. 

Therefore, the "hut" required for the holiday would look like a palm hut/fishing hut of sorts, somewhat like so (image from this web site):


Compare it with the traditional Jewish structure (from this web site):

And just for fun (only in the spirit of the holiday), here is a modern and rather abstract concept of a Sukkah as envisioned by some Jewish "architects" (image from this website - detailed drawing here):

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