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Shabbat Sukkot | 5768

Ask the Rabbi

Question: There are many brands of mats of bamboo and the like that serve as s’chach with hechsherim (rabbinical approval). What are the rabbis attesting to that is not self-evident?
Answer: Major criteria of s’chach, that it is made from something that grew from the ground and is now detached, are clearly fulfilled in the mats in question. However, other issues which either require or benefit from certification exist, especially in regard to the requirement that s’chach be made out of something that is not mekabel tumah (fit to become impure) (Sukka 11a).
 The mishna (ibid. 19b) says that the kashrut of a mat of reeds for s’chach is a function of one or two of the following factors: Is it small enough for it to often be made for lying on? Was the intention in making it for s’chach or for lying down? The point is that certain types of tumah are transferred when sitting or lying on something; therefore, some mats are utensils that are mekabel tumah because of these functions. The Rama (Orach Chayim 629:6) says that is insufficient that an individual’s intention in making it (to use or to sell) was to be used for s’chach. Rather, most of the mats of this type produced in that place must not be for lying or sitting but for functions such as s’chach. This is a rabbinic concern that people who cannot discern one’s intentions will assume that it was not produced for s’chach. The Mishna Berura (629:18) claims that in his time most mats were made for lying on and were problematic. However, present-day poskim point out that most of the type of mats used for s’chach these days are clearly made specifically for that purpose. A hechsher could confirm that the certifying rabbi’s conclusion is that the mat was made for s’chach and is not too similar to mats for lying or sitting on.
 R. Yehuda disqualifies a sukka that rests upon a bed (Sukka 21b). One of the gemara’s explanations is that s’chach may not even be supported by something that is mekabel tumah (including a bed). The concern is that people might use that which supports the s’chach as s’chach, and therefore the standards for the two should be similar (see Ran, ad loc.).Although most authorities either do not accept R. Yehuda’s opinion or this explanation of his ruling (see Beit Yosef, end of OC 630), it is customary to try to conform to this stringency (Mishna Berura 630:59). Therefore, it is best that the strings that hold the slats or pieces of bamboo together be made from something that grew in the ground (i.e., not synthetic) and is not mekabel tumah. The gemara (Sukka 12b) says that processed flax is unfit as s’chach, and different Rishonim give various explanations. According to some, cotton thread is fit for s’chach (see Mishna Berura 629:12), but in any case it would at worse be a rabbinic disqualification. Therefore, it is likely that it is permitted to support the s’chach with it, as a rabbinic concern lest one come to do X usually only applies if X is a problem from the Torah (see Bi’ur Halacha, beginning of 630). Furthermore, it is not clear that the threads that connect the strips are considered actual support for the s’chach (see Shevet Halevi VI, 74). In any case, most of the brands with hechsherim use fibers that were not processed to form the mat and thus avoid possible halachic questions.
 Some raise questions about the mats despite the hechsherim. That is due to the injunction not to use pieces of s’chach that are four tefachim wide or more (Shulchan Aruch, OC 629:18), as it could look as if one is in a home with a permanent roof. The (albeit not unanimous) consensus is that pliable connected strips are unlike a thick beam and are halachically fine.
 In summary, halachically produced s’chach mats are efficient and acceptable. Their hechsherim reduce the possibility of fraud and the uncertainty that non-experts might have.
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