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How to choose an Etrog

Laws of the Etrog

How to choose a Kosher Etrog? A few Halachot brought in a short and clear way.
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"And ye shall take you on the first day the fruit of goodly trees, branches of palm-trees, and boughs of thick trees, and willows of the brook, and ye shall rejoice before the LORD your God seven days" (Vayikra 23, 40).
From this verse we learn that there is a difference between the first day and the other days. At the Temple, the four species were taken all seven days, and in all other places - only on the first day. After the Temple’s destruction, Rabbi Yohanan Ben Zakkai directed to take the 4 Species in all places for all of the days of Sukkot. Taking the 4 Species on the first day is a Torah commandment and on the rest of the days, it is a Rabbinic obligation.


Kind of Etrog
We should make sure the Etrog is not grafted, which is a problem according to most authorities:
The Mishna Berura and Magen Avraham disallowed using a grafted Etrog since it isn’t an Etrog. The Levush’s reasoning was because there was a sin in the growing process. The Maharam Alshker explains it is not a whole Etrog and others because it’s forbidden to add species beyond the four commanded.
Lemon and bitter orange are the species usually used for grafting because they are strong.
There are two types of signs to differentiate between a grafted Etrog and a kosher one, internal signs and external.
External signs:
A. The Pittom: The Etrog has a Pittom built from a "Shoshanta" (a small ball) which is connected with the "Dad" ( the small stick). A lemon usually doesn’t have a Pittom.
B. Bumps: The Etrog peel has many bumps. Lemon and bitter orange are smooth.
C. Stem, the connection point between the Etrog and the tree: In the Etrog and sometimes in lemon and bitter orange it is deep in the fruit, but usually in a lemon it sticks out from the fruit.
Internal signs:
A. Internal structure: An Etrog has a few parts - an external clear thin peel like wax that is transparent, a thick green or yellow peel, a very thick white peel and the seeds in a bit of fruit. Lemon has a similar structure but with a different ratio - much more fruit and a thin peel.
B. Seeds: The Etrog seeds are along the fruit (standing) and the lemon seeds are lateral (lying).
C. Shape: An Etrog isn’t like a ball or an orange, the top part is like a cone.
The Mishna Berurah brings in the name of the Chatam Sofer that actually we should not rely on the signs but buy an Etrog which is held as not grafted. (today there is a Kashrut approval).


A Yemenite Etrog: A Yemenite Etrog is much larger, it usually has no Pittom. It is a little more smooth than the ordinary Etrog. It has no juice which is a sign that it is not grafted, because the lemon and bitter orange have juice (now the Yemenite Etrog also has some juice because of pollination from other citrus). Many of the greatest Rabbis take it, it has no problem of grafting, and an Ashkenazi that takes it in addition to the ordinary one, will be blessed.


"Hadar" disqualifications
The main law of "hadar" (beauty) is learnt from the verse "fruit of beauty trees".
There is a discussion between the Rabbis regarding "Hadar" on the other days of Sukkot. The Rama’s opinion is that "Hadar" applies to all of Sukkot and not only to the first day while the commentators of the Shulchan Aruch argued how to explain him.


We will begin with two rules:
A. First, the observation of the Etrog is from a reasonable distance, ie, the distance which usually we look at an object held in our hand. It is about 30 cm. The reason is that there is no problem of a bad look if we can’t see it in a normal way of looking.


B. The top of the Etrog is the most important.
The Rishonim argued what is considered the top part:
Rashi - the ring around the Etrog that from there it starts to become narrow. Rosh - all the slope to the top. Ran - just around the Pittom. The Rambam - only the Pittom. We go according to more stringent opinions.
On the top part: any change in the look is a problem, even if it’s small (only if it can be seen). In Etrogim with a small slope, this Halacha is only to that small part. We should look for an Etrog which is completely clean on the top, even from 'Blatllach’ (brown scabs) or dents that aren’t a problem. The Etrog is more Mehudar when clean.
The bottom part - from the stem at the bottom of the Etrog to where it starts to become narrow. On a first look, we don’t see that part. A patch with a change in the look is a problem only if it covers most of the Etrog and if there is more than one patch - if the area between them covers most of the Etrog. Measuring the area between spots is by connecting them with a line from the shorter side of the Etrog.
The Magen Avraham holds that the Etrog is Pasul even if the bad parts cover most of the perimeter (even if it doesn’t cover most of the area). The Shulchan Aruch HaRav holds that its a problem even if it covers most of the length (height).
C. A spot that comes off by scraping is kosher.
If there is a spot at the top which is black, white, dark brown or dark red (according to many opinions) the Etrog is not Kosher. Black spots are caused from thorns or spraying, white - because spraying. Sometimes the spots don’t come off because the color went into the Etrog.
Light brown is permitted.
Chazazit - a big bump, a kind of blister, a discharge - is not Kosher. Chazazit is considered a disease of the Etrog and is usually prevented by spraying (so it’s not common in the market).
Some wanted to disqualify even kosher-looking spots if they look different from the rest of the Etrog (such as light brown), if they are in two places on the bottom part of the Etrog - since it is not fancy.
"Blatllach" - a light brown mark on the Etrog, happens when its covered by a leaf and there is a lack of oxygen. This is Kosher but an Etrog with no Blatllach on the top is nicer and better.
The Rishonim argue whether Blatllach that can be felt (if they stick out) are Kosher. The Trumat Hadeshaen holds that even when you can feel the Blatllach its kosher since its normal for an Etrog to have them and its part of the Etrog growth.
The Maharil holds that a Blatllach which can be felt is a problem like any other Non-Kosher spots.
The best is to look for an Etrog without Blatllach but a Blatllach which can’t be felt is Kosher and if it can be felt, only if there is no other choice.


"Chaser" disqualifications
An Etrog that part of it is missing isn’t Kosher even if that part is small. A common problem is that the merchants see a black spot and they scrape it and take off a small part.
The Etrog tree is thorny and it can also create problems. If the Etrog was injured and some of it was subtracted, it is a problematic Etrog.
When a thorn wounds an Etrog it’s hard to know if it just punched in and nothing is missing or not. The Rama and so the Mishna Berurah, wrote that if it has healed completely and the hole was filled from the inside, it is Kosher.
All Etrogim grow with a Pitom and most fall when the Etrog is young. If there is no Pittom, the scab should be checked if it’s a full scab (which shows the Pittom fell while on the tree) then it’s Kosher.
Yemenite Etrogim usually doesn't have a Pittom but a small hole at the top. if the hole goes all the way to the seeds it’s a problem but if there is a doubt, it’s Kosher.
Location - A missing piece anywhere on the Etrog is a problem.An Etrog has a thin layer that looks like clear wax, if that layer is peeled, the Etrog is Kosher. If part of the green peel was peeled, it’s a problem and if part of the white layer is missing, the Etrog isn’t Kosher.
If the Etrog was dropped or scratched it should be washed because the oil or juice that comes out makes it difficult to check the Etrog and also might leave a stain.
When are missing pieces a problem? - the Shulchan Aruch and Rama say that a missing piece is a problem only on the first day but not on the rest of Sukkot. From the Pasuk we learn that taking the Lulav and Etrog on the first day should be when they are whole. The Rama writes that when the first day is on Shabbat and there is no biblical obligation of taking the four species, you should not cut off problematic spots, the Etrog is not Kosher and cutting the spots doesn’t help.
How to check - A missing piece isn’t measured by normal vision, as mentioned above with spots. Even if the hole will be found only with a very careful look, it is Pasul.
The stem (Oketz) - If the stem at the bottom of the Etrog fell and the connection point was exposed, there is a problem, so we should check that the stem is connected well. If it fell but the connection point isn’t exposed it is Kosher and still considered fancy. The stem usually falls if the Etrog starts drying during Sukkot.
Pittom - all Etrogs have a Pittom, in most of them, the Pittom drops at an early stage and it’s Kosher. How will we know when it dropped? If there is a cream-colored scab where the Pitom should be, it’s a sign that it fell during the growth.
If the Shoshanta (the small ball on top of the Pittom) fell, the Etrog is Kosher.
If part of the Dad (the small stick) fell, but the part above the Etrog still remains, it is better to take a different Etrog. If it was taken completely and a small hole was exposed, the Etrog isn’t Kosher since it is missing a piece.


Color
Etrog with a color like Karti (dark green like a leek) is Pasul. This shows that the Etrog is not ripe and still is not considered a fruit, and we should take a fruit as it says "Pri Etz". A dark green is common in Yemenite Etrogim since they are picked early so they will not get harmed.
Dark green or red-green - need to be checked and shown to a Rabbi.
Some poskim say that even if only some of the Etrog started to turn yellow it is Kosher because it already started to ripen. Of course, nice Etrogs are elegant pale yellow as wax, gold, and yolk. A darker yellow is also kosher.


Shape
Round - an Etrog which is like a ball is Pasul, the same if all of the Etrog is like a ball apart of the Pittom. Of course, it shouldn't be a square. The shape should be like a tower - wide that becomes shorter at the top.
Another elegancy is symmetry, the Pittom and the Oketz on the same line. If it isn’t symmetric it is still Kosher, but one should try and find such an Etrog.
An Etrog that is crooked is still Kosher.


Size
An Etrog should be at least the size of an egg, about 57 cc and for some Sefaradim at least 57 gr.
The Tzelach holds the Etrog should be at least like two eggs (100 grams) and therefore we should prefer the size of two eggs.
Sometimes, because of a lot of watering before harvesting, the size of the Etrog diminishes within a short time. We need to pay attention that the Etrog doesn’t shrink too much.


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