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Rema writes in his commentary to the Tur (OC 639):

והמרדכי בפרק הישן (סי' תשמא) כתב אבל העולם סמכו על דבר זה שיראים מן הצינה והוה כחולה שאין בו סכנה או כמצטער דפטורים מן הסוכה עכ"ל (עיין ב"י סימן תר"מ) ואפשר מזה נתפשט המנהג שרבים מקילים בשינת הסוכה ואף על גב דהטעם אינו מספיק שהרי ברוב המקומות אינו קר כל כך בימי הסוכות והיו יכולים לישן שם בכרים וכסתות.‏
The Mordechai wrote "the people rely on their fear of the cold [to avoid sleeping in the Sukkah] because it gives them the status of a sick person not in mortal danger or that of one in pain who are exempt from the Sukkah." And perhaps this is why the custom developed to be lenient in this regard, although this reasoning is not sufficient because in most places it is not too cold around Sukkos time and they could sleep in the Sukkah with [extra] blankets and pillows.

In other words, he is not impressed with the argument that it is too cold to sleep in the Sukkah in his town because one can always "bundle up" by bringing along an extra blanket.

What was the temperature like around Sukkot time where Rema lived? How does this compare to temperatures in, say, New York City?

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In the Shulchan Aruch HaRav 639:8 he writes that it depends on if you have enough pillows and blankets. i.e. there is no set temperature. He adds that even if you have enough, but it's it's such a trouble to have to remove them for mealtimes and then replace it each night that you would not do this in your home then there is room for leniency. – Ariel Sep 30 '12 at 10:22
@DoubleAA Please improve question title in keeping with the rules discussed here meta.judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/203/… and here meta.judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/3449/… – SAH Dec 13 '15 at 20:26
up vote 3 down vote accepted

Rabbi Moshe Isserles (Rema) lived most of his life in Krakow, Poland. Rabbi Mordechai ben Hillel Hakohein (whose explanation Rema rejected) lived at the end of his life in Nuremberg, Germany where he was murdered in a pogrom.

Sukkot always falls in September or October.

The following data is from www.weatherbase.com (degrees Fahrenheit):

September:       Average High | Average Low | Highest Recorded Temperature | Lowest
Krakow               64       |      48     |             84               |    28
Nuremberg            66       |      48     |             93               |    27
New York             76       |      60     |             99               |    40

October:         Average High | Average Low | Highest Recorded Temperature | Lowest
Krakow               55       |      40     |             79               |    19
Nuremberg            55       |      41     |             82               |    18
New York             65       |      50     |             88               |    29

This data is based on the last 30-50 years. Rema lived towards the beginning of the Little Ice Age in Europe so he might actually have been discussing even colder temperatures.

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I'm not sure the Average Low is the number you want, because for someone sleeping in the cold, the coldest number is what matters, not the average. So I've added that info (but note it's based on only 19 years worth of data for Krakow, which is very little). – Ariel Sep 30 '12 at 19:43
@Ariel Average Low is the average of all the lowest temperatures for each day of the month. Obviously there could be one day when it was really ridiculously cold, but we can only assume the Rema was talking about an average case when he said you should bring more pillows. – Double AA Sep 30 '12 at 19:47
I know, but average is a poor way of measuring this because if the temperature variance is large, warm days will counter cold days and the temperature will not seem too bad, when actually it was very cold sometimes. i.e. if one year it was in the 60's, and the next year in the 10's - the average will be 35 which doesn't seem bad, but the temperature was actually 10 sometimes which is much more extreme. (People don't complain about the average, they complain about the extreme.) – Ariel Sep 30 '12 at 19:51
@Ariel Showing the highest and lowest is just as poor a way of measuring it because they could just be freak occurrences. Unless you can find what the average temperature variance is, I'd assume it isn't unusually large. – Double AA Sep 30 '12 at 19:53
The Rama does not sound like he's only rejecting the cold heter in certain particularly warm years. If you want to say it was often 10 degrees then that's a huge chumra for the Rama. – Double AA Sep 30 '12 at 19:55

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