Rainy Sukkahs: Must You Brave the Rain or Can You Head Indoors?

Torah commands us to dwell in a Sukkah for seven days. “But why?” you enthusiastically whisper as you’re biting into that second slice of kugel. It’s to remind us that after we left Egypt, we lived in Sukkot. Now, what exactly were these Exodus-era Sukkot we honor by sitting in our makeshift huts?

According to Rabbi Eliezer, they were none other than the miraculous Clouds of Glory . These divine clouds wrapped around us, offering G-d’s protection and comfort during our 40-year trek through the desert after the Exodus.

So, how does one properly "dwell" in a Sukkah? The oral tradition spells it out: live in this temporary hut (ie. a Sukkah), crafted to provide you shade, just as you would in your home. And what’s one key activity you perform at home? Eating ! Hence, a main mitzvah during Sukkot is to enjoy your meals in the Sukkah.

But now we need to get into the details. Who exactly needs to eat what, and when? And, more pressingly, what if it’s raining, or the Sukkah smells like last week’s leftovers, or it’s just plain uncomfortable out there?

Read on; we’re about to dive into the nitty-gritty.

And in case you’re looking to go fully down the Sukkot rabbit-hole, check out our in-depth article on the names of Sukkot.

Who Needs to Sit in the Sukkah?

Adults: Men over 13? Suit up, you're on Sukkah duty! For women, it's a bit more flexible. Ashkenazic women often join the fun in the Sukkah (although this is optional for women), reciting the blessing " leshev ba-sukkah " like the men. For Sephardic women, it depends on the community. Some join in with the blessing, while others kick back without it.

Children: Technically, children under 13 get a free pass on performing mitzvot. But our sages explain that like with most mitzvot, any opportunity to perform them is perfect training time! Once a boy can handle himself without mom's constant supervision (around 5-6 years old ), he sits in the Sukkah with the men.

What Do I Eat in the Sukkah?

Main Meals: Think about what you would eat in your home. Main meals? Those go in the Sukkah, and don’t forget to say the Sukkah blessing before enjoying your meal! Snacks? Well, that's a bit more flexible.

Snacks: If it’s a snack, like Chabad folks do, you can enjoy it in the Sukkah, but it’s not a must (so there’s also no Sukkah blessing before eating them). But what's considered a snack? Anything not made of grain. Even grain-based foods are snacks if they’re up to the size of an egg ( 54 grams ). If it’s bigger than that, then you’re in meal territory.

Non-Grain Foods: You could have a whole feast of non-grain foods and not need to eat it in the Sukkah. But we love mitzvahs! It’s a joy to eat in the Sukkah, so many, including Chabad, don’t even drink water outside of it.

Drinks: Casual drinks are fine outside. But if you're having a wine or beer session with friends, do it in the Sukkah. If it’s not with a meal, skip the Sukkah blessing.

Kiddush: Kiddush is special. When you say it, the Sukkah blessing is a must.

Havdalah: Do havdalah in the Sukkah, just like you do it at home. Many, including Chabad, say the Sukkah blessing here as well, especially if using wine.

Grain-Based Foods: Some are unsure about saying the Sukkah blessing when only making havdalah, suggesting you nibble on some grain -based food right after.

Customs: Remember, many, including Chabad, have a custom of not eating or drinking anything, including water, outside the Sukkah.

When Do We Sit in the Sukkah?

First Night: Picture this: the first night of Sukkot, between nightfall and midnight, everyone must eat at least a small amount of bread in the Sukkah. Think of it like the matzah on Pesach – gotta get it done before midnight!

Other Days: For the rest of Sukkot you could technically dodge eating in the Sukkah by sticking to non- Sukkah foods. But there's still the mitzvah of eating the Shabbat and holiday meals with bread, which means it’s back to the Sukkah for those festive bites!

Wondering when Sukkot falls out this year? We’ve got you covered with Sukkot 2024 dates and candle lighting times.

What If It Rains (Other Than The First Night)?

Imagine your house is leaking like a sieve. Would you sit there?

Of course not, you'd hightail it to your brother-in-law's place or the neighbor’s. And the same goes for your Sukkah. If it's raining enough to ruin your tasty slice of homemade Pizza, you can leave the Sukkah and head inside. No Pizza? No problem. Just ask yourself: If this rain were pouring into your house, would you stick around or leave?

…but for those looking to brave the weather, you’re in good company. Chabad’s custom is that come rain or shine, they stick it out in the Sukkah. After all, how can you be uncomfortable sitting inside a mitzvah ?

What If it Rains, Even on the First Night?

Now, the first night is special. Let's dive in.

Rain or shine, bread’s on the line: You must eat at least a kezayit (olive-sized portion) of bread – ideally an egg-sized portion – in the Sukkah on the first night. Make kiddush, eat Bubbie’s famous challah, and do it all before halachic midnight. If it’s still raining after that, you can head back inside.

Ashkenazic Vs. Sephardic Customs

Ashkenazic Custom (Including Chabad): Raining on the first night? Tough luck. Even if you'd usually head inside, you must make kiddush and eat at least a kezayit of bread with the Sukkah blessing. Some Ashkenazim play the waiting game, giving the rain an hour or two to give up. If it stops, they eat in the Sukkah with the blessing, but if the rain keeps up, they recite kiddush and eat a kezayit in the Sukkah sans blessing, and then return inside.

Sephardic Custom: If it’s raining on the first night, Sephardim are off the hook and can eat inside. If the rain pauses, head to the Sukkah , say the blessing, and eat a kezayit of bread. If it's after midnight, only recite the blessing if you eat a kebeitza (egg-sized portion) of bread.

So next time you're debating whether to brave the rain or cozy up indoors, remember those Clouds of Glory that once shielded us, and use this guide to help you figure out if you should stay and enjoy them, or grab your chocolate pie and head inside.