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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.

Purity
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”

The Lulav Crisis of 5766

Zaide Reuven’s Esrog Farm interviewed in Florida press on the lulav crisis of 5766.

ST. PETERSBURG – It has always been Louisa Benjamin’s favorite holiday, the eight days that follow soon after Yom Kippur, when Jews gather in temporary outdoor shelters to celebrate the fall harvest and commemorate the Israelites’ journey through the wilderness to the Holy Land.

Sukkot, the festival of thanksgiving, began Monday at sundown. For the second year in a row, the Largo artist, her husband and two young children put up a three-sided shelter in their back yard and festooned it with paper chains, fake fruit, gourds, shells, pictures, and palm and banana leaves. Throughout the holiday, the Benjamins, friends and family will gather under the sukkah for festive meals.

Benjamin said she wants to carry on the traditions with which she grew up. The family built a bigger sukkah this year, 8 by 16 feet.

“I wanted to be able to seat more people,” Benjamin said. “I grew up in Atlanta and growing up, I would always go to my teacher’s home and other friends’ and families’ homes to celebrate.”

It’s a religious obligation to “dwell” in the three-sided outdoor shelter during Sukkot. Another requires the recitation of blessings with four species of plants, which together make up the lulav and etrog. A lulav is made up of palm, willow and myrtle branches. The etrog is a citrus fruit native to Israel. Continue reading “The Lulav Crisis of 5766”