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Pesticides and Esrogim

One of the requirements for an esrog is that it must be edible. If the esrog contains so much pesticide that it would not be edible, the esrog would likely not be considered kosher.
Most of our esrogim come from California and our farmer, John Kirkpatrick has provided us with the following information:

 Lindcove Ranch practices intensive Integrated Pest Management (IPM) in an effort to minimize use of pesticides. We are in full compliance with the regulations of the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR), the most consumer protective statutes  and regulations imposed anywhere on the planet. As such, we can warrant and guarantee that if esrogim obtained from Lindcove Ranch are to be eaten or processed into products such as marmalades or candy, they can used with confidence that they completely safe and in full compliance with civil law and regulations of any jurisdiction. This is in addition to the halachic requirements that are supervised and certified by Rabbi A. Teichman.

In the U.S. of A. all pesticides must be registered and approved for their intended uses by the United States EPA and FDA in compliance with ”FIFRA”, the Federal Insecticide, Rodenticide and Fungicide Act. Information regarding FIFRA regulations can be found at this link: https://www.epa.gov/laws-regulations/summary-federal-insecticide-fungicide-and-rodenticide-act
The California Department of Pesticide Regulation provides for considerably more stringent regulation than is required by FIFRA. We conduct all of our agricultural operations, including use of pesticides, in compliance with the most stringent regulations in the world  It is my belief that fruit produced in this regulatory regime is the safest available anywhere. Qualified laboratory analysis of fruit harvested before and after pesticide treatments in our pardes have always returned reports that no detectable pesticide residues could be found. This, BTW is better than organic certification which allows for specified maximum residue of many pesticides. 
Established Federal and California pesticide residue tolerances contemplate all possible uses. Laboratory and human trial safety limits are stretched from what is considered to be safe by 10 to 100 orders of safety magnitude (or more) depending on the category of possible negative consequences. 
Schnapps made with peel of California fruit can be made with confidence that there is no threat to human and animal health or the environment. 
Whether this is true for offshore production, I am unable to say. Those growers and their governments will have to speak for themselves.  It is my understanding that some foreign kashrus supervisors are requiring certain management practices and certifying as to compliance.”

Grading and sizing of lulavim

Other than meeting certain shape and minimum size requirements, lulavim are not generally graded by length or girth.

The lulav is the unopened frond or “palm spear” that grows from the top of the palm tree. All palm trees (and also grasses) have at least one lulav. Each lulav leaf has two parts which will eventually open up and fan out to form the palm branch that can be used to provide a cooling breeze. As the tree grows, the lulavim open out and splay outwards, making room for fresh lulavim that are at the top of the tree as it grows upwards.

What is important is the middle leaf – called the “teyomes”.  Ideally this should not be split, but as long as the middle leaf is not split more than about 3″ it is perfectly kosher, even more than that they can be used in some cases. A middle leaf that is split less than 3″ can be glued together (e.g. with Elmer’s glue) to stop it splitting further, and it is perfectly kosher.

We mostly grade lulavim based on how closed or open the middle leaf is. Some lulavim are more slender than others. When they grow they can be six feet or longer. For practical purposes we need to be able to ship them both in bulk and also to individual customers.

We receive lulavim which are between about 36-42″ long. Sometimes we need to trim them from the bottom to be able to fit them into our shipping boxes. This will result in the outer most leaves falling away, but this is of no halachic relevance, since we are concerned with the middle leaf. The result of this is that you may receive a slender lulav, but hopefully one whose middle leaf is more closed.

Other than the above physical requirements a lulav must come from a palm tree that produces edible dates. There are many varieties of dates and lulavim from the “Deglet Noor” variety often have middle leaves that split easily. The Medjool date palm produces excellent lulavim, and those are the ones we supply most of the time. The “Deri” (Dayri) date palm produces spectacular lulavim whose middle leaves are closed and stay closed. We do supply these also, but they are expensive.

For a more comprehensive discussion of the kashrus of a lulav (as well as the other species) I recommend three books:

How are esrogim graded? Does color, size or aroma matter? What about the pitam?

1. What makes a kosher esrog?
Before we even look at an esrog we need to know first that:
– it was not grown from a tree (or be descended from a tree) that was grafted. Grafting means that a branch from one tree (say an esrog), is inserted into the trunk of another one (e.g. a lemon). Even grafting an esrog to an esrog could be problematic.
– it must not be stolen.
– the various agricultural mitzvos are upheld such as the restriction of fruit in the third and fourth year of the tree’s growth, as well as (if in Israel) the separation of tithes and the observance of the sabbatical (shemittah) year.
– it is a certain minimum size. According to most opinions this is 100g, although other hold that even 58g is acceptable. There is no maximum size. Esrogim can grow to many pounds.
– the esrog has a reliable pedigree (yichus) and has been obtained from a reliable source.
– there are no parts of the esrog that are missing, for example a piece of skin, the stalk or the pitam has broken off after picking (see below).
– there are no disqualifying blemishes such as black spots in the upper part of the esrog.
– the esrog is an acceptable color. Very dark green is not acceptable.
– the esrog must be edible (if pesticides have been used to the point that the esrog is inedible, this is a problem – see below).
For a more comprehensive discussion of the kashrus of an esrog (as well as the other species) I recommend three books:
Halachos of the Four Species by Rabbi Yechiel Michel Stern (Feldheim)
The Lulav and Esrog Handbook by Rabbi Hadar Margolin (ArtScroll)

Summary of Halachos of the Four Minim by Rabbi Shimon Eider (Feldheim)

2. What if the pitam is missing?

It is a common misconception that the esrog must have a pitam. All fruit start off with a pitam. It is what remains of the female part of the flower.  Once the flower has been fertilized in almost all fruit, the pitam withers, dies, falls off, usually leaving a brown scar. In many esrogim, the pitam does not wither but remains. If the pitam withered naturally, then the esrog is perfectly kosher, according to almost all opinions. If however it was removed because of damage just before, or after picking then according to everyone the esrog is pasul (invalid). It is possible to distinguish between the two circumstances.

Having a pitam is considered by many a hiddur (beautification), or a necessity borne from a tradition. Many people prefer that the esrog does not have a pitam to avoid the problem of it being damaged. Most of our Orthodox customers prefer to have an esrog without a pitam. We prefer to ship pitamless esrogim to avoid the chance of a broken pitam arriving just before yom tov and having little ability to replace it in time.

Because there is a demand for esrogim with pitams, commercial farms actually spray the fruit when it is just forming with a special plant hormone that results in the pitam staying on the esrog.

3. How are esrogim graded – size, color, aroma?
Other than meeting minimum size and color requirements, esrogim are not graded or priced based on size or color.  Many people prefer smaller citrons as they are easier to hold during Hallel and while making the hoshanos circuits around the synagogue throughout the seven days of succos (excluding shabbos).
A somewhat green, green-yellow or yellow esrog is preferred. Some people like one that is slightly green as a more yellow (particularly a very golden yellow) is more likely to discolor after much handling. If the esrog is too green for you, you can place it in a brown paper bag with one or two yellow or red apples which emit a gas that cause the esrog to ripen and turn more yellow.
We do not grade esrogim for aroma as it has no halachic significance. The riper the esrog (i.e. the more yellow or golden yellow), the more aromatic it will be. If all you want is an esrog to decorate the succah table and emit a nice fragrance, but will not use for the mitzvah, we usually have some nice large, yellow (and less expensive!) esrogim that you can use for this purpose or to make jam or schnapps.
Much like diamonds, what governs the grade and value of the esrog is the number, size, type and position of blemishes, beyond any that invalidate an esrog.  We do encounter large, yellow, esrogim with pitams but they have so many blemishes that they are graded lower than smaller, non-pitamed esrogim that are “cleaner” and not nearly as good in quality as those we have supplied to our customers for about 18 years.
We use etrogim from suppliers with whom we have long standing relationships and whom we know to supply high quality etrogim that well meet the standards of our Ultra-Orthodox, Orthodox, Conservative and Reform customers.
Our experience is that our grading is typically one to two grades higher than other sellers on a price-to-price basis, meaning that the grade we sell at a certain price would cost $20-30 more elsewhere. The sets that sell elsewhere for about $50 are often kosher but on a post-facto basis, meaning that they often rely on leniencies relating to judging borderline types of blemishes. We would sell those sets for a child under the age of 12/13, as they are permitted to recite a blessing over such an etrog. An adult should not if there is better fruit available.
All the etrogim we send out are checked for kashrut and quality.
4. Why is a blemish-free esrog important?
There are many reasons for wanting an esrog with as few blemishes as possible. One is that we want to beautify the mitzvah of lulav and esrog. Another reason is that by seeking a less-blemished citron, having just emerged from Yom Kippur, we wish to show how blemish-free we wish our neshamat (souls) to remain/ become.

What is the brown covering on the lulav? Is it mold?

Is the brown covering on a lulav normal? Is there something wrong with my lulav?

What customers are describing is a paper thin, brown, flaky covering that is most often seen on the back (non-smooth) side of the lulav and sometimes covers the entire tip. On some lulavim you can see this brown color in between the leaflets on the “smooth” side of the lulav.lulavcovering

This is called “moch”and is perfectly normal and nothing to worry about Think of it as the “baby hair” of the lulav. It is a sign that the lulav is pretty fresh. For some people, the moch is highly desirable.

Do watch out however for signs of mold. These are black patches that may develop between the leaves, especially if the lulav is stored in a place that is too warm and moist. If you do see a few small patches, you can remove it with a cloth dipped in dilute bleach. Keep an eye on it to make sure it does not spread.