To Decorate, or Not?... Two Approaches to Sukkah Decorations

The Sukkah Decoration Question...Yes or No?

When it comes to the festive holiday of Sukkot, the colorful, Sukkah decorations are often the star of the show. Picture this: amidst a sea of twinkling lights and hanging fruits, there's a Chabad Sukkah, rocking the no-frills look like it's straight out of an IKEA catalog. You might wonder, why the stark simplicity? Is it a statement? A fashion choice? A rebellion against the tyranny of glitter? The answer lies in a deeper, more profound philosophy, steeped in tradition.

Let’s dig into the reasoning behind this tradition and then dive into which decorating options are best for your Sukkah .

The Chabad Approach: Divine Simplicity

Chabad’s reasoning can be broken down into four main points:

Observing the Mitzvah on Divine Authority

In Judaism, mitzvot (commandments) aren't about making things Instagram-worthy; they're about following divine orders. Chabad philosophy takes this seriously. The idea is to perform a mitzvah out of respect for its divine origin (קבלת עול), not because it looks pretty or gets you extra likes. The Torah and our Sages highlight the importance of the mitzvah’s spiritual depth over its outward appearance. Translation: substance over style, folks!

Performing Mitzvot to the Best of One’s Ability

The Rambam (Maimonides) teaches us to perform mitzvot to the best of our ability. Now, Chabad interprets this as focusing on the internal spiritual effort rather than splurging unnecessarily on glitter and glam. They believe the beauty of a mitzvah shines through sincere intention and dedication, not through external embellishments. Think of it as the spiritual equivalent of inner beauty.

Decorations as Non-Essential Adornments

Unlike the essential elements of the Sukkah – its walls and the Schach (roof covering) – decorations are the Sukkah's accessories. They're the optional icing on the cake, not the foundation. Chabad sees these extras as nice-to-haves but not need-to-haves. And like in our icing on the cake analogy – you can have a perfectly delicious cake without it!

Embracing the Essential Character of the Sukkah

Chabad Chassidim are taught to focus on the Sukkah's core lessons through its unadorned simplicity. The bare walls and simple covering are potent symbols, meant to inspire reflection and spiritual growth. The Sukkah, in its minimalist glory, conveys its messages without the distraction of a decorated Sukkah. It’s saying, “Let’s get real and focus on what matters.”

In essence, Chabad's approach to the Sukkah is all about stripping away the frills to focus on the spiritual core. It's not about the glitz or the glamor; it's about embracing the mitzvah in its purest form. By keeping the Sukkah simple and unadorned, Chabad Chassidim emphasize the profound lessons it represents, reminding us of divine protection and the transient nature of material life. It's a powerful, no-frills declaration of faith, letting the Sukkah's inherent messages shine through without the distraction of Sukkot decorations.

For Those Who Love Decorations: Pro Tips For Decorating A Sukkah

While Chabad champions the less-is-more philosophy, like all matters in Halacha (Jewish law), there’s more than one opinion.

One of our great sages, the Shlah HaKadosh, emphasizes the importance of making the Sukkah beautiful, stating that the more effort one puts into decorating it, the more praiseworthy one is. He bases his opinion in the concept of "Zeh Keli v’Anveihu" – "This is my God, and I will beautify Him."

So, the more Sukkah decorations, the merrier, right?

As with anything Jewish, it’s never quite that simple…

There are still a few Halachic requirements to bear in-mind:

Some advise against hanging Sukkah decorations that contain passages from the Torah directly on the Sukkah. Others are more lenient, suggesting that certain decorations with biblical verses may be permissible.

It is acceptable to use decorations originally intended for non-Jewish holidays as long as they were never used for their intended purpose (in a Church, for example), although why have tinsel shed all over your Sukkah floor, when you can stare into the vista of Jerusalem’s HaRova instead?

…and if you’re also wondering, here’s some information on what makes a Sukkah kosher.

Some Sukkah Decorating Ideas

Now that we've established the basics on how to decorate a Sukkah according to Halacha, let’s establish the classics. Here are four ways for decorating a Sukkah that have stood the test of time and are still being used in Sukkahs around the world today:

Sukkah Murals and Tapestries:

Turn your Sukkah into a visual feast with captivating Judaica murals (usually of places in Jerusalem – the city where the Jewish People used to gather on Sukkot in Biblical times) or tapestries featuring Jewish legends, nature's quirks, or other classic Sukkot posters with holiday symbols like the lulav and etrog (the four species we wave on this holiday). And it's a perfect icebreaker for curious kids to dive into the stories and meaning behind the festival's symbols.

DIY Sukkah Projects:

Channel your inner DIY-guy with colorful paper chains or homemade paper lanterns for your Sukkah's ceiling. These are budget-friendly, yet charming Sukkah decoration ideas that’re worth adding to any Sukkah. Crafting these decorations makes for a great Sukkah project for kids too!

Hanging Fruit in the Sukkah:

Fruit arrangements and tastefully placed flowers will go a long way to beautifying any Sukkah, but for you true decorating fanatics out there, some have the custom of stringing up 91 (yes, 91!) apples, since the numerical value of the word Sukkah adds up to 91.

Sukkah String Lights:

Not such a biblical-sounding Sukkah decoration, but many hang up string lights or lanterns for an inviting glow that lets your Sukkah guests enjoy their meal without spilling their soup in the dark, while keeping away uninvited critters.

And in case you’re thinking your Sukkah decor might end up in the next zip code on a windy day, we’ve done the thinking so you don’t have to. Just read our short article on how to weatherproof your Sukkah decorations

So whether you opt for simplicity or elegant decor, there’s no shortage of ways to beautify your Sukkah. The key is to create a space that enhances your mitzvah of staying in the Sukkah, and brings joy to those who enter.

Happy (maybe) Sukkah decorating!