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Torah Study in the Sukka

Harav Aharon Lichtenstein
Text file


Based on a shiur by Harav Aharon Lichtenstein

Summarized by Yitzchak Forrer

Translated by Hillel Langenauer


In the Mishna and the Gemara there is extended treatment of the nature of the mitzva of dwelling in the sukka and the types of activities done in the sukka, as well as of the exceptional situations in which a person is exempt from dwelling in the sukka.  The Mishna states that during the festival of Sukkot a person must make his sukka “keva” – that is, he must make the sukka his fixed, and, so to speak, “permanent” dwelling, relegating his usual home to the status of “ara’i,” that is, a provisional dwelling.  In the wake of this comment, the Gemara cites a baraita that specifies what a person must do in order to render his sukkakeva”:

How so?  If he has nice utensils - he must bring them into the sukka; nice beds, or beddings - he must bring them into the sukka.  He must eat, drink, and take his leisure time in the sukka.  And he must study (“meshanen”) in the sukka.  (Sukka 28b)   

The Mishna specifies in various places the activities a person must perform only in a sukka.  With reference to eating and drinking, the Mishna even spells out specific details of the mitzva, such as how many meals must a person eat in the sukka.  But with regard to the study of Torah, certainly one of the most important activities that one can perform in the sukka, the Mishna’s treatment is limited to just two words:  “U-meshanen ba-sukka” (“And he must study in the sukka”).

Regarding study, the Gemara immediately questions, “Is this so?  Did not Rava state, ‘Mikra and mitna in the sukka, while tanoi outside of the sukka?!”  Rava distinguishes between different types of study, and Rashi explains that, while “mikra” refers to studying the Written Torah, and “mitna” to studying the Mishna, the term “tanoi” refers to studying “the Shas, which includes analysis by means of logical deduction, and towards which one must devote great effort in order to study.”

Beki’ut vs. Iyun

The Gemara squares the comment of Rava with the rule stated by the baraita by making a further distinction, “One is referring to migres, and one to iyunei.”  Rashi (s.v. Ha le-migres) explains:

Shinun [as in the baraita’s short reference to the type of study that must be done in the sukka: “u-meshanen ba-sukka”] refers to the study of Gemara whose understanding is already clear to him; the study of such a Talmudic discussion must be done in the sukka, and this is what is referred to by the term “meshanen.”   

Rashi does not explain what is referred to by the term iyunei, stating only that it is the type of study that may be done outside of the sukka

          The Ran, in his comments on the Rif, (13a, s.v. Ha le-migres) cites the opinion of Rashi and explains it further, stating:

Iyunei, which entails taking some pains, may be done outside of the sukka, due to the fact that he is mitzta’er (i.e., he feels some degree of suffering), and one who is mitzta’er is exempt from the mitzva of sukka; and the air [in the house] is good for him, to expand his capacity for thought [since in the sukka it may be too hot or too cold for analytic study].

Thus, it seems that, according to Rashi, the definitions of migres and iyunei are similar, respectively, to our familiar categories of beki’ut and be-iyun.  Beki’ut study is in its essence a surface study of the text, whose primary (though not exclusive) goals are memorization and the covering of extensive ground.  Study performed be-iyun, by contrast, is a deeper study, whose purpose is the clarification of a topic and the unveiling of the deeper conceptual roots that form the foundation of the many minute details of the topic.  It is therefore dependent on intellectual struggle and on the exertion of a good deal of effort. 

According to the explanation of the Ran, the reason for exempting some one who is studying be-iyun from studying in the sukka is that the study itself constitutes a challenge and a struggle for him.  This mental effort defines him as a mitzta’er and therefore exempts him from the mitzva of sukka. (This is in line with the familiar dictum that one who is suffering, or mitzta’er, is exempt from the mitzva of sukka.

          Further on, the Ran cites an opinion which differs from that of Rashi:

But there are those who state the opposite; namely, that iyunei refers to a type of study which is keva, and which therefore requires a sukka

According to this opinion, iyun is the type of study which must be done in the sukka, due to the fact that it is considered keva; as we are already aware from the Mishna, activities defined as keva must be done exclusively in the sukka.  The Meiri (s.v. Zehu beiur ha-Mishna) quotes this opinion at length, stating:

There are those who explain in the opposite manner, that study of the Written Torah, the Mishna, and the Talmud be-iyun, with logical analysis, requires keva, and must be done only in the sukka.

It appears that the original source for this opinion is the Ritz Giat, who states, in his halakhic work Me’a She’arim:

Studying the Written Torah, the Mishna, and ayinei sevara [see below for explanation of this term], which require keva, must be done in the sukka, but mere recitation of the text of the Gemara may be done outside of the sukka.[1] 

The commentary Yitzchak Ra’anen (s.v. Ve-ayinei sevara) clarifies the rendering of the text of the Ritz Giat:

[The text reading “ayinei” is incorrect;] rather, the text should read, “ve-iyunei bi-sevara” [i.e., logical analysis], which requires keva, must be done in the sukka; and this is the opinion cited by the Ran. 

          Thus, we find in this opinion a new definition of the concept of keva: something which requires depth of thought and serious examination.[2]   Studying beki’ut, by contrast, would be defined as ara’i, a temporary or provisional activity, and as such would not require being done in the sukka.

It would appear that the foundational element of the debate between the opinion of Rashi and of the Ritz Giat is in locating the central concern of our Gemara.  According to the Ritz Giat, the Gemara is dealing with the obligation of dwelling in the sukka, and it articulates therefore the activities that define dwelling be-keva, and which are therefore included in the scope of the mitzva’s obligation - namely, eating, drinking, and study.  Rashi, on the other hand, thinks that the Gemara is most centrally concerned here with exemptions from the mitzva of sukka – and is concerned with further elaborating the rule it taught a few pages earlier, that one who is mitzta’er is exempt from the mitzva of sukka

          Both Rashi and the Ritz Giat agree, however, that the Gemara is distinguishing between two modes of study – beki’ut and iyun – and not between two types of texts.


We have seen that according to the Ran’s interpretation of Rashi, the reason for the exemption of studying be-iyun in the sukka is the fact that one who is studying in this way is mitzta’er.  We may suggest two understandings of the exemption of mitzta’er. First, while the obligation of dwelling in the sukka is, in essence, all-inclusive in its scope, the Torah nevertheless specifies that there are specific individuals who receive an exemption from the mitzva; namely, those who may be characterized as mitzta’er.  Elsewhere in Halakha we have found that individuals in exceptional circumstances receive an exemption from a Biblical commandment, such as the law that those who are travelling in places distant from the Temple are exempt from bringing the Passover sacrifice at its appointed time. 

Similarly, we find the inquiry Ravina made of Rava (Shevu’ot 26b), “One who has accepted by obligation of an oath not to eat a specific loaf of bread, but then finds himself in case of danger would he not eat the loaf - what is the law?”  Rava responds, “If he is in danger, then [what is the question?  Obviously] you should permit him to eat it!” (This follows the rule that one whose life would be placed in danger by observing a mitzva is exempt from that mitzva.)  To this, Ravina clarifies his inquiry, “[I do not mean that he would truly be in danger if he would forego eating the loaf, but rather that it would cause him to be] mitzta’er.” 

Thus, Ravina inquires if the mitzva of following through on an oath that one has uttered applies in the extenuating circumstance of mitzta’er - though in its inception the oath he uttered made no exceptional provision for the case of mitzta’er.  So too, we may suggest that the mitzva of sukka, though inclusive in its fundamental scope, concedes an exception for one who is defined as mitzta’er.  

We may, however, suggest a very different approach to understanding the exemption of a mitzta’er from the mitzva of sukka.  Namely, according to its fundamental and internal logic, the mitzva of sukka does not place an obligation to dwell in the sukka upon one who is defined as mitzta’er. 

Along these lines, Tosafot (Sukka 26b, s.v. Holekhei derakhim) explain:

And also the law of one who is mitzta’er, whom the Gemara earlier exempted from the mitzva of sukka, is because of the rule defining the character of the dwelling that is included in the mitzva of sukka: “Teshvu ke’ein taduru” [i.e., the manner in which one dwells in the sukka must correspond to the manner in which he dwells in his home during the rest of the year].  And one would not dwell [in a home which is situated] in a place where he would be mitzta’er

According to Tosafot, the fundamental nature of the mitzva of sukka is to treat the sukka as one’s permanent dwelling space.  According to this definition of the mitzva, since one would not dwell during the rest of the year in a place which would cause him discomfort or suffering, there would perforce be no obligation whatsoever to remain in a sukka under circumstances which would cause him tza’ar.  The exemption, according to this approach, stems from the very definition of the mitzva, not from a subsidiary dispensation granted to one who suffers.

          In a general sense, we can speak of two types of tza’ar:  first, tza’ar in attempting to reach a sukka, and second, tza’ar arising from remaining in a sukka.  In the event of the first type of tza’ar, while a person is exempt from the mitzva of dwelling in a sukka, if he nevertheless makes the extra effort to reach a sukka and to dwell in it, he fulfills the mitzva.  But in the event of the second type of tza’ar, even if the person perseveres and remains in the sukka, he does not fulfill a mitzva by so doing; the fact that dwelling in the sukka under such conditions causes tza’ar excludes such dwelling, by definition, from the parameters of the mitzva. 

          The tza’ar that Rashi presents as arising from engagement in in-depth Torah study in a sukka clearly falls in the second category.

A Frontal Clash of Mitzvot

Until now, we have presented Rashi as understanding that in-depth Torah study defines one as a mitzta’er and therefore one is exempt from dwelling in the sukka while engaging in such study. However, we may suggest an alternate understanding: the exemption results not from an internal definition of the mitzva of sukka, but from a clash between the demands of the mitzva of sukka and the demands of the mitzva of studying Torah.  That is, the person would like to fulfill the mitzva of sukka, but would also like to fulfill the mitzva of studying Torah be-iyun - with depth and sophistication - which is not always possible to do in a sukka

The Rambam (Hilkhot Sukka 6:9) writes

All seven days, one must read inside the sukka, but when he strives to understand and to glean meticulously for insights from what he has read, he should pursue this striving for understanding outside of the sukka, so that his mind should be in a calm state.

Thus, the Rambam understands that one may learn be-iyun outside the sukka since one’s mind will be more at ease and ready for focus.  Earlier, in discussing the Ran’s interpretation of Rashi’s commentary, we noted a similar consideration - that outside the sukka “the air is good for him, to expand his capacity for thought.” 

According to this approach, we may understand the exemption of one who wishes to study be-iyun from the mitzva of sukka as stemming from the conflict posed between the mitzva of dwelling in the sukka and the mitzva of studying Torah in depth, for the quality of his iyun demands that he study under as easy and as calm conditions as possible.[3]

          The ruling of the Shulchan Arukh (OC 639:4) follows, in a general sense, that of the Rambam, but we have two versions of the exact formulation of the Shulchan Arukh, and these versions differ in certain respects.  The first version reads, “When he strives to understand and to glean meticulously for insights from what he is reading – he should learn outside of the sukka, so that his mind should be settled,” while the second version concludes by ruling that when he studies in this way, “he may learn outside of the sukka, so that his mind should be settled.”  Owing to the difference between the textual variants, it is not clear whether the person studying be-iyun is obligated to study outside of the sukka, in order to ensure the quality of his study, or is given the right to choose to study where he wishes – in the sukka or outside of it.

Carrying Books

          The Magen Avraham (OC 639:13) raises an additional difficulty which may be generated by attempting to study Torah in the sukka:

It requires further investigation to determine the law for a person who requires many books for his study and for whom it is difficult to bring [so many books] into the sukka.  Ostensibly it appears from the Gemara that he is not required to go to this difficulty ...  as we see from the case of those who are guarding orchards and gardens... 

Study demands bringing books into the sukka, which requires a certain amount of exertion.  We are familiar with the law that one guarding orchards or gardens is exempt from building, and sleeping in, a sukka in the field he is watching, due to the difficulty this would entail.  Based on this ruling, it would seem reasonable to exempt from studying in the sukka one who would, in order to facilitate his study, have to go to the difficulty of transporting many books to the sukka.

          But the Magen Avraham immediately rejects this approach and distinguishes between the two cases.  While in the case of those guarding orchards and gardens there is great difficulty involved, and as such there is certainly an exemption from the mitzva, in the case of bringing books to the sukka, the difficulty entailed is not great enough to provide for a blanket exemption from the mitzva.  It is worthwhile to note, however, that the distinction of the Magen Avraham, while appearing logical to one who lives in a house with access to the ground floor, may not appear so logical to one who lives in a tall apartment building whose sukka is located at ground level.

In order to understand more precisely the definition of “great difficulty” implied by the term torach merubeh, let us examine a question that the Terumat Ha-deshen cites in his responsa:

If on the night of Shabbat, during the festival of Sukkot, his candles in the sukka become extinguished, and he has another candle in his house, is it permissible for him to leave the sukka to eat in his house?   (Terumat Ha-deshen, #93) 

The Terumat Ha-deshen’s answer breaks down into several steps.  At first, he is inclined to say that eating in one’s home in such a case is permitted, since eating in the dark, without the light of a candle, may be considered tza’ar which exempts one from the mitzva of sukka.  Later, however, he suggests that there may not be an exemption from the mitzva in such a case, due to the possibility of going to eat in a friend’s sukka.  But he then rejects this suggestion, deeming that having to go to another person’s sukka in order to eat would itself constitute tza’ar

In the end, the Terumat Ha-deshen concludes that if going to a friend’s sukka in order to eat would not in fact cause great difficulty, then indeed there is an obligation to go to a friend’s sukka in order to finish the meal. 

It is possible to deduce from this response of the Terumat Ha-deshen an approach that we may apply to the topic of our discussion.  If bringing the necessary books out to the sukka would entail a degree of exertion comparable to that involved in moving one’s meal to a friend’s sukka, then one would be exempt from bringing books to one’s sukka in order to learn there. For the purpose of our discussion, we may suggest that this would be the case for one who lives on a high floor of an apartment building (without a sukka on the balcony). Such a person, it could be argued based on the responsum of the Terumat Ha-deshen, would be exempted from bringing his books to the sukka due to the difficulty that this would involve, and may learn in his apartment.



[1] This work, together with the commentary of the Yitzchak Ra’anen, may be found in the volume Sha’arei Simcha, the older version of the text on page 87, and the newer version on page 108.

[2] According to this explanation, it is possible to suggest an extreme possibility, that even activities such as sophisticated uses of a computer or in-depth study for an exam in history must also be done in a sukka, but this is not the proper context for a lengthy analysis of this possibility. 

[3] There are two types of factors due to which studying outside of the sukka would be more comfortable:  physical comfort, as in the Rambam’s formulation, and the concern for continuous, uninvited interruption by other people.



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