Homelessness/Affordable Housing


  • What do the sources say about assisting those who are poor and need housing?
  • How does the holiday of Sukkot teach us about homelessness and secure housing?
  • What do weather conditions have to do with shelter?


(לה) וְכִֽי־יָמ֣וּךְ אָחִ֔יךָ וּמָ֥טָה יָד֖וֹ עִמָּ֑ךְ וְהֶֽחֱזַ֣קְתָּ בּ֔וֹ גֵּ֧ר וְתוֹשָׁ֛ב וָחַ֖י עִמָּֽךְ׃

(35) If your fellow, being in straits, comes under your authority, and you hold him as though a resident alien, let him live by your side:


  • This source talks about “your fellow” and then refers to the person as a "resident alien." Which one is it? Why do you think the text uses both of these descriptions?
  • How do you interpret, “comes under your authority”?
  • What are ways we can “hold” a poor person?
  • Of all the ways we can strengthen a poor person, this text commands that we let them live with us – why does the text specify this aspect?

Challenges to Grapple With:

  • Can you imagine a scenario in modern society where someone would bring a homeless person to live with them? Is this realistic in today’s world? Why or why not?

(ה) יוֹסֵי בֶן יוֹחָנָן אִישׁ יְרוּשָׁלַיִם אוֹמֵר, יְהִי בֵיתְךָ פָתוּחַ לִרְוָחָה, וְיִהְיוּ עֲנִיִּים בְּנֵי בֵיתֶךָ

(5) Yose ben Yochanan of Jerusalem used to say: Let thy house be wide open, and let the poor be members of thy household.


  • What does it mean to let “the poor be members of thy household”? Is that different from "let thy house be wide open?"
  • How do you think one might apply this teaching to our modern society?
(לב) בַּ֭חוּץ לֹא־יָלִ֣ין גֵּ֑ר דְּ֝לָתַ֗י לָאֹ֥רַח אֶפְתָּֽח׃
(32) No sojourner spent the night in the open; I opened my doors to the road.


  • What/who is a “sojourner”? What does it mean to open one's "doors to the road?"
  • In modern society, who might Job open his doors to?
  • What are the dangers of spending the “night in the open”? Do you think Job’s intent was to protect people from these dangers or was his intent something else?

Challenges to Grapple With:

  • In today’s society, we may speak of the “transient” ? (transient may be another word for sojourner) in slightly different terms than “homeless” – what might be the distinction between the two of these? Should we be making a distinction?

(א) ויטע אשל, נטע שם נטיעה סמוך לבאר שהיה לו לעדות כי נשארה הבאר לו בלא מחלוקת... ורז"ל דרשו נוטריקון אכילה שתיה לויה, ר"ל שהנהיג אנשי באר שבע להכניס אורחים ושחייב אדם לעשות לאורח הבא עליו שלשה דברים, אכילה שתייה לויה.

He [Abraham] planted some saplings (eshel) there to serve as proof that the well nearby was now his undisputed property... Our Sages understand the word eshel (אשל) as an acronym for “eating (אכילה), drinking (שתייה) and staying overnight (לינה).” In other words, Avraham established a shelter there to serve people passing that region. He taught the people around Be'er Sheva to practice the art of hosting strangers. In order to fulfill that virtue one must provide the three ingredients represented by the three letters in the word eshel (אשל).


  • In the first part of this text, what is happening in the story? Who is involved and what does he do and why?
  • In the second part of this source, the sages introduce a different way of reading the text – what do they say was really “planted?”
  • What do eating, drinking and staying overnight have to do with modern homelessness?

Challenges to Grapple With:

  • Do you think that Abraham was concerned with the ability of a person to pay for his hospitality or do you think he was more concerned with the act of hosting others? Do you think that modern hotels should offer different options for those who cannot afford to pay? Why or why not?

(ו) הַמַּשְׂכִּיר בַּיִת לַחֲבֵרוֹ, בִּימוֹת הַגְּשָׁמִים, אֵינוֹ יָכוֹל לְהוֹצִיאוֹ מִן הֶחָג וְעַד הַפֶּסַח, בִּימוֹת הַחַמָּה, שְׁלשִׁים יוֹם. וּבַכְּרַכִּים, אֶחָד יְמוֹת הַחַמָּה וְאֶחָד יְמוֹת הַגְּשָׁמִים, שְׁנֵים עָשָׂר חֹדֶשׁ.

(6) If one leased a house to his fellow in the rainy season, he cannot make him leave it [during the time] from Sukkot to Pesach. In the summer, [he must give him] thirty days [warning]. And in large cities, whether it is during the rainy season or the summer [he must give] twelve months [warning].


  • What is the relationship between the two people in this text?
  • Why would someone be “kicked out” (evicted) from a rental home?
  • Why does weather play a part of this business relationship?
  • Why would the eviction timing matter if someone were in a big city vs. a small town?

Challenges to Grapple With:

  • If you owned property and had a business relationship with the renter and they violated the rental agreement and therefore are deemed worthy of being kicked out, would you take into account their risk of true “homelessness” before evicting them? Why or why not?

The remainder of the sources are all commentaries on the source below from Leviticus, each one offering a different rationale for the commandment to sit in booths, sukkot.

(מב) בַּסֻּכֹּ֥ת תֵּשְׁב֖וּ שִׁבְעַ֣ת יָמִ֑ים כָּל־הָֽאֶזְרָח֙ בְּיִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל יֵשְׁב֖וּ בַּסֻּכֹּֽת׃ (מג) לְמַעַן֮ יֵדְע֣וּ דֹרֹֽתֵיכֶם֒ כִּ֣י בַסֻּכּ֗וֹת הוֹשַׁ֙בְתִּי֙ אֶת־בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל בְּהוֹצִיאִ֥י אוֹתָ֖ם מֵאֶ֣רֶץ מִצְרָ֑יִם אֲנִ֖י ה' אֱלֹקֵיכֶֽם׃
(42) You shall live in booths seven days; all citizens in Israel shall live in booths, (43) in order that future generations may know that I made the Israelite people live in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt, I the LORD your God.

למען תזכרו - כי בסוכות הושבתי את בני ישראל במדבר ארבעים שנה - בלא יישוב ובלא נחלה ומתוך כך תתנו הודאה למי שנתן לכם נחלה ובתים מלאים כל טוב

This is to be done in order that you will remember that the Israelites lives in booths in the desert for a period of 40 years when they neither owned land nor found themselves in a cultivated part of the earth. Remembering all this you will have ample reason to be grateful to the One Who has provided you with all of your present wealth and comfort.

והנה גם זה המועד זכר ליציאת מצרים ואם ישאל שואל למה בתשרי זאת המצוה יש להשיב כי... מימות תשרי החלו לעשות סוכות בעבור הקור:

Any perceptive person who travels from Arabia to Edom will understand the reason for this commandment. This festival, like the others, commemorates the Exodus from Egypt... It was necessary to construct huts on account of the cold from the time of Tishrei [the month when we celebrate Sukkot] onwards.

David Gottlieb, a secular Jew and practicing Zen Buddhist clergy

The mitzvah of dwelling in the sukkah each year reminds us of our innate frailty and the good fortune we experience in having permanent shelter. To develop or preserve affordable housing, then, is to express and promote a core Jewish value in a way that addresses an urgent societal need.


  • Have you ever spent the night in a sukkah? What is easy about it? What is difficult?
  • If your sukkah is sitting right outside your home, do you believe you experience “temporary housing” in a real way? Why or why not?
  • In considering the Rashbam commentary, how can experiencing something difficult help us appreciate something that we have to ‘earn’?
  • Ibn Ezra makes a connection between Sukkot and the season (the cold). How can a booth (a temporary structure) help protect someone from the elements?

Challenges to Grapple With:

  • Do you think that a sukkah is a good metaphor for homelessness? Why or why not?
  • If you were going to make a sukkah that represents homelessness, what materials might you use? Why? (see here for one artistic rendering of a "temporary shelter" based off of the idea of sukkah)