The Obligation to Eat in the Sukkah- the Coronavirus
A Meal of an Established Character
Throughout the entire Sukkot holiday, both during the night and day, it is prohibited to eat a meal of an established character outside of the Sukkah. The amount of food one is required to eat in order for one’s meal to constitute a “meal of an established character” is more than a Kebeitza of bread, i.e. approximately sixty grams of bread (fifty-four grams to be exact). When one eats this amount of bread, one must recite the “Leeshev Ba’Sukkah” blessing. Less than this amount, however, may be eaten outside the Sukkah and thus, even if one eats this amount inside the Sukkah, one would not recite the “Leeshev Ba’Sukkah” blessing.
Eating Cakes and Baked Goods
If one eats more than a Kebeitza (approximately sixty grams) of cake, one must do so inside the Sukkah. Nevertheless, one does not recite the “Leeshev Ba’Sukkah” blessing, for there is a dispute among the Poskim whether cake can be considered “bread”. Thus, since we are in doubt, the blessing is not recited in accordance with the great rule, “When in doubt, do not bless,” which we have discussed several times in the past. However, if one eats an amount of cake which others usually consider a meal of an established character (which is three Kebeitzim or approximately 162 grams), one must indeed recite the “Leeshev Ba’Sukkah” blessing as though he were eating actual bread. (Regarding reciting the Hamotzi blessing, the “Al Netilat Yadayim” blessing, and Birkat Hamazon upon eating cake, this amount would not suffice and in order to recite all of the aforementioned blessings, one would need to eat at least 216 grams of cake.) Among Ashkenazi communities there are several different customs and we shall not discuss them at length at this point.
The Law Regarding Women
Women are exempt from the Mitzvah of Sukkah just as they are exempt from most positive, time-bound, actively (not passively) performed Torah commandments. Since the Mitzvah of Sukkah is actively performed and time-bound (as it applies only to the period of the Sukkot holiday), women are exempt from performing it. If they do indeed choose to eat in the Sukkah, they are certainly rewarded for this; they should nevertheless not recite the “Leeshev Ba’Sukkah” blessing upon doing so. Nonetheless, according to the custom of many Ashkenazi communities, women may recite a blessing on Mitzvot they are exempt from, such as, taking the Lulav and the other species, reciting the Hallel, and reciting Keri’at Shema. According to this custom, women may recite the “Leeshev Ba’Sukkah” blessing upon sitting in the Sukkah as well, as we have explained elsewhere.
One Who Does Not Have Access to a Sukkah Due to the Coronavirus
Places where individuals cannot build their own Sukkot and they customarily build and use the Sukkah in the synagogue, if such people cannot use this public Sukkah this year due to the Coronavirus pandemic, these individuals will not have access to a Sukkah at all and they will be completely exempt from the Mitzvah of Sukkah. Maran zt”l faced a similar situation when he served as Av Bet Din in Cairo in the year 5709/1949. Maran zt”l acted stringently and abstained from eating any products of the five grains for the duration of the Sukkot holiday; Rabbanit Margalit prepared him dishes with rice and potatoes instead. Nevertheless, as we have mentioned, one in such a situation is completely exempt from the Mitzvah of Sukkah.
Summary: One may not eat a bread meal outside of the Sukkah if one is eating more than a Kebeitza (fifty-four grams) of bread. When one eats this amount of bread inside the Sukkah, one must recite the “Leeshev Ba’Sukkah” blessing before eating. Similarly, if one eats the same amount of cake, one must eat it inside the Sukkah. Nevertheless, the “Leeshev Ba’Sukkah” blessing should not be recited on cake eaten in the Sukkah unless one eats at least 162 grams of cake in which case one would indeed recite the “Leeshev Ba’Sukkah” blessing. Women are exempt from sitting in the Sukkah. If they decide to go beyond the letter of the law and do so, they shall indeed be rewarded handsomely. They should nevertheless not recite a blessing when doing so since they are, in fact, not commanded to perform this Mitzvah.
One who has not way to eat in a Sukkah whatsoever is exempt from the Mitzvah of Sukkah.