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Why Sukkot Trumps Yom Kippur

I don’t mean to sound heretical, but if given my druthers, I would rather Jews observe the seven days of Sukkot than the 25 hours of Yom Kippur. (Of course, I would prefer they do both, but this is one of those hypothetical conundrums.)

It is more than an issue of the seven-to-one-day ratio. Yom Kippur is observed in the synagogue, which is important but not sufficient for Jewish survival if Jews do not also observe in their homes. Sukkot is observed in the home, actually outside the home, on the porch, in the backyard or courtyard, or on the roof, in a little homemade hut. In that way, it is like Passover: a time to surround oneself with family and friends.


Yom Kippur is about denial. We wear white and leave our jewelry and leather at home. Sukkot is about finding balance. The hut, called a sukkah, is decorated with homemade items like strings of popcorn and cranberries, paper chains and lanterns, and purchased decorations each of which has a story, like the painted tin birds we bought at the Smithsonian Folk Life Festival a few years ago, or the carved wooden apples my husband found at Yosemite National Park.

Yom Kippur is about afflicting ourselves with prayer and fasting. Sukkot is about eating and celebrating. Tradition refers to Sukkot as zeman simhateinu, the time of our joy. In the olden days, communities would celebrate by having festivals. Today, many Jewish day schools observe this by taking their students to a local theme park. The joy of the festival reminds us that Judaism is fundamentally a joyful religion filled with celebration, and we can all use a little more celebration in our often tension-filled lives.


Yom Kippur is about atoning for our sins, which is transcendentally important. But without Sukkot, the real meaning of Yom Kippur–to focus ourselves on what is most important in life–can all too quickly become transient.

Sukkot, with its emphasis on leaving our home for a hut and inviting guests, is about realizing that what we own is not who we are, and that what we do is not important unless our actions include welcoming the needy and lonely to our tables and otherwise caring for those less fortunate than ourselves.

Finally, Yom Kippur is all about us as individuals, and Sukkot is all about us as part of a historic family that begins with Abraham and Sarah, who we invite into our sukkah on the first night as ushpazin, guests. Each night we invite another set of guests from our ancient family tree, linking us to the continuity of our people and our link to God.

When we observe Yom Kippur and miss Sukkot, we miss fully half of what it means to be a Jew, perhaps the most important half. In my book, Sukkot trumps Yom Kippur any day.

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posted October 4, 2006 at 6:19 pm

Thanks for this post. Sukkot has just become more meaningful for me.

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posted October 4, 2006 at 6:37 pm

I build a sukkah by myself every year. I’m a single woman who enjoys the holidays. This is the first year I’ve had to animal-proof my sukkah. I do animal rescue, so, I’ve recently adopted a Vietmanese potbellied pig. They like to root and would enjoy eating the decorations. Thus, my sukkah’s covering doesn’t hang to low and my vines and corn are hung up higher; Harold, my pig likes to lay on the ground by my feet when I’m in the sukkah resting by my dog and 3 stray cats. I find it very spiritual. My friends that are not Jewish come over and have coffee or beer under the sukkah. They wish I could keep it up all year round; I explain the significance of Sukkot and the sukkah. They really think that its a wonderful holiday. Thank you for letting me share. L’chaim, Shelley

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posted October 4, 2006 at 6:50 pm

Shelly, Thank you for sharing.

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Rod Koozmin

posted October 4, 2006 at 8:18 pm

Generally we don’t think of Jews as having pet pigs but why not, dogs and cats are not kosher. I would like to put up a succot but my Jewish wife will not let me as she is fearful or ??? Then too I read in verse 23:42 New JPS “You shall live in booths seven days; all citizens in Isrreal” Well I do not live in Isreal. Instead I have build several Andorandick chairs and will sit in them under a tree.- Rod

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posted October 6, 2006 at 4:27 am

to Rod – your Jewish wife is fearful or ??? fear??? what could be fearful about a Sukkah? does it connote camping?? (which my Jewish husband is afraid of!!!) i spent today building our Sukkah – we just moved to a house with deck, so it was much easier than in years previous when we built it outside our townhouse, in a postage-stamp size backyard, and had to schlep the food down to the basement and out the back to eat. it was such a pleasure hammering and nailing and stretching the canvas sides that i sewed to fit the frame i had made. in my usual daily activities, i am stuck in front of a computer screen, or reading articles or writing, or analyzing data, and this activity today was so “earthy”!! Sukkot IS different from Yom Kippur, in so many ways but, i’m still struck by what might be “frightening” about a Sukkah??? Chag Sameach, janaki

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posted October 6, 2006 at 2:43 pm

what could be fearful about a Sukkah? does it connote camping?? (which my Jewish husband is afraid of!!!) that’s funny. my husband is an eagle scout and camps all the time.

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posted October 12, 2006 at 1:57 am

I’m just starting to learn a bit about Judaism. I had a nodding acquaintance with it growing up, but recently decided that I should learn more. This is the first time I have heard of Sukkot. What an incredibly warm and charming holiday!

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posted October 12, 2006 at 3:10 am

Think ur missing the point of the “Day of Atonement”, and all it’s features. It is a time to take inventory of relationships, forgive and of course to be at one with God, to be atune so to speak with God’s spirit and music. I think it is one of the healthiest ideas in religion to continue the forgiving process and set apart a time to address issues that otherwise may not be dealt with truely.

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