The Sukkah Fiasco at the Rye Town Hilton


rye-town-hiltonBy Rabbi Yair Hoffman

If the facts reported are correct, the events that unfolded this past Sukkos at the Rye Town Hilton are a bit shocking. Apparently, a few hours before Sukkos began, the Westchester Department of Buildings came down and forbade use of the Sukkah designated for use by over 200 guests. They then actually confiscated the Schach to ensure that the Sukkah not be used. Although the tour operators offered to post 24 guards and fire personnel to ensure the safety of the guests, the offer was not accepted.

It seems that some people did get hold of two pop-up sukkos and the three days of Yom Tov were spent with the guests switching off making kiddush in these two smaller sukkos.

There is no doubt that hearing and reading of this incident will cause quite a stir, however, in this article we will deal solely with the halachic aspects of the incident.

The issues can be divided into two parts: The first is how best to handle the situation from a halachic perspective. The second issue is how best to try and ameliorate the lack of a Sukkah on Yom Tov.


Regarding the first issue, it would seem that the hotel kitchen staff should prepare mini portions of meat and challah. Each male guest should wash before entering one of the two pop-up Sukkos, make Kiddush on wine, Hamotzi on bread and eat the mini meat portion. He should then bentch. The entire process should take between five and seven minutes. He may have a second meal in the regular hotel and avoid mezonos foods, bread, and wine.

One is technically permitted to wash for HaMotzi even before Kiddush – even though this is not the prevalent Minhag. This is actually the German Minhag and is mentioned in the Ramah as well. Assuming there are fifty men per pop-up Sukkah and two can fit at one time, the entire procedure could take 2 and ½ hours.


This author would like to suggest that each individual guest could ask a gentile worker to build a smaller Sukkah by going to a local Home Depot and buying the necessary material. The rationale for this is as follows:

As we know, generally speaking, the sages forbade asking a gentile to perform an otherwise- prohibited action on the Sabbath or on a Jewish holiday. The prohibition is called “Amira l’Akum” and is found in Shabbos 121a, where we learn that it is forbidden to ask a gentile to extinguish a (non-life-threatening) fire.

The explanations given for this prohibition are many. Rashi (Avodah Zarah 15a) explains that the Rabbis felt that it would be a violation of v’daber davar (Isaiah 58:13) – speaking about prohibited things. Elsewhere, (Shabbos 151a) Rashi explains that the sages made it as if the Jew was performing the violation himself through the concept known as shlichus. Finally, the Rambam explains that the Rabbis were concerned that a Jew who asks a gentile to do something forbidden may take the Shabbos lightly himself and come to a violation himself.


However, there are times when exceptions were made to this rabbinic prohibition. Some exceptions pertain even to a biblically forbidden restriction, while other exceptions only pertain to a Rabbinic restriction. (For example, during Friday night twilight one may ask a gentile to perform a biblical prohibition for the needs of Shabbos. When there is fear of a significant loss of money, one may ask a gentile to perform a Rabbinic violation – but not a Biblical prohibition).

The rationale is that under these four circumstances – the Rabbis never made the restriction of forbidding one to ask a gentile to perform an action that will remedy the situation.


The Rambam (Hilchos Shabbos 6:9-10), Mishna Brurah (307:23) and Aruch HaShulchan (OC 276:16) clearly state that for the needs of a Mitzvah, one may ask a gentile to violate a rabbinic stricture. Other modern Poskim (Dayan Weiss Minchas Yitzchak Vol. VIII #57) rule this way too, and a minority of Poskim even permit asking the gentile even to perform a full-fledged biblical prohibition when it is a Tzorech Mitzvah (See Mogain Avrohom 276:2). Indeed, this latter option is the position of the Baal haIttur (Siman 276), a famous Rishon. His view is occasionally invoked under pressing circumstances, see for example the Eliyahu Rabbah (586:29) who uses it in combination with a situation where some Poskim hold that an issue is in fact onlt Rabbinically proscribed.


Tosfos in tractate Shabbos (95a “HaRodeh”) is of the opinion that Boneh, building, is actually only a Rabbinic violation on Yom Tov and not a biblical one. On Shabbos, of course, boneh is certainly a biblically forbidden malacha, according to all opinions. This is also the view of the Tosfos HaRosh. The Piskei Rid 31b is of the opinion that when one does not use a cementing bond – then the prohibition is also Rabbinic in nature. While it is clearly understood that these are not the majority views in halacha, it is a significant enough view to be used in something that the Poskim call “a snif l’hatir.” A “snif l’hatir” means that it can be utilized as a component in an overall lenient ruling.

It is this author’s view that the two factors mentioned above, the Baal HaIttur’s view and the view of Tosfos in Shabbos 95a, can be combined to permit asking a gentile to go to Lowes or Home Depot and build a small Sukkah that the Department of Buildings would not declare invalid.

A simple Sukkah recipe would be to purchase 5 or 6 plywood boards and screw an upper and lower hinge on each. A two by four plank can be fastened on top and one on the bottom. Branches can be placed on it as schach.

Finally, one last thought. It seems that a similar situation happened in Brooklyn a number of years ago and the matter was brought before a judge. The judge ruled that the offender had ten days to take down that Sukkah.

The author can be reached at


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  1. Moral of the story, stay home with your family the way Sukkois is supposed to be spent and the way the Hashem has in mind for us to spend Yom Tov versus going to some fardarbiner hotel mingling with hundreds of strangers and spending yom tov with zero spirituality whatso ever

  2. Well done.
    By the way, was this the first days of Sukkos?
    The obligation on the first night (and possibly the second) is to eat a kezayis challah. Washing in advance of Kiddush as well as having water and washing cup immediately outside the Sukkah would help for a large crowd and tiny Sukkah.
    In Williamsburg, in years past when the projects there were full of Yidden, a large communal Sukkah was built. No other sukkahs were available. Coming home from Shul, someone would have to go up to the apartment to get the food, sometimes as high as 22 floors. The food would be ready in camping gear – one pot cotainer above the other. The first had fish, next was woup, the main dish next, compote desrt next, etc. Once the food was brought down, the father and his sons walked into the Sukkah and spied for someone up to his main dish. A child would be assigned to stand guard at the location, thus reserving it. The father and other sons would proceed to get on line to wash. By the time they came back, the first diner would have hopefully finished his meal. Not having the luxury of time to clean up, the diner would leave quickly and the second diner would make Kiddush and hurriedly eat his meal. Usually half of the first father’s and his son’s food would still be on the table and on the floor. This process repeated itself with each new wave of Shuls, i/e. Vienner, Tzelem, Pupa, Vishnitz, Satmar, etc. Picturing all this, we can easily understand why people would elect to go to a hotel or anywhere else for Sukkos.

  3. # 1 & 2,

    I strongly disagree with you. Berfore I begin, I will notify you that I’ve never spent a Yom Tov in a hotel. However:

    You two just violated the prohibition of “onoas devorim”. There is absolutely no heter to throw rocks at a person when they’re down.

    Adittionally, while you may have many reasons for wanting to enjoy your Succos at home, what happened here is not one of them. A fluke (with considerable anti-Semitisim attached to it) can happen anywhere.

    If you feel that this is an issue which is included in Hashems Commandment of tochocha, then fine, be mochiach. Hurting anyone along the way, without proper reason, is unacceptable and osur.

    All the best, my friends.

  4. A lot of people that go to these programs may not have access to a succah or otherwise not use one. Please keep that in mind bef one makes suggestions. #1

  5. to eli u cant even spell Sukkos and whats the problem going away Pesach, I one time went away for Pesach and it was very nice. It’s only your type of negitive people who say everything is bad,and about “spirituality” it was just fine nice davening ashkenas and sefard with divrie torah and shiurim.

  6. Could everyone just please read an article and not have to be a wise guy and write in nasty things to one another – or about one another. Sheesh! Honestly… it is enough already… have you nothing else to do with your time… and now of course some other wise guy is gonna say… oh so Bubby, what are you doing on Matzav?
    I know you guys already!

  7. #5, if going to hotels is Rotzon Hashem, why don’t admorim, Rosh Yeshivas and Rabanim of all communities flock to these gatherings?
    Its all about entertainment, mingling, eating and fun. Just look at the ads for these venues, they speak for themselves. Everything that happens is NOT by chance and its obvious that Hashem sent these folks a lesson.

  8. its chutzpa to assume that everyone has the family,a succah, good health and stamina that it takes to make yom tov at home. Hotels are a great option for singles, widows and widowers, overworked, lonely, people who need a change of scenery and also may want shiurim and inspiring lectures. Some working mothers and others become overwhelmed and tense with yom tovim. Many families who can afford it, spend time with extended family that they may not have room for in their homes; in a relaxed atmosphere. We dare not judge others because we think we know best and our way is the only way. P.S. I stay home but I’m not sour grapes and feel bad for what happened in the hotel.

  9. The person running this program is a first class mentsch. He always strives to bring a true Shabbos /Yom Tov ruach to his functions. All the groise chachamim who “never go away” for Yom Tov and pat themselves on their backs fail to realize that many apartment building dwellers have no ability to have a succah and spend big bucks to fulfill the mitzva in a proper environment. It is so easy to knock others and miss the whole point of the story and how this overt act of anti semitism can be ignored and some of us so blinded and misguided.

  10. I went on the program. I didn’t hear the rabbi of the program make this suggestion. they did have a great bar the whole time to keep us happy

  11. I agree with #1, there are exceptions to the rule, unfortunately the exceptions have become the rule. Ask any godal, and in ordinary circumstances chagim are meant to be spent home with the family.

  12. #1 & #2 I guess you live in the world of GLOBAL DISINTEREST.
    * Ever hear of the elderly who have no succah
    * Did u know some pls still live in apt bldgs
    * Some larger families want to spend YT together
    * There are pls due to illness, work issues that can not be home for YT.
    * Can be more spiritual at hotel than home…

  13. whatever happened to yom tov? yes some people go to hotels because they have no sukkah, but let’s call it for what it is that some people go to hotels on yom tov for vacation!

    this article should serve as a “wake up call” to those who seek vacations for yom tov instead of investing spirituality into the yom tov.

  14. I once spent the first days of Sukkos in a hotel. I was very reluctant, but my mother-in-law insisted and for shalom bayis, I went along.

    I have to say I have always been, and will continue to be for the most part, negative on hotels for yom tov. However, this particular hotel had elderly people for whom making yom tov may have been too difficult; at least one seriously disabled boy, whose mother I assume decided that spending quality time with their son would be easier without the logistical issues of preparing, serving and clearing meals, and other housekeeping; at least one family whom I knew personally where both husband and wife work very hard.

    In short, while I expected the hotel to be full of rich, spoiled people, I discovered this one to be full of heimish, hardworking people who simply needed a break.

    It was a big lesson in being dan lekaf zechus, and a great way to start the year.

  15. Additionally, and more toward the point of this post, when we pulled into the hotel parking lot about three hours before yom tov, I saw workers frantically putting up the sukkah.

    “That’s strange,” I thought. “Why wasn’t that done well in advance?”

    I found out that indeed it had been put up days earlier but that the fire marshal had shown up and ordered it taken down. Only after several safety measures had been instituted (exit signs hung by the doors, neon glow-in-the-dark paint sprayed on the floor near the exits) did they allow it to go back up.

    I found out later that only through the efforts of a secular Jew who was involved in the fire department were they able to work with the marshal to get the sukkah up in time.

    It is completely the fault of the tour operators if they don’t get the proper clearance for putting up a sukkah, and know what they are getting themselves into – WELL AHEAD of yom tov. They shouldn’t think that such a structure is going to escape the attention of the local authorities, many of whom champ at the bit to through their political/legal weight around.

  16. 2 thoughts:
    1) There are many people who have nowhere to build a succah or live in a place where it is extremely inconvenient to get to the succah. For them, a hotel with a succah is a necessity, not a luxury.

    2) I wonder if #1 and 2 are men. How many hours did they stand in the kitchen this past month serving, washing dishes, cooking, cooking, cooking, baking, doing piles of laundry, etc.? Thought so….

    For the record, I am a proud housewife who stayed home, did all of the above, while hosting guests and would never trade it all in for any hotel vacation. But I don’t speak for all of womankind when I say it.

  17. Dear Author:

    Thank you for your great articles, but this time I respectfully disagree, since you failed to take into account the principle of “migu dehaveh dofen linyan Sukah …” that would render this binyan a de’oraysoh, even if during other Yomim tovim it would be a de’rabonon.
    If you feel I am mistaken please comment. Thank you again.

  18. #7, actually it is spelled ” SUKKOIS” look at the hebrew word and pronounce it in English. You should learn how to write a sentence in English before commenting on peoples spelling

  19. I hope they get sued. anti semits in America we have a right to practice religion if some one makes a party in back of is house and puts up a tent for beer party that’s ok put a tent with some wooden slats on the top for Jews its not.

  20. Rye Town Hilton Sukkot

    We are pleased to announce that we will be hosting a Sukkot Program this year at the Rye Town Hilton, in Westchester, New York.

    A mere 30 minutes from Manhattan, this luxury hotel is set amidst 45 acres of verdant green landscape and gardens that invite guests to explore its beautiful grounds. Imagine dining in a beautifully adorned Sukkah conveniently located just outside the Westchester Ballroom.

    The hotel has completed a $30 million dollar extensive renovation including all spacious and elegant guest rooms and suites. All rooms have been upgraded with luxurious amenities including a 42? LCD flat screen TV.

    The ballrooms and public areas of the hotel have also been completely renovated. Relax at the outdoor & indoor swimming pool or whirlpool, get a workout in the state-of-the-art fitness center, or enjoy a game of tennis at the indoor tennis complex.

    We will be working with Foremost Ram Caterers, one of America’s premier Glatt Kosher Caterers, who will bring our Sukkot cuisine to a new level. In our Sukkah, you will experience a large variety of impressive delights that will tempt even the most discriminating palate.

    We will, once again, have our daily Orthodox religious services, captivating lectures, professional day camp, infant care.
    If you are looking for the finest Sukkot program with the closest proximity to New York City, the Rye Town Hilton should be your choice.