An Esrog Tree in Rochester, NY?

By L. Goldstein, Principal, Derech HaTorah of Rochester

esrog-rochester-3Over a decade ago, my husband found the most beautiful esrog that I had ever seen. It was perfect! All Sukkos, I thought about the concept of perpetuating those fantastic esrog genes. After Yom Tov, I brought it to school and we had a project/lab. We cut open the esrog, noticed how different it was from a lemon, and planted the seeds. Everyone said that it couldn’t be done, and even after it sprouted, they said, “So, even though it started growing, what will you do now? You can’t grow an esrog tree in Rochester! It’s never been done. We get snowstorms!”

Just like our flourishing community, our little esrog tree grew and grew, spending winter inside and summer outside. Finally, five years ago, our tree found a permanent home in the front hallway of Derech HaTorah, Rochester’s Torah elementary school. It started to blossom and flower, but wouldn’t bear fruit. We turned to our favorite consultant, “Zaide Reuven,” Dr. David Wiseman of Dallas, Texas, a medical research scientist and esrog grower. He advised us that our tree needed nitrogen. Shortly thereafter, our tree once again flowered and, at long last, started to grow fruit!

Imagine the excitement of coming to school each day in the spring, getting off the bus and checking on the budding fruit. Envision watering the tree and helping the principal “buzz” around the tree with a mini-brush, spreading the pollen and helping new esrogim grow. Then, picture the thrill of returning to school in the fall and seeing beautiful, full-grown esrogim hanging on the tree. Is there another school in the country (or the world) with such fortunate talmidim?

esrog-rochester-2Our next step was asking shailos. We checked with Rav Shmuel Feurst, dayan of Agudath Israel of Illinois, to make sure that there were no issues, since our tree is not attached to the ground. After extensive research, the rov assured us that our esrogim are completely kosher and that he himself would make a bracha on one of our esrogim. Finally, we invited the rosh yeshiva, Rav Menachem Davidowitz, to visit the school to personally inspect the esrogim. We were honored with not only a visit and inspection, but – with the whole school assembled – the rosh yeshiva gave a mini-shiur about esrogim and then, with the help of several Derech HaTorah talmidim, he cut down three beautiful esrogim. The rosh yeshiva also brought along a bais medrash bochur, Yehuda Greenberg, who also happens to be an esrog dealer in Queens. He helped evaluate, inspect and grade our esrogim.esrog-rochester-11

All yeshivos are struggling in today’s economy, but how many can add a budget line (in the revenue section) from esrog sales?! The esrogim are up for auction and the thrill driving the auction is not only for the zechus of purchasing a beautiful esrog and supporting Torah education, but also the idea – especially for Rochesterians – of being able to fulfill the mitzvah of Arba Minim by using an esrog grown in Rochester!

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Assembling and Caring for Your Lulav & Esrog (Etrog)

Assembling your lulav bundle

  1. Assemble your lulav bundle before the start of Yom Tov.
  2. Hold the lulav with the spine (smooth side) towards you and slide it into the middle hole of the koishekle (holder).
  3. Place one ring around the holder and one or two rings on the lulav itself so that the lulav rustles slightly when shaken gently.
  4. Place the three twigs of Hadas (myrtle – small leaves like eyes) in the pocket on the right of the holder with the tops about 4” below the top of the shidra (the part of the spine where the topmost leaves emerge from it).
  5. Place the two leaves of Arava (willow – long leaves, like lips) in the pocket on the left of the holder. Their tops should be a little lower than the tops of the hadassim.
  6. Tighten the rings.
  7. Caring for your lulav and esrog
  8. Cut a rectangle of aluminium foil large enough to cover the willow and myrtle. Lay it flat and cover with a paper towel or newspaper slightly smaller.
  9. Moisten the paper slightly and wrap the paper and foil around the lulav bundle.
  10. Place the lulav bundle in the plastic bag and store in a cool place, preferably the refridgerator.
  11. When not in use, keep the lulav bundle wrapped with the moist paper/foil. Periodically moisten the paper.
  12. Keep the esrog in its plastic bag within the foam-lined box.

The Etrog

The Etrog
The Talmud connects the etrog to pri eitz hadar, as referred to in the Torah, literally “a fruit of the beautiful tree.” In modern Hebrew, hadar refers to the genus citrus. Nahmanides (1194 – c. 1270) suggests that the word was the original Hebrew name for the citron. According to him, the word etrog was introduced over time, adapted from the Aramaic. The Arabic name for the citron fruit, itranj, mentioned in hadith literature, is also associated with the Hebrew.

Size and Shape
The fruit is ready to harvest when it reaches about six inches in length. Although for commercial use it is not harvested before January, when at optimum size – for ritual use it must be picked while still small, in order to reach the market in time. The optimal size is also the best for marketability, as by growing larger it may lose from its beauty. Since the citron blooms several times a season, fruit may be picked during July and August, and even in June. According to Halacha the fruit must only reach the size of a hen’s egg in order to be considered kosher, but larger sizes are preferred as long as they can be held with one hand. Marketwise, a nice size fetches a higher price, as long as the fruit is also good in other aspects. If both hands are needed to hold it, it is still kosher, but less desirable.

 Color and Texture
The fruit is typically picked while still green, taking advantage of ethylene gas to ripen the fruit in a controlled manner. The same gas is also naturally released from apples, so some growers simply put the fruits in the same box as apples. The etrog used in the mitzvah of the four species must be largely unblemished, with the fewest black specks or other flaws. Extra special care is needed to cut around the leaves and thorns that may scratch the fruit. It is also important to protect the fruit-bearing trees from any dust and carbon, which may get caught in the stomata of the fruit during growth, and may later appear as a black dot.

Pitam (Pitom)
An etrog with an intact pitam is considered especially valuable. A pitam is composed of a style (Hebrew: dad), and a stigma (Hebrew: shoshanta), which usually falls off during the growing process. However, varieties that shed off their pitam during growth are also kosher. When only the stigma breaks off, even post-harvest, it could still be considered kosher as long as part of the style has remained attached. If the whole pitam i.e. the stigma and style, are unnaturally broken off, all the way to the bottom, it is not kosher for the ritual use.

In order for an etrog to be kosher it must be pure, not grafted nor bred with any other species, therefore only a few traditional varieties are used. In addition, the plantations must be under strict rabbinical supervision.

Lessons of the Lulav: Zaide Reuven and the Lulav Shortage of 5766

Every year, towards the end of Succot, I begin to clean up my garage. Despite my attempts to keep some semblance of order, my garage somehow manages to accumulate boxes. Box bottoms without tops. Box tops without bottoms. Also foam packing. Lots of it. And those strips that peel away from the sticky parts of FEDEX boxes. They get everywhere. And leaves. Palm leaves. They also get everywhere.

Last year (5765) as I reunite the seasonal center of operations for Zaide Reuven’s Esrog Farm with its more regular tenant, my motor vehicle, I have in my hand the last box. A long beaten up and perforated cardboard box about four feet long, ten inches wide and six inches tall. And as I contemplate the disposition of this box, I think about its origin. It is an Egyptian box. It came from Egypt. And in it were lulavs. Lulavim. Unopened fronds from the center of the palm tree. And I wonder. Continue reading “Lessons of the Lulav: Zaide Reuven and the Lulav Shortage of 5766”

Selling Achdus Yisroel – Jewish Unity

Our friend Rabbi Levi Cash, who for a number of years worked with Zaide Reuven’s Esrog Farm in Dallas, recently moved to the LA area. Convinced of the quality of our famed esrogim, Rabbi Levi discussed with us the possibility of making them available in the LA area. We agreed on one condition, that even though “al pi halacha” he would be be able to set up shop and start selling, it would not be c’dai (appropriate) if we were in any way going to impinge on the parnassah (livleihood) of another.

To explain this, let’s remind ourselves of the famous Midrash (Vayikra Rabbah 30:12) which regards each of the Four Species as one of four kinds of Jew who comprise the Jewish people:

  • The Esrog (smell and taste) is the Jew who combines Torah study with good deeds.
  • The Lulav (taste but no smell) is the Jew who studies Torah, but does no good deeds.
  • The Hadas (smell but no taste) is the Jew who performs good deeds, but does not study Torah.
  • The Arava (no smell, no taste) is the Jew who neither studies Torah nor performs good deeds.

According to this Midrash Hashem said “I do not want to destroy even the last group; let all four groups unite so that one can atone for other”.

According to this interpretation, the essence of the Four Species is Jewish Unity, Achdus Yisroel, and Ahavas Yisroel (love within the nation).

Let’s think about that. We take the lulav and esrog to invoke Hashem’s blessing that we, as a nation, should have Unity and Love.
Unity and love. We need both more than ever. Continue reading “Selling Achdus Yisroel – Jewish Unity”