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 Question:

Given the strong winds that we have been experiencing, is it permissible to take down the sukkah on Hol HaMoed to prevent it from being damaged or from causing injury?  If I do take it down, am I exempt from eating in a sukkah, or do I have to find a sukkah that is still up?

Answer:

Thank you for your question.  Let’s look at the two issues you raise in order.

Dismantling a Sukkah on Hol HaMoed

When it comes to taking precautions due to strong winds, the first thing to note is that if the wind is so bad that there is a concern that a flying skhakh could hit someone and cause serious injury, then there is no question that the sukkah should be taken down immediately, even on Shabbat or Yom Tov. For those that would hesitate to do such, it should be noted that at most we are dealing with a rabbinic prohibition since this is dismantling without the intent to rebuild in the same place (see Shabbat 31b, Rambam Shabbat 10:15, and Arukh HaShulkhan OH 313:6 and 314:5). When it comes to any risk to public safety, even one much more minor than this, such as a sharp object or ember left in the middle of the street, the halakha is that rabbinic prohibitions may and must be overridden (Shabbat 42a and Shulkhan Arukh Orah Hayyim 308:18 and 334:27).  If possible, it is of course preferable to have a non-Jew do take the sukkah down, and if these conditions are expected, one should do everything possible to make sure that it is taken down before Shabbat or Yom Tov.

What if there is no concern of possible injury? Could the sukkah be taken down on Hol HaMoed in such a case?

This question has already been dealt with by a number of poskim. It seems to first have been raised by Rav Tourney in Ikrei HaDaat (OH 2:68), who gives arguments both to forbid and permit taking down a sukkah on Hol HaMoed. And there are some poskim who go so far to forbid removing schach from one sukkah even if it is to be used in another sukkah (Shoel u’Mayshiv, fourth ma’hadurah, 3:28 forbids, while Tzitz Eliezer (13:68) permits).

An excellent and clearly written teshuva on this topic can be found in Li’horot Natan, 7:47-49, written by Rabbi Natan Geshtenter (1932-2010, Bnei Brak), who concludes that it is permissible, even without a strong justifying reason. His arguments are persuasive and compelling, and I believe that his position is the correct one to be followed.  Here’s why.

The Problem of being Designated for a Mitzvah

Some have argued that the principle of huktza li’mitzvato, that an object set aside for its mitzvah use is forbidden to be used for anything else, would prohibit the taking down of the sukkah. This principle is based on Gemara Sukkah (9a) which states that the schach (and possibly the walls) are considered sanctified during Sukkot. In addition, Gemara Sukkah (10a) (as well as Shabbat 22a and 45a, and Beitzah 30b) states that the sukkah decorations are forbidden because they are huktzeh li’mitzvato, designated for mitzvah use (see Tosafot, Sukkah 9a, Beitzah 30b, and Shabbat 22a, as well as other Rishonim who explore the differences between the concept of sanctity and huktzeh li’mitzvato).

All the sources and poskim make it clear that this restriction means only that someone cannot take the schach, or other parts of the sukkah away from the mitzvah for the purpose of using it or benefiting from it (Rambam, Sukkah 6:15, and Shulkhan Arukh, OH 638:1).  It does not mean that it cannot be removed from its mitzvah function. There is thus no problem dismantling the sukkah from this perspective.

There is another issue, however, to deal with – does the sukkah have to be standing for all 7 days to be valid?  The Mishna (Sukkah 48a) states that one should not take down the sukkah on Hoshana Rabbah, which could be reflecting this idea. Rashi, however, explains that this Mishnah is only articulating a practical concern – you should not take it apart because you might need to use it later in the day.  It is thus more advice than a restriction, and regardless, would not apply if the sukkah would be destroyed anyway, or, to take another scenario, if the person had another place to eat, for example, if he was travelling to a different state on Hol HaMoed.  Rashi’s explanation is quoted by all the major poskim (Tur, Beit Yosef, Levush, Arukh HaShulkhan and Mishne Brurah on OH 666), and this is the position that we follow as a matter of halakha.

However, it should be noted that Ran explains that the reason for this restriction is a more fundamental concern – that it would define the sukkah to not be made for 7 days. Following this, it should not be allowed to dismantle a sukkah any earlier than absolutely necessary. Nevertheless, this position is not quoted in poskim, and some explicitly reject it.

One final concern that is raised is the ruling in Shulkhan Arukh (OH 15) that a person may not remove tzitzit from a garment to put them on another garment, because this would be making a garment that requires tztizit to be tztzit-less. However, there is no restriction against discarding the garment or cutting it up (Mishne Brurah no. 3, based on Magen Avraham, no. 2), and thus no restriction against taking down a sukkah: this is no different than removing the tzizit and discarding the garment.

Taking Down a Structure on Hol HaMoed (and Yom Tov)

In addition to the issues discussed above, some have raised the concern of sitrah, taking down a structure, which should be forbidden on Hol HaMoed because it is a melakha. But, in fact, this is not a problem at all. When it comes to taking down the schach, we are talking only about stirat ohel, removing a roof, not stirat binyan, destroying a structure, and stirat ohel is just a problem on Yom Tov and not on Hol HaMoed (Arukh HaShulkhan, OH 638:8-9, Mishne Brurah, Beiur Halakha).

The same would be true when it comes to taking down the walls in most of our contemporary sukkot which are not attached to the ground. In such cases there is no stirat binyan, and thus it is totally permissible on Hol HaMoed. Even in the case of a sukkah attached to the ground, if there was a concern of financial loss or potential damage to others, it would be permitted to be dismantled (SA OH 540:1 and Mishne Brurah no. 5.]

Conclusion

One can take down a sukkah on Hol HaMoed when necessary. Once the schach and walls are taken down, they should not be used for other purposes, because they are designated for the mitzvah, and remain so even if the schach fell down until the end of the chag (OH 638:1).

Eating Outside a Sukkah

If a person has taken down his sukkah, he is still required to eat in a sukkah, and he must try to find one that is still standing. Anyone who lives in an apartment knows full well that even if you do not have a sukkah of your own, you are still required to eat in a sukkah.

However, there are two scenarios in which this would not be the case.

  1. If it is so cold and windy that eating in a sukkah causes discomfort, you may eat indoors.  This is the principle of mitztaer, a person in discomfort. Ramban explains that this exemption is based on the word ezrach “citizen”: “every citizen in Israel shall dwell in sukkot” (Lev. 23:45), which suggests a sense of being settled and in comfort. More simply, the exemption is based on the word “dwell” and eating in discomfort is not considered an act of dwelling in that place.  Since the sukkah must serve as your primary residence during the chag, if you are in such discomfort that you would leave your primary residence and go to your secondary residence next door because of current conditions, you may also leave the sukkah (Rema, OH 639:5).  If that is the case here, you are exempt from eating in a sukkah.
  2. No sukkot are available. If there are no sukkot available in your community, then you are exempt from eating in a sukkah. You do not have to travel to find a sukkah – travelling itself is a reason to be exempt from the sukkah, because it puts you out of the home context!  If there are people who have a sukkah, but you do not know them well and are reluctant to ask them to use their sukkah, this would put you in the mitztaer category, since it is so difficult to make this request (OH 640:4 and MB 22).  However, the practice is to only follow this ruling when it is particularly difficult or uncomfortable to go to another person’s sukkah (MB 23). Thus, if it is not a great difficulty, I would encourage you to overcome your reluctance and to ask – people like helping people, and this would let you have the mitzvah of sukkah, and let them have the mitzvah of lending you a hand!  But if this is too awkward or uncomfortable, then you are exempt from eating in a sukkah.