Lulav and Sukkah on Shemini Atzeret by Rabbi Chaim Jachter


There is considerable confusion in relation to the practice of Galut Jewry regarding Lulav and Sukkah on Shemini Atzeret.  In this essay, we seek to eliminate the confusion and shed some light on practices that might seem to contradict specific passages in the Gemara.

Gemara Background and Tosafot’s Explanation

We are familiar with the phenomenon of Galut Jews observing two days of Yom Tov.  For example, in the Galut we observe Pesach for eight days instead of the seven days that residents of Israel observe.  This is because of the doubt our ancestors had regarding the calendar, whether the previous month was twenty-nine or thirty days.  Although we have not harbored such doubts since the fixed calendar was established during the time of the Gemara, we still maintain the practice of our ancestors and act as if we are in doubt (see Baitza 4b).   

When we observe the Mitzvot that are performed on the second day of Yom Tov we recite a Beracha in order to preserve the integrity of the day (see Shabbat 23a and Rambam Hilchot Chanukah 3:5).  For example, we recite Hallel with a Beracha on the eighth day of Pesach because our ancestors were in doubt perhaps this day was actually the seventh day of Pesach.  Accordingly, we would expect to recite a Beracha on the Mitzvot of Sukkah and Lulav on Shemini Atzeret, since our ancestors experienced a doubt regarding the eighth day of Sukkot, concerned that it was actually the seventh day of Sukkot.  Yet, the Gemara (Sukkah 47a) presents a debate among the Amoraim regarding how residents of the Galut should conduct themselves in relation to Sukkah on Shemini Atzeret.  The Gemara concludes that the proper practice is to sit in the Sukkah on Shemini Atzeret but omit the Beracha.  The Gemara indicates that we do not take the Lulav on Shemini Atzeret.   

Tosafot (ibid. s.v. Maitav) are puzzled by this phenomenon and wonder why the eighth day of Sukkot differs from the eighth day of Pesach in this regard.  They explain that the eighth day of Sukkot differs from the eighth day of Pesach in that the eighth day of Sukkot is Shemini Atzeret, which is a Yom Tov that in many ways enjoys a separate and distinct identity from Sukkot (see Rosh Hashana 4b).  Were we to observe the Mitzvot of the seventh day of Sukkot on Shemini Atzeret, we would undermine the integrity of Shemini Atzeret.  We do not take the Lulav on Shemini Atzeret, because the Lulav is ordinarily Muktza.  Thus, taking the Lulav on Shemini Atzeret would make a blatant statement of concern that it is actually the seventh day of Sukkot.  However, sitting in the Sukkah on Shemini Atzeret, Tosafot explain, is not a blatant expression of doubt whether the day is the seventh day of Sukkot, since many people eat their meals outside in a hut on any Yom Tov simply because it is a pleasant experience.  Finally, this is the reason we omit the Beracha when we sit in the Sukkah on Shemini Atzeret.  Reciting the Beracha would undermine the status of Shemini Atzeret by blatantly demonstrating that we are concerned perhaps the day is not truly Shemini Atzeret. 

Alternate Explanations for Lulav – Kesef Mishna and Rav Soloveitchik

The Kesef Mishna (commenting on Rambam Hilchot Sukkah 6:13) offers a different explanation for why we do not take a Lulav on Shemini Atzeret.  He notes that it is only a rabbinical obligation to take the Lulav on the seventh day of Sukkot.  Biblically, we are only obligated to take the Lulav on the first day of Sukkot if one is outside of the Bait Hamikdash and seven days if one is inside the Bait Hamikdash (see Vayikra 23:40 and Sukkah 41a).  The Kesef Mishna argues that the obligations of Yom Tov Sheni do not apply to Lulav because the obligation is only rabbinic in nature (there is a basis for this approach in Menachot 68b).  One may add that this explains why we do not observe Chanukah for nine days in the Galut. 

Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik (Kovetz Chiddushei Torah Shel Hagrid Vehagram p.155) offers a different explanation.  He points out that Rabban Yochanan Ben Zakai instituted that we take the Lulav during the last six days of Sukkot to commemorate the practice in the Bait Hamikdash to take the Lulav for the seven days of Sukkot.  Since this enactment is designed to commemorate the practice of the Bait Hamikdash, there is no reason to take the Lulav on Yom Tov Sheni.  This is, Rav Soloveitchik argues, because the institution of Yom Tov Sheini had no relevance in the context of the Bait Hamikdash and was never part of the Bait Hamikdash experience. 

Sukkah on Shemini Atzeret – Defense of the Chassidic Practice – Aruch Hashulchan, Sefat Emet, and Rav Soloveitchik

It is rather astonishing to find that many Chassidim and those who are of Chassidic background essentially do not eat in the Sukkah on Shemini Atzeret, except for reciting Kiddush and eating a snack (or some variation thereof).  This practice is quite surprising in light of the fact that this practice seems to contradict an explicit ruling of the Gemara (Sukkah 47a), Rambam (Hilchot Sukkah 6:13), and Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 668:1).  We will present three defenses of this seemingly odd practice.  We should note that Reb Yankel Lichter, a prominent scribe who is a member of the Skever Chassidic group in Borough Park of Brooklyn, emphasized in a conversation with me that this practice is not the universally accepted practice of all Chassidim.  He emphasized that many Chassidim do eat all of their meals in the Sukkah on Shemini Atzeret in accordance with the dictates of the Gemara and Shulchan Aruch.  We should note that Sephardim eat in the Sukkah on Shemini Atzeret outside of Israel, in accordance with the straightforward reading of the Gemara, Rambam, and Shulchan Aruch (Rav Ovadia Yosef, Teshuvot Yechaveh Daat 2:76).

The Aruch Hashulchan (O.C. 668:3-5) offers what appears to be the most straightforward explanation of this practice.  He notes the aforementioned explanation of Tosafot, that the reason why sitting in the Sukkah on Shemini Atzeret is not a blatant declaration that we are uncertain if it is Shemini Atzeret is that many people eat in a Sukkah merely for pleasure even if it is not for the sake of the Mitzva.  The Aruch Hashulchan argues that this applies only to Jews who reside in reasonably warm climates where it is a pleasure to eat outside in the Sukkah.  However, it does not apply to the “Northern countries” (the Aruch Hashulchan resided in Lithuania) where it is quite cold during Shemini Atzeret.  Hardly anyone would eat in a Sukkah purely for pleasure on Shemini Atzeret.  Thus, in Lithuania eating a meal in the Sukkah on Shemini Atzeret would constitute a blatant expression that we are not certain that the day is Shemini Atzeret.  We should note that it is highly questionable that this defense of the Chassidic practice is relevant for this country, especially in warmer areas such as Florida and California.  We should also note that a similar approach is adopted by many Acharonim to explain the almost universally accepted practice not to sleep in the Sukkah on the night of Shemini   Atzeret (see Mishna Berura 668:6). 

The Sefat Emet (commentary to Sukkah 47a) presents an interesting approach to this issue.  He writes that the Gemara (and, in turn, the Rambam and Shulchan Aruch) do not obligate us to eat in the Sukkah on Shemini Atzeret.  Rather, the Gemara permits us to eat in the Sukkah on Shemini Atzeret (i.e. that one does not violate the prohibition of Bal Tosif in doing so).  A proof to his contention, writes the Sefat Emet, is the fact that Chazal did not institute a Beracha for eating in the Sukkah on Shemini Atzeret, unlike eating Matza at the second Seder where we recite Al Mitzvat Matza.  This explanation, of course, transcends all climates and may be used as a justification even for the practice in America.

Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik (cited in Rav Hershel Reichman’s Reshimot Shiurei Hagrid Al Masechet Sukkah p.98) offers a highly creative approach to this issue.  Rav Soloveitchik cites the Raavad’s explanation for why a Chatan and his closest circle of friends are excused from sitting in the Sukkah throughout the entire holiday of Sukkot (Sukkah 25b).  The Raavad explains that these people are classified as Mitztaer (experiencing significant discomfort, which constitutes a legitimate excuse for not eating in the Sukkah) since they will not celebrate appropriately if they are limited to the confines of a Sukkah.  Similarly, argues Rav Soloveitchik, Chassidim celebrate Shemini Atzeret very intensely to the extent that it may be compared to the celebration of a wedding party.  The bride and groom are the Jewish People and Hashem.  Thus Chassidim do not eat their Shemini Atzeret meal in the Sukkah on Shemini Atzeret, as it would detract from the intensity of their celebration of Shemini Atzeret.  We may observe that this explanation seems to justify the practice only of “practicing Chassidim” and not merely those who are of Chassidic descent.  The explanation of the Sefat Emet, though, seems to transcend these cultural borders.

Rav Aharon Lichtenstein told a group of Yeshivat Har Etzion alumni that if their family Minhag is to eat outside the Sukkah on Shemini Atzeret they could maintain their family Minhag.  He explained that there is a basis for this practice and it even has roots reaching back to time of the Rishonim (the Raavya).  Interestingly, Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (Teshuvot Minchat Shlomo 1:19:1) rules that a Galut resident who is visiting Israel for Shemini Atzeret does not have to sit in the Sukkah on Shemini Atzeret even if he is fully observing the second day of Yom Tov.  Rav Ovadia Yosef (Teshuvot Yechaveh Daat 2:76) presents a compromise position on this issue.  He rules that a Galut resident who is visiting an Israeli at the latter’s home should eat inside the house with his hosts.  However, if the Galut resident spends Shemini Atzeret in a hotel or his own apartment in Israel, he should eat his meals in the Sukkah.


Permit me to conclude this essay with a charming anecdote that Mr. Sheldon Chanales relates about his interaction with Rav Soloveitchik in Boston one Simchat Torah.  He asked Rav Soloveitchik why Chassidim do not eat their meal in the Sukkah on Shemini Atzeret.  The Rav responded with the explanation that we cited above.  In the course of his answer the Rav became more and more enthralled in explaining the Chassidic experience of Shemini Atzeret and Hakafot (which Chassidim conduct both on Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah).  The Rav mentioned that during the Hoshanot we circle the Sefer Torah but during the Hakafot we circle none other than Hashem!  Finally, Sheldon asked the Rav why then do we who are not members of a Chassidic group, eat in the Sukkah on Shemini Atzeret.  The Rav responded nonchalantly “because that’s what the Gemara says to do.”

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