A Very Geeky Sukkot (Su-what?)

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sukkah_lightsIt’s currently a holiday-heavy season for Jews. We just came out of Rosh Hashannah (New Year) and Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), and are now jumping right into Sukkot. The first two are pretty big names and known to the non-Jewish world, but Sukkot is a lot more “inside”. How inside? Jared Kushner, husband to Ivanka Trump, was photographed with her by Paparazzi a few years ago, on Sukkot. He was carrying a lulav, a plant that is central to the holiday services. The DailyMail captioned it as “he also held some flowers in one hand – perhaps a gift for his wife.”

The thing in the box is an Etrog, or Citron. Makes good booze. Source DailyMail/INFPhoto.com
The thing in the box is an etrog(citron). We make liqueur from ours after the holiday. Source DailyMail/INFPhoto.com

It’s also one of the two Geekiest Jewish holidays (next to Purim, the one where we play dress up). Why?

Because Sukkot is essentially LARPing (Live Action Role Playing).

Sure, there’s an element of role play to just about every major Jewish holiday. One Rabbi, Rav Chaim Soloveitchik famously opined that “secular holidays commemorate, Jewish holidays recreate.”

On Sukkot, though, we go so far as to change where we live. On this holiday, Jews build small, temporary houses called Sukkot (hence the name of the holiday). There’s no roof – instead we lay plant matter over, to create a semi-roof, where one can still see the stars. This roofing, called schach, has to be organic, and many are careful to not let it touch metal or plastic even.

Me, building the Sukkah for my parents this year.
Me, building the Sukkah for my parents this year. Note how the schach is resting on top of the wood instead of on the metal frame. Also note that I am fat.

The ideal is to live in the Sukkah (singular form of Sukkot) as much as possible; meals are eaten there, studying is done (and in my case, reading my comics), and sleeping if possible. It’s a fully immersive experience. Or at least it can be. If you live in an apartment, you can’t really build one and have (for a given value of have – this is not the venue to compare levels of observance) to use a communal one for meals. Personally, I spent the last two years in Houston, Texas where sleeping outside would have meant heat stroke. In that situation, one is allowed to just eat there.

Speaking of allowed, here’s another Geeky thing about Sukkot: It has a guidebook. Okay, so technically all the holidays to. The section of the Talmud (The Oral Law, long ago collected) devoted to Sukkot, (entitled Sukkah appropriately enough), is extra geeky though. The Talmud has two sections – the Mishna (like a beginner’s guide) and the Gemara (like Advanced D&D stuff). I try to read the Mishna every year on Sukkot. The rules get very detailed and very mathematical.

"Mathematical" property of "Adventure Time with Finn and Jake". Used without permission.
“Mathematical” property of “Adventure Time with Finn and Jake”. Used without permission.

And like any game, you have Rules Lawyers. My own father won’t eat soup in the Sukkah. Why? His #dadjoke reason is that the Mishna has a discussion about when you go in from the Sukkah if it starts to rain. The answer is “until the soup is ruined”. If he doesn’t eat soup, you see, then he can stay out even if it rains!

Relax, my father does know enough to come in out of the rain. Source: Peanuts

Building can get geeky, as with any build. Simplified Building offer a computer model that works with Google SketchUp that lets you see what a Sukkah built with their Kee Klamp metal fittings. I’ve actually built one this way. I’ve also constructed them from PVC piping and plotted out building one with just wood. The one I built for my parents is a pre-fab panel Sukkah that works by locking metal grooves into angles. It’s fun, but you have to be aware of the build process. I can’t even imagine what a devotee of MakerFaire could come up with.

My Klamp Sukkah, of blessed memory.
My Klamp Sukkah, of blessed memory.

Another geek aspect of Sukkot is the decorations. Lots of families decorate their Sukkah, and the Mishna has all sorts of rules for how you do it. None of those rules, however, say it can’t be geeky! Tablet Magazine thinks you should built a TARDIS Sukkah. Personally, I’d go for something with lighting. Since you’re supposed to eat dinner outside, you need some kind of lighting in there. Maybe get some LED lights and jazz things up. Heck, control the whole thing via an app and make a Smart Sukkah (Note to self: Do this next year).

You could also pretend you’re on Star Trek: The Next Generation and ask people how many lights there are.

And then there are the cases to hold your etrog and your lulav… you can go geeky with those too. Personally, I’ve always wanted an etrog holder that looks like the Casket of Ancient Winters. Oo… or a pirate chest! Or a Companion Cube! Or…

The possibilities are endless.

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