What is Schach?
Schach is the Hebrew word for the roof covering that sits on top of the Sukkah. The roof for a Sukkah must be made of natural materials like branches, bamboo or other plant materials. Schach is an important part of the Biblical commandment to dwell in Sukkahs, or temporary booths, during Sukkot. The holiday commemorates the journey of the Jewish people from Egypt to the Land of Israel.
What are the different types of Schach?
Many people imagine schach to resemble the pictures in a children's book, with palm fronds scattered on top of a Sukkah. It’s a natural and unique look with branches sticking out on all sides.
But, most people don't live in California or Florida where these branches are available. Even if you do live near palm trees, it is not as easy as it looks to cut them down and place them on your Sukkah. The branches are heavier and larger than they seem, and there's a lot of opportunity for injuries and/or splinters.
Sukkah Schach can include:
Woven Bamboo Schach Mats:
Today, most people use bamboo, reed or even straw mats, woven with all natural materials. These schach mats are specifically made to provide the right amount of shade and still allow you to peek through to the stars and sky above. They allow for a more streamlined and simple process of building your Sukkah and make sure that you have kosher schach.
Bamboo Schach Mats make a great Sukkah roof because they can easily be rolled out over the Sukkah and stored for the next year. Rather than using fresh branches which will turn brown and not be usable by the following year, buy Schach mats that will last you for years - so you dont have to buy new ones every year.
Look for mats that are durable, made from quality materials - from a company that you trust. Some companies, like ours, include a free storage bag with your bamboo mat to extend its life even further. You'll also want to make sure that are certified as kosher for use on your Sukkah by a reputable agency, like the Orthodox Union.
Schach Bamboo Poles:
Rather than using woven bamboo mats, some people prefer to use individual bamboo poles for their Schach. Long bamboo poles can be arranged on top of the Sukkah frame and spaced in such a way that they provide enough shade to be kosher schach. Since they are natural materials, you can still see the stars through your bamboo roof when they are laid out. According to some opinions in Jewish Halacha (traditions), seeing the stars is a requirement to for the schach to be considered kosher.
These are usually taken from date or coconut palms and layered on top of the Sukkah frame to create a natural and rustic look. These branches hang into the Sukkah and create a nice ambiance. Many people will use these in tandem with their bamboo schach mats as well.
The downside to using palm fronds is that they are difficult to put up, and can be heavy and full of splinters. You'll also need a lot of them to fully cover your Sukkah roof to the point that is necessary by Jewish traditions. Jewish tradition (Halacha) requires that you cover the majority of your Sukkah roof. Using palm fronds can be costly and arduous, especially considering that they cannot be kept from year to year.
Branches or Leaves:
Some people use branches or leaves from their local area such as pine, cedar, Douglas fir, maple trees. Any branches qualify as schach, as long as they are naturally growing. The upside to these is that you can use whatever is available in your area - thus potentially saving some money.
Many people will be happy for you to trim some of their trees or plants on their property and remove them for free. If you're on a budget, ask some of your neighbors if they'd like some free gardening done - and you can even offer to remove the trimmings for free!
Corn Stalks or Husks:
In some areas, people like to use the stalks or husks from corn fields. They are an acceptable choice for schach as long as you arrange them to cover the majority of your Sukkah roof.
With so many choices, it boils down to your individual preference and availability of materials. For a streamlined and simple option, we recommend going with kosher certified bamboo schach mats.
Should my Schach be Kosher certified?
Schach for Sukkahs must be made from natural materials that grew from the ground such as bamboo, palm branches, pine branches, corn husks etc. If you're getting your own branches or fronds, you can confirm that they are, in fact, actual leaves that once grew from the ground and made from natural materials.
However, if you are purchasing a woven mat, then you should definitely check what kind of materials the mat is made of. It is preferable to buy a mat that is certified by a Jewish kosher agency to make sure that the schach are in fact natural. Man-made or processed materials such as plastic or metal, which might be used by some companies, are not acceptable for schach.
What is Kosher Mehadrin for Schach?
In Judaism, when it comes to the mitzvot (commandments), we always try to go the extra mile and make the mitzvah more beautiful. We do this by doing the Mitzvah to the fullest extent that we can.
The Hebrew word for “Beautiful” is "Mehudar" and is the basis for the word that we use to say that a particular item is above and beyond. We call this "Kosher Mehadrin." It is better than just acceptable and is a higher standard that is sometimes applied to kosher certifications for food and other items that require supervision. This is a great certification to level-up your standards in the schach you choose.
When it comes to Schach mats, Mehadrin is used to refer to the weave and threads that are used to hold the slats together. A Schach mat that is certified "Kosher Mehadrin" is one that is completely natural, A to Z. This means that not a single part of this mat is from man-made materials, thus making this mat above and beyond & "extra kosher" for use as a Sukkah roof.
How to Choose Your Schach for Sukkot:
With all the Schach options out there, how do you choose? First, you need to decide if you'd prefer to find fresh and kosher Sukkah roof every year or if you want something that is “Multi-use.”
If you do decide to go with multi-use schach, then you should consider the durability and ease of use. Look for a lightweight but longer-lasting bamboo mat that rolls out nicely and lays flat. And of course, make sure that it is kosher for use on Sukkot. You can eliminate the guesswork by finding a bamboo sukkah roof with a reputable kosher certification.
Schach Sukkah Kits:
Today, there are a few companies that sell Sukkah kits that come with everything you need to have a beautiful and kosher Sukkah. If you're looking fort the easiest and most straight-forward option for your Sukkah Schach, then a kit is likely your best bet.
Instead of buying separate parts and checking if they fit, it's easier to buy a Sukkah kit. If you buy a quality kit, it will include schach that fits your Sukkah perfectly. Read more about Sukkah kits in this Sukkah buying guide.
Hopefully these tips will help you figure out what would work best for you and your family. Wishing you a Happy, Healthy, and Kosher Sukkot Holiday!