Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Moderate, Liberal, and Secular Jews Should Celebrate Sukkot

Sukkot is a holiday that should appeal to moderate, liberal, and secular Jews. But for some reason, very few non-Orthodox Jews celebrate this holiday. I am not sure why. My argument here --- addressed specifically to Jews who do not celebrate sukkot --- is that you should celebrate Sukkot as well.

The "religious" content is Sukkot is certainly appealing. It is known as Z'man Simchateinu, the time of our joy, and it is actually a Torah-mitzvah to "rejoice" during sukkot. (Deut. 16:14.) It is a reminder of the Exodus from Egypt (like Passover and Shabbat) (Exod. 23:42-43.) And it is one of the the three major "pilgrimage" holidays in the Torah.

The "rituals" of sukkot are pretty pleasant as well. Building a sukkah is fun, and its a great activity to do with kids. Kids love decorating a sukkah. And once it is built, one should invite guests to the sukkah and enjoy a good meal. Many people built patios and covered desks in their backyard; there is not a huge difference between that and a sukkah (other than the sukkah's temporary nature).

The "meaning" of sukkot is also appealing, especially in America. For one week each year, we leave the comfort of our nice houses, go sit in a shack, and enjoy the company of family and friends. One obvious lesson is that we can have a wonderful time with our family and friends, even without the material comforts or our house. One of the most important aspects of Judaism is its counter-cultural messages. Sukkot's anti-materialism is an important antidote to the strong (and sometimes overwhelming) materialism of America. There are of course many ways to think about Sukkot, but this is one of the most important ones for me.

So I challenge any Jew who does not regularly build a sukkah to do so this year, or at least to come up with a good reason for not doing so. (Good luck with that one.) There are zillions of easy-to-assemble sukkah kits available in Judaica store or online (google it). Or design and build your own. (I use 2x4s bolted together (for easy assembly, disassembly, and reusability) with metal L-braces (for strength), along with plastic pull-down blinds for the walls, and bamboo blinds or branches or palm fronds for the skach. Everything is easily available at a local home center.)

I have found Aish HaTorah's Sukkot webpages to be quite helpful.

Sukkot is 2 weeks after Rosh Hashanah and 4 days after Yom Kippur. So its a pretty good idea to start planning now.

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