As Hurricane Joaquin gains steam off the southeastern coast of the United States, the question has begun to circulate online: Are Jews allowed to take down their sukkas in the case of a storm?
The holiday of Sukkot, which began last Sunday, runs through this Sunday evening. Hurricane Joaquin, the first large tropical storm of the hurricane season (whose name means “raised by God” in Hebrew), could hit east coast shores this weekend — just before the end of the holiday.
On Thursday, NJ Gov. Chris Christie declared a state of emergency. The executive order signed by Christie empowers the state director of emergency management and county governments to coordinate efforts to cope with the storm.
Regardless of whether the Category 3 hurricane does make landfall, it will bring as much as 20 inches of rain to states such as Georgia, the Carolinas, Maryland, Delaware, and New Jersey.
Some families and synagogues that have constructed sukkas — the temporary huts that are meant to represent shelter during the harvest holiday of Sukkot — are worried that the inclement weather could destroy the symbolic structures.
Some are more confident that their sukkas will defy the storm.
According to Jewish law, a sukka may be taken down before the holiday is over if it is going to be damaged or if it poses a danger to those in or around it. If it is damaged, it is technically no longer fulfilling the requirements of the holiday.
Rabbi Yair Hoffman, a columnist for The Five Towns Jewish Times, wrote that there is wide disagreement among traditional commentators about taking down a sukka during the intermediate days of the holiday, which lasts between the first day of Sukkot and Simchat Torah, which falls on Oct. 5 this year. Hoffman suggests that “one should not take the Sukka apart prematurely unless it would be dangerous [otherwise], but if someone wishes to do so, he certainly does have whom to rely upon. “ (He cautioned readers to consult their own rabbi or trusted legal decisor.)
Rabbi Marjorie Slome of the West End Synagogue, on Rockaway beach in Queens, New York, added that Sukkot is meant to be enjoyed in comfort.
“It’s supposed to be the season of rejoicing and you’re not going to be rejoicing if rain is getting into your soup,” Slome said.
Slome, who is Reform, has experience juggling Judaism and tropical storms. Her synagogue was inundated with five feet of water during Superstorm Sandy in 2012 and is still reconstructing its damaged offices.
“I’ll pay attention to the weather and do whatever they’re telling us to do,” Slome said.