By Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow
Commercial sukkos used to be generic and “one size fits all.” Sukkah manufacturers have come a long way. You can now purchase ready-to-assemble designer sukkos. However, none are as exotic as the one suggested by the Gemara. The Gemara discusses using a live elephant in place of one of the sukkah walls. Even if theoretically one were permitted by law to purchase an elephant, it would be quite expensive. Further, the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee estimates that it costs around $1,000 a month to care for an elephant properly. So this idea would really be a white elephant.
It is an accepted halachah that sukkah walls must start within three tefachim (between 9 and 12 inches) of the ground. This could be a problem if the elephant is standing up. Only the elephant’s legs would count as walls, and not its upper body. You could possibly use straw and rope to connect the fore and hind legs together to fill up the gap. Someone witnessing such a crazy contrivance would think they were seeing pink elephants. An alternative solution would be to have the elephant lie down. Some believe that elephants cannot lie down. However, the Elephant Sanctuary reports that this is not true. “[For elephants,] lying down is normal, but staying on their side for prolonged periods can put pressure on their internal organs, causing labored breathing and reducing circulation throughout the body.”
Still, the discussion above ignores the elephant in the sukkah. What happens if the elephant just walks away? The Gemara discusses this point and suggests that one could tie up the elephant. Alternatively, one could train the elephant not to move when a rope is wound around its leg.
Still, one point the Gemara does not discuss is the appropriateness of using a non-kosher animal for one’s sukkah wall. What could the problem possibly be?
The Shulchan Aruch rules that one should initially use a ram’s horn for the mitzvah of shofar on Rosh Hashanah. Still, the horns of other animals are also valid, with some exceptions. Nevertheless, the Rema writes that the horns of non-kosher animals are definitely not acceptable for the mitzvah of shofar. What is his source? The Gemara says that tefillin must be constructed of hides from kosher animals. This is derived from the verse: “In order that the words of Torah be in your mouth.” The Talmud understands that this verse is teaching us that tefillin must be constructed of materials that may enter into your mouth, in other words, something that is kosher.
The Magen Avraham explains that the Rema reasons that this particular requirement in not limited to tefillin. All mitzvos that can be sourced from kosher animals must indeed be obtained from them. Therefore, since we can fashion a shofar from a kosher animal horn, a non-kosher animal’s horn may not be used.
The Shut Torah Lishmah suggests that according to the Magen Avraham, perhaps one should not wear silk tzitzis or a silk tallis. There are those that are careful to wear only wool tzitzis. However, may someone who generally wears cotton tzitzis, wear silk tzitzis instead? Silk is produced by insect larvae and is not kosher. Since tzitzis can be sourced from kosher materials such as cotton or wool, perhaps one should not use a fabric produced by a non-kosher creature.
A similar point can be raised about the permissibility of using non-kosher substances to light the Chanukah menorah. Olive oil is the preferred fuel source for Chanukah lights. If someone is in any case not using olive oil, may he use whale oil? Perhaps not, according to the Magen Avraham.
The Shut Torah Lishmah concludes that according to the letter of the law, we do not need to be concerned about the Magen Avraham’s novel ruling. The Gemara only stated that tefillin have to be constructed from kosher animals. We don’t apply this ruling elsewhere. Admittedly, the Rema clearly rules that a shofar may not be fashioned from a non-kosher animal. However, perhaps shofar is unique because it serves to recall our merit on Rosh Hashanah. Maybe for that specific reason, a shofar sourced from a non-kosher animal is inappropriate. For other mitzvos such as sukkah or tzitzis, one may use components derived from non-kosher animals. Still, the Shut Torah Lishmah suggests that, where possible, one try to use only derivatives of kosher animals.
Therefore, one should only use an elephant for a sukkah wall if he has no alternative, especially since it will be a mammoth undertaking. v
Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow leads a daf yomi chaburah at Eitz Chayim of Dogwood Park in West Hempstead and is a rebbi at Mesivta Kesser Yisroel of Willowbrook. He can be contacted at ASebrow@gmail.com.