Friday, October 17, 2008

H. Soloveitchik on sitting in the Sukkah on Shemini Atzeres

Review of Olam K'Minhago Noheg

Zimmer attributes to the colder climes of Poland the desuetude, in many Hasidic circles, of sitting in the sukkah on Shemini Azeret. If climate were a sufficient explanation,there should have been a disappearance of sitting in the sukkah on Sukkot itself. Climate, then, is a necessary but scarcely sufficient condition for this deviation from the norm. I would suggest that sukkah-sitting on Shemini Azeret was established on an original fault line, and its observance ultimately cracked under the joint pressure of colder climate and the change in religious calendar that occurred in eastern Europe as the Safedian kabbalah made ever greater inroads, especially among Hasidim. Allow me to explain. The Talmud( Shabbat2 3a), when discussing the second day of yom tov (yom tov sheni shel galuyyot), states that, strictly speaking, one shouldn't recite a blessing on the commandments performed that day,a s, for example, the second night of the seder. However, were the rabbis to have instituted the second seder, for example,without the appropriate blessings over matzah and maror, people would not take the second-day ceremonies seriously (de-lo 'le-zilzulei bah). They made one exception to this policy, sukkah on Shemini A zeret-where they instituted sitting without the blessing, and, in the fullness of time, the exception prove the wisdom of the rule.

It did not have to happen, and in most lands, ideed, it did not happen. In Poland, however,t he frequently, bitter autumn cold made sukkah-sitting a genuine burden. Jews had sacrificed much for their religion, and no one dreamed that severe chills suspended the demands of religion, and Jews dutifully sat in sukkot throughout the Sukkot holiday. Shemini Azeret,however,was a different matter.Sukkah-eating on that day was clearly a second-class commandment. Evidence-it did not even merit a blessing,unlike all other second-day misvot.And by the 1640s,t he laxity in sukkah-sitting on Shemini Azeret was widespread in Poland,as the remarks o f the super-commentators on the Tur and the Shulhan Arukh clearly indicate (pp. 168-169). Common though it was, it was not yet characteristic of any group. In the course of the next century, the growing influence of Safedic kabbalah transformed HoshanahR abbah into a day equal to-indeed, greater in its momentous irreversibility than Yom Kippur. On this day, the final and irrevocable judgment on every individual was rendered. The tension of Judgment Day stretched now, not from the first of Ellul (when selihot began) to Yom Kippur, but some fifty-two days-all the way to Hoshanah Rabbah. Just as mos'ei Yom Kippurin Temple times became an occasion of celebration, as the accumulated tensions of that awesome day found release, so mos'ei Hoshanah Rabbah, the night of Shemini Azeret, became an eve of Hasidic celebration. Haqqafot were shifted from SimhatT orah,a nd the festivities of Shemini Azeret far exceeded those of its sister holiday. Such celebrations could scarcely be held outside in the cold October nights, and the festive eating and drinking could take place in the sukkah only with difficulty And so sukkah-eating on Shemini Azeret fell into desuetude among large bodies of Hasidim. The northern climate, indeed, played a role in this disuse, but without the original fault line of "no-berakhah"and the shift in date of the religious climax of the year, the sharp autumn cold, by itself.I would suggest, would have been insufficient to effect any large-scale change .

Pp. 163-74. In his treatment of sukkah on Shemini Azeret,our author has omitted the characteristically original position of R. Judah ben Kalonymus in his Yihusei Tannaim ve-Amoraim( ed. Y. L. Maimon),p p. 329-330. It deserves wider currency, as it is the most cogent argument ever made for eating indoors on Shemini Azeret

Notes (from me):
1 - The postion of Yichuse Tannoim is that since the V'Hilchsos are a later Saboraic\Geonic they may be disregarded. This position if accepted has major halachic implications. (Y. S. Spiegel said in a lecture that he left his doctoral work on Saboraic additions because he did not want to get involved with these halachic problems.)

2 - See B'Mechitos Rabbeinu pg. 135 and Emes L' Yaaov Vayikra 23:24 for an interesting explantion from R' Yaakov on why Hoshana Rabbah is not mentioned in the Talmud. (Note his comment that the question is a קנטור נגד הזוהר. I have an email R' Nosson about his fathers relation to Kabbalah but I would have to ask him before placing it here.)


Moti Kagan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
LkwdGuy said...

Is there any way that you can forward RNK's email to me?

lkwdguy at gmail dot com

Anonymous said...

do you have a copy of the full article? if yes, can you email to chortkov at gmail dot com?

Anonymous said...

where is this article? who wrote olam kiminhago noheg?

Anonymous said...

AJS Review, 98. Eric Zimmer

Anonymous said...

ISTM that the notion that Poland has such cold weather is overhyped.

Here's a graph of weather in Krakow ( and it doesn't seem all that much colder than NY or NJ. Similar for Warsaw (

Wolf2191 said...

But that was before global warming...;)

Good point!

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