Shacking Up in the Fairfax District


Longtime readers of this site may be familiar with my obsession affinity for shacks (examples: one, two, three). Two years ago I relocated to the Fairfax District and eagerly accepted a goyim title. Fellow denizens it gives me great pleasure to announce that my all-time favorite Jewish holiday, affectionately dubbed “Season of the Shacks” for lack of knowledge, is upon us yet again. At this time of year all of my Orthodox neighbors build shack-like dwellings in their driveways. They get dressed to the nines, eat giant meals and sing traditional songs – all in the shack – as often as possible. To say I am jealous would be an understatement of ludicrous proportion.

That said, my lack of knowledge regarding the shacktastic tradition has been a sore spot for two years running. This year, I decided to get to the bottom of things. I’m speaking today with Robin, my neighbor. For the record, Robin is of non-Orthodox Jewish descent. Let’s do this.

First of all, what is the name of this holiday?


What is the significance of the “shack” and why is one of the aforementioned currently swaying in a parking lot next door?

Sukkot is the “festival of booths”. Originally, this was an agricultural holiday which then morphed. The Sukka (or booth), symbolizes the hastily constructed quarters of the Jews as they crossed the desert. In the Torah (Leviticus 23) it says “You shall live in booths for 7 days in order that future generations may know that I made the Israelite people live in booths when I brought then out of Egypt”. Some take “live” literally and interpret it to mean that one should eat and sleep in their sukka.

What’s with the palm fronds?

There are four species of plants used as religious symbols for this holiday. They too were prescribed in Leviticus:

Lulav – is the palm
Myrtle – is the thick tree
Willow – willows of the brook
Citron- fruit of goodly trees

I’ve noticed some shacks are larger than others. Is this a status symbol…something to do with topology…simply a matter of material or size constraint?

Now I could be wrong on this, but my guess is that size is a practical issue. If one has a larger space and/or larger family, they will likely have a large sukka.

Are electronic devices allowed within the shacks?

I am not aware of any law against it.

How about a blender?

I am not aware of any law against it.

I notice the sides of the shack are typically made of stretched sheets or lightweight fiberboard. Might a shack be constructed of everyday material, or do each of the materials have some significance or relevance? Were I Jewish, could I, say, construct a shack of PVC pipe recently purchased at Home Depot?

A sukka should primarily be constructed with “products of the earth” and those that are easy to gather. This is so we can simulate they type of construction of the original sukkas used in the desert by the Israelites. The Israelites likely had material similar to sheets that they carried with them on their trek through the desert. However, I am not aware of any Home Depots in the Egyptian desert.

How long does the holiday run?

I believe it lasts 8 days. AND it is a Jew’s final chance for the year to atone their sins (atonement started a few weeks earlier with Yom Kippur).

Truth be told I wouldn’t mind setting up a spook house in there, if it stays through Halloween (and if they’re open to it)…which brings up an interesting question: Is the shack immediately disassembled following Sukkot, or might it serve future purposes? Could it be used as, say, a bicycle garage for the remainder of the year? Or is that frowned upon…

I’m not sure this last topic has been discussed, but I’m sure the Orthodox have some crazy rule about it.


Sukkah photos by Jeremy O.