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May One Ask a Non-Jew to Replace Sechach or Rebuild a Sukka on Shabbat or Yom Tob?

If the Sechach over one’s Sukka fell off on Shabbat or Yom Tob during Sukkot, or some other part of the Sukka was ruined, thus disqualifying the Sukka, is it permissible to ask a non-Jew to repair the Sukka?

At first glance, this question depends on the nature of the prohibition of building a Sukka on Shabbat or Yom Tob – meaning, whether for a Jew building a Sukka on Shabbat or Yom Tob constitutes a Torah prohibition, or a Rabbinic violation. As a general rule, one may not ask a non-Jew to perform on Shabbat activities which are forbidden for a Jew on the level of Torah law. However, when it comes to activities forbidden for a Jew on Shabbat Mi’de’rabbanan (by the Rabbis), one may ask a non-Jew to perform such activities under certain circumstances, such as for the sake of a Misva. Therefore, if building a Sukka on Shabbat or Yom Tob is forbidden for a Jew by Torah law, it would seem that one would not be allowed to ask a non-Jew to do this on Shabbat or Yom Tob. But if this is forbidden for a Jew only Mi’de’rabbanan, then it should be permissible in order to facilitate the Misva of Sukka.

The Mishna Berura (Rav Yisrael Meir Kagan of Radin, 1839-1933) addresses the question as to whether building a Sukka on Shabbat constitutes a Torah violation (in 626:20), and leaves this issue unresolved. Surprisingly, however, in a different context (637:1), he writes that one may ask a non-Jew to rebuild a Sukka that had fallen down. Later writers noted the seeming contradiction between these two passages in the Mishna Berura, as in one context the Mishna Berura questions the status of building a Sukka on Shabbat or Yom Tob, considering the possibility that this is forbidden by force of Torah law, whereas elsewhere he seems to assume that it is forbidden Mi’de’rabbanan. Various answers have been suggested to reconcile these two passages. Some suggest that the Mishna Berura distinguished between Shabbat and Yom Tob in this regard, considering the construction of a Sukka a possible Torah violation on Shabbat, but a Rabbinic violation on Yom Tob. Others propose that the Mishna Berura distinguished between a case where one’s Sukka fell down, where there is greater room for leniency, and a case where one neglected to construct a Sukka before Sukkot, in which case we might be stricter and not allow him to ask a non-Jew to build a Sukka for him on Shabbat or Yom Tob.

In any event, the Peri Megadim (Rav Yosef Teomim, 1727-1792) offered a different basis for leniency, claiming that building a Sukka would indeed violate a Torah prohibition on Shabbat or Yom Tob, but it would nevertheless be permissible to ask a non-Jew to do so. In such a situation where this is necessary, the Peri Megadim writes, one may rely on the position of the Ba’al Ha’ittur (Rav Yishak Ben Abba Mari, c. 1122-c. 1193) who permits asking a non-Jew to perform on Shabbat even activities forbidden on the level of Torah law, in situations of great need. Fulfilling the Misva of Sukka qualifies as a "great need," the Peri Megadim writes, and therefore, one may rely on this view to permit asking a non-Jew to rebuild a Sukka on Shabbat or Yom Tob when this is necessary. This was also the ruling of Rav Haim Palachi (Turkey, 1788-1868).

Hacham Bension Abba Shaul (Israel, 1924-1998), in Ner Sion, brings several Poskim (including the Bikureh Yaakob and the Baruch Ta’am) who maintain that since the Sukka is a temporary structure ("Dirat Arai"), constructing a Sukka on Shabbat or Yom Tob is forbidden only Mi’de’rabbanan. According to this view, we may apply the rule of "Shebut De’shebut Be’makom Misva" – that when this is necessary for a Misva, one may ask a non-Jew to perform on Shabbat an activity forbidden for Jews on the level of Rabbinic enactment. Therefore, in light of all this, Hacham Bension rules that if one’s Sechach fell off the Sukka, or some other damage was done to the Sukka, one may ask a non-Jew to repair the Sukka on Shabbat or Yom Tob. Hacham Bension adds that the non-Jew may be asked to repair the entire Sukka, so that the people will be comfortable, and not just the minimum area required for the Sukka to be suitable for the Misva.

Summary: If on Shabbat or Yom Tob during Sukkot, one’s Sechach fell off the Sukka, or some other damage was done to the Sukka, one may ask a non-Jew to repair the Sukka.

 


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