Rabbi Dr. Raymond Apple was for many years Australia’s highest profile rabbi and the leading spokesman on Judaism. After serving congregations in London, Rabbi Apple was chief minister of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, for 32 years. He also held many public roles, particularly in the fields of chaplaincy, interfaith dialogue and Freemasonry, and is the recipient of several national and civic honours. Now retired, he lives in Jerusalem and blogs at


Sukkot says a great deal about Judaism.

Jews do not usually analyse their theology and treat it as an academic belief system. They prefer experience and appreciation. They do not try to apply reason to the nature of God, man and life, but use their senses to feel and apprehend what it is to live as a Jew.

On Sukkot the agenda is not so much a credal theory of Providence but a pulsating feeling of joy – taking in the atmosphere, handling the etrog and sensing its splendour, breathing the aroma and saying, "It’s great to be Jewish!"

This doesn’t circumvent the existence of Jewish doctrines (the most famous are Maimonides’ 13 Principles) but it says, "Where you find Jewish beliefs is not in books but in life, not in propositions but in pulsation".

The Sukkot commandments arouse the Jewish heart so that the festival is liturgically called "Z’man Simchatenu", "Our time of joy", a description deriving from Deut. 16:15, which says, "You shall be extremely joyful".

In ancient days Sukkot was "*the* festival", considered more joyous than the other festivals because it marked the end of the year’s crops.


Four plants – a lulav, an etrog, three hadassim and two aravot are waved during Sukkot services in all four directions and up and down, to mark God’s omnipresence. All are held together because of the saying, "Israel can only be redeemed when they are united" (Midrash).

Symbolic of the diversity of a community, the etrog has taste and smell, the lulav has taste but no smell, the myrtle has smell but no taste, and the willow has neither taste or smell. Alternatively, the etrog symbolises the heart, the lulav the spine, the myrtle the eyes and the willows the lips.

* THE LULAV (PALM BRANCH): Tall and straight, the lulav stands for righteousness and courage as against egotism and pride. A stolen lulav is not kosher. The Torah says in Lev. 23:40, "Take 'lachem' (for yourselves) the fruit of a goodly tree"; "lachem" = "shelachem", "your own".

* THE ETROG (CITRON): In ancient times the etrog was a Jewish badge, depicted on tombstones. In some places an etrog was so rare and expensive that one had to suffice for the whole community. The fruit which Adam and Eve ate in the Garden of Eden was probably an etrog. Nachmanides thought the name is from a verb that means to shun, which was why the etrog was not bound up with the rest of the Arba’ah Minim; even an unpopular person is counted in the community.

* HADASSIM (MYRTLE): Called in the Torah "boughs of thick-leaved trees"; the product of lush growth; standing for God’s bounty.

* ARAVOT (WILLOWS): Generally called "weeping willow" because of their drooping look; also known as Babylonian willows: see Psalm 137:2.


Sukkah means "covering" (Lev. 23:42-43). It symbolises the portable dwellings of the Israelites in the wilderness. The walls may be of any substance but the covering must be something that grows from the earth.

A sukkah may be of any shape but must be big enough to accommodate a person sitting at a small table. Maximum height is 20 cubits (about 30 feet); minimum is 10 handbreadths.

Though a sukkah covering ("s’chach") must be something that grows, it must be detached from its source. Therefore a sukkah should not be built under the overhanging branches of a tree. A removable rainproof covering may be placed above the s’chach but must be taken off when the sukkah benediction is said.

The obligation of sitting in the sukkah can be fulfilled in someone else’s sukkah; one may borrow but not steal a sukkah (Deut. 16:13 says that a sukkah must be "l’cha", "yours"; borrowing is regarded as "yours").

The sukkah is sometimes used as a metaphor. Examples are "Sukkat David hanofelet" – "David’s fallen tabernacle" (Amos 9:11), the royal dynasty or the Temple which will be restored in messianic times; and "Sukkat Shalom" – "Tent of peace"; the sukkah symbolises the prayer that the Divine protection of peace may cover all Israel and mankind.