The Torah teaches us: “And on the first day you shall take for yourselves the fruit of a beautiful tree… and you shall rejoice with it before Hashem your G-d seven days” (Vayikra 23:40).
According to the Ramban, the word ‘esrog’ itself is the Aramaic translation of the Hebrew word hadar, both words meaning desired or beautiful. Of course, many fruit can be considered ‘beautiful,’ and our identification of the citrus medica (the fruit we know as an esrog) relies on the oral tradition rather than nomenclature.
Yet, the question of identifying an esrog does not end with its species. Aside from a broken pittum and other concerns as to flaws in the esrog, one of the major concerns in the kashrus of an esrog is for grafting. For reasons that will be explained below, esrogim are commonly grafted, and this can lead to the disqualification of the esrog for the mitzvah.
In the present article we will discuss the problem of grafting, and the methods available to us for identifying a kosher esrog. At the same time, we take the opportunity to present and explain some of the central features of this “mitzvah fruit.”
As noted above, the Torah itself does not provide any more details with which to identify the esrog fruit. Nonetheless, Chazal (Sukkah 35a) derive three features that are unique to the esrog from hermeneutical interpretations.
(1) Bark and Fruit
The first feature noted by the Sages is that the bark of the tree has the same taste as its fruit. This means that the natural oils and other chemical components that impart the unique fragrance and flavor of an esrog exist in sufficient quantity in the bark such that it bears the smell and “taste” of the fruit.
Some early authorities note that this factor seems common to all citrus species, and is not unique to the esrog (Shut Rema, no. 117); the leaves, peel and bark of other citrus species also carry the unique components of the fruit, and possess a distinctive aroma.
However, the Kapos Temarim(cites by Shut Chasam Sofer, Orach Chaim 207) explains that an esrog is unique in that it has little or no pulp, unlike other edible citrus fruits. The main part of the esrog is therefore its “rind,” which bears a much closer flavor to its bark than does the pulp of any other fruit.
(2) The Fruit Remains on the Tree
Non-citrus trees generally drop their fruit at the end of the season. Even most other citrus trees drop their fruit when overripe, although some individual fruits still remain on the tree. With regard to the esrog, however, unpicked crop generally remains on the tree until the next year’s crop is growing, and certainly remains longer on the tree than any other citrus. Although some fruit falls off, an impressive percentage remains on the tree, sometimes for as long as two years (see also Kappos Temarim, Sukkah 35a).
An esrog requires year-round irrigation. This feature, however, seems to be common to all citrus, and the uniqueness of an esrog in this respect remains unclear.
In spite of these distinctive features, the identification of a kosher esrog species can remain quite problematic. The reason for this is explained below.
The process of grafting is common to citrus fruit, which can be used to increase both the yield of the fruit and their resistant to disease, and to provide other commercial value. Torah law does not permit grafting, but in the case of the esrog the issue of grafting raises concerns beyond the initial prohibition: Might it be that the esrog being sold on the market is a grafted esrog, the product of an act of grafting that might have been done many years ago?
Grafting involves blending one plant (the scion), selected for its stems, leaves, flowers and fruit, with another plant – the rootstock – selected for its root. The resultant fruit will grow according to the species of the scion branch (see Rashi, Sotah 43b). The question we must as is thus whether the fruit of an esrog branch grafted onto a lemon stock is considered an esrog? Are there any other halachic concerns because it grew on a non-esrogstock?
The Rema (Shut Rema, no. 117) writes tersely of the subject, ruling that although there were earlier authorities who recited a berachah on graftedesrogim when they had no others available, we should not rely on this when we have access to non-grafted esrogim.
Rav Shmuel Yehuda Katzenellenbogen, also known as Mahari Padua, was also consulted concerning the question of grafted esrogim, and responded that “every child” knows that such esrogim may not be used (the teshuvah appears in Shut Rema no. 126, section 2). Indeed, in one year the community of Padua was prepared to ransom a non-grafted esrog for a considerable amount of money, in spite of the ready availability of grafted esrogim.
According to these authorities, it appears that a grafted esrog is not considered an esrog at all, and it is therefore disqualified from the mitzvah.
Nullification of the Nourishment
A third responsum from the same era deals with the identical issue in Eretz Yisrael. Prior to Sukkos of 5346 (1585), in Tzfas, the Alshich was asked about using a grafted esrog.
He relates that one local rav wanted to permit use of this esrog, notwithstanding the fact that all other authorities prohibited use of grafted esrogim for Sukkos. This rav contended that the nourishment drawn from the lemon stock was already nullified in the esrog branch, and the fruit is therefore considered to be completelyesrog. The rabbanim of Tzfas were concerned that the lenient opinion of this individual rabbi would be accepted against the consensus, and brought the question before the Alshich.
In his discussion on the subject, the Alshich (no. 210) demonstrates from the laws of orlah (Sotah 43b) that we consider the branch to be nullified to the stock – and not the other way around. As Rabbi Avahu rules, a young branch grafted onto a stock over three years old is not subject to the laws of orlah, whereas an older branch grafted onto a young stock is subject to the prohibition.
Yet, the Chasam Sofer (Shulchan Aruch 648, commenting on Magen Avraham 648:3) disagrees with this approach, claiming that we cannot apply the Gemara’s ruling concerning orla to our issue of a grafted esrog. He writes: “His comments are startling; of what relevance is the issue of the ‘young’ and the ‘adult’ to here? There we deal with the issue of the nullification of their issur [forbidden substance], not with the transformation of the fruit, such that an apple is made from a nut!”
The argument of the Chasam Sofer is that the halachic nullification of the branch, which has ramifications for laws of orlah, cannot be extended to the question of a grafted esrog, because the issue has no bearing on the botanical identity of the fruits grown on a given branch. Rabbi Abahu’s ruling thus has no impact upon the question of the identity of an etrog grown on a branch grafted onto a lemon tree.
The Alshich adds that even if the esrog was not nullified to the lemon as the laws of orlah imply, the resultant fruit should be considered a blend of both species and not purely esrog. Therefore, even if the fruit is considered an esrog, it is an incomplete esrog, and therefore invalid, because it has some lemon content (Shut Maharam Alshich, no. 110).
A Grafted Esrog After the First Day
A disciple of the Rema, Rav Mordechai Yaffe (known as the Levush), contended that a grafted esrog may not be used for Sukkos for a different reason: since the Torah disapproves of grafting, one may not fulfill mitzvos with grafted products, just as a crossbred animal may not be used for a korban (Orach Chaim 649:4).
The Taz questions whether this principle of the Levush is accurate, citing sources that the fact that something sinful had previously been performed with an item does not automatically invalidate it for mitzvah use. Yet, the Taz agrees that one should not use a grafted esrog, because of the “incomplete” status of the esrog (as noted by the Alshich).
The Taz proceeds to note that a halachic difference results between his reason and that of the Levush, since a damaged or incomplete esrog (called an esrog chaseir) can be used to fulfill the mitzvah after the first day of Sukkos. Since, in his opinion, the shortcoming of a graftedesrog is its incompleteness as an esrog, it follows that one could use it after the first day of Sukkos.
Yet, the Taz suggests that perhaps an esrog from a grafted branch or tree is worse than an incomplete esrog, in that it is considered qualitatively to be only partly esrog, and that one should avoid using it under any circumstances, so that people not err and think that it is a kosher esrog.
Can a Grafted Esrog be Identified?
In spite of some minority opinions (see Shut Panim Meiros, Vol. 2, no. 173), the vast majority of halachic authorities conclude that one does not fulfill the mitzvah with a grafted esrog.
A later debate focused on whether the fruit of a tree planted from the seed of a grafted esrog is also invalid, with the Beis Efrayim (Orach Chayim no. 56) arguing that the esrogim kosher – though it should be noted that he refers to shaas ha-dechak (extenuating circumstances, which don’t usually apply today), and others disputing this ruling.
This discussion led to a new debate: If the tree grown from a grafted esrog is no longer considered an esrog tree (for the purposes of fulfilling the mitzvah), how can one ever know that the esrog he wants to use is kosher?
The matter ensuing from this question is the question of how a kosher esrog can be identified. The Beis Efrayim ruled that one may use an esrog if it has the physical characteristics of a non-grafted esrog. Others, such as the Chasam Sofer, disputed this, ruling that we can only use esrogim from places where we have a tradition (mesorah) that they are kosher.
The characteristics that distinguish between a grafted and non-grafted esrog are given by the Mahari Padua in the above-mentioned responsum:
(1) Smooth Skinned
The skin of a grafted esrog is smooth, more like a lemon, whereas a pure esrog has a bumpy surface.
(2) Outward Stemmed
The stem (the ukatz) of a grafted esrog looks like a lemon’s stem, which sticks up from the bottom of the lemon, instead of being imbedded inward like that of an esrog.
(3) Fruity and Thin Skinned
A grafted esrog has a lot of edible fruit and juice in it and a thin peel, whereas a pure esrog has a thick peel and little juicy flesh.
(4) Disoriented Seeds
Some later authorities noted another distinction between a regular esrog and a grafted one. In a regular esrog, the seeds grow in the same direction as the length of the fruit, whereas grafted esrogim often have their seeds growing like a lemon’s, in the same direction as the width of the fruit. Other authorities disputed whether this demonstrates that the esrog has been grafted (see Bikkurei Yaakov 648:53).
Mitzvah Ha-Ba’ah Be-Aveirah
Irrespective of the issue of the identity of a grafted esrog, Poskim address a separate problem, namely, the prohibition against grafting and the permissibility of using an esrog grown through the violation of this law.
The Gemara (Kiddushin 39a), deriving the prohibition from the explicit Torah proscription against grafting animals, writes that grafting two species of fruit together violates the prohibition of kilayim. Consequently, one who wishes to use a grafted esrog for the mitzvah of arba minim appears to run into the problem of performing a mitzvah through the violation of a prohibition.
This principle is applied by the Sages to a stolen Lulav, and the Levush (cited by the Taz, Orach Chaim 649:3) raises this issue in the context of a grafted esrog:
“I claim that they are disqualified according to Torah law, for it is known that they were grafted, that a branch from the esrog tree was grafted onto a […] lemon tree, or vice versa, and so the transgression of grafting has been violated with it. Even if non-Jews grafted it, one view […] maintains that even a non-Jew is commanded with regard to grafting trees. Once a transgression has been violated with it, then even though it is permissible for consumption, it is repugnant for G-d.”
The Levush applies the disqualification of a grafted esrog even when gentiles performed the grafting, basing the position on the Gemara in Sanhedrin, which claims that grafting is forbidden even for gentiles. The Rambam indeed codifies this ruling: “According to oral tradition, gentiles are forbidden only from crossbreeding animals and grafting trees” (Hilchos Melachim 10:6).
The Taz, however, disputes this position, based on RavHuna’s instruction to hadasim merchants, cited in the Gemara (Sukkah 30a): “When you purchase hadasim from idolaters, you should not cut them. Rather, they should cut them and give them to you. Why? Most idolaters steal land.” The Taz understood RavHuna’s instruction as intended to prevent the problem of mitzvah ha-ba’ah be-aveirah, by having the gentile perform the act of theft (cutting the hadasim from the ground).
On this basis, the Taz concludes that if another person commits the sinful act, then even if that person is himself forbidden from performing that act (just as non-Jews are included in the prohibition against theft), the rule of a mitzvah performed through an aveirah does not apply.
There is also room to discuss the question of a grafted esrog as being ma’us (repugnant), as we find concerning idolatry – but we leave this issue for future discussion.
As a practical point of conclusion, on account of the problem of using a grafted esrog (as noted, the vast majority of authorities rule that a grafted esrog is not valid, and this is applied even to trees planted from seeds of a grafted esrog), one must be careful when buying an esrog that the relevant orchard carries rabbinic certification.
Wishing all readers a joyous YomTov.