An Etrog or a Lemon?

P’ri ‘Etz Hadar

The Passuk states[1]: “U’Lkahtem lachem bayom harishon p’ri ‘etz hadar” – “And thou shall take for yourselves, on this first day [the fifteenth of Tishri] a fruit of a tree of ‘Hadar’”. The Gemara in Sukkah[2] explains that the Torah is implying that we must use a species in which the taste of its bark and its fruit are the same – one of the characteristics of the Etrog (citron, or citrus medica). Another identifying feature the Gemara derives from this Passuk is that it “lives on the water year-round”, which the HazonIsh[3] explains to mean, that it requires additional irrigation in order to grow, and cannot solely rely on rainwater. This condition is also met with the Etrog species.

Although we have a basic tradition as to which fruit the Talmud is referring to, defining the boundaries of this species is shrouded in ambiguity. The Talmud does not indicate which variations or subspecies of the Etrog are still considered to be of the same species. Furthermore, citrus fruits are almost always grafted with one another to achieve certain benefits (sweetness, sourness, color, durability etc.). The Talmud does not discuss whether a mixed-breed Etrog (i.e. one that is grafted with a lemon) is considered a viableEtrog or not.

A Pure Breed

The Levush[4] writes that one may not use a grafted Etrog to fulfill his obligation, as it was created through an Averah (grafting fruit trees is forbidden as a form ofKil’ayim), and is therefore unacceptable before Hashem. This logic implies that there is no intrinsic problem with a grafted Etrog, only that it was achieved through in Averah.Accordingly, if we maintain that there is no prohibition to graft similar citrus fruits – a possibility that the Hazon Ish entertains[5] – an Etrog grafted with a lemon would pose no issue.

However, the Aharonim do not follow the opinion of the Levush. The Hazon Ish writes that in order for a fruit to be considered an authentic Etrog we must have a tradition that that specific variety is an Etrog – something which a grafted Etrog lacks. The Mishna Berura[6] and Hacham Ben-Tziyon Abba Shaul  זצ”ל[7] also write that a grafted Etrog is not considered an Etrog whatsoever, since it is mixed with other species.

It is important to note, that grafting Etrog trees with lemon or bitter orange (chushchash) trees is a very lucrative proposition. The Etrog tree is extremely delicate and generally only produces proper fruit for around six years. Combining it with stronger breeds can triple the Etrog tree’s lifespan. [Some have claimed that grafting Etrogim withchushchash would be acceptable; that would only be possible if we were to classify the chushchash as a bone-fide Etrog.]

Keeping it Real

The question now becomes how to verify that an Etrog was not grafted somewhere up its lineage. This question was posed to the Rama in his Teshuvot[8]and, in his response, he cites the Maharam Padua who writes that there are three identifying features that can help us tell apart a grafted Etrog from the real thing: 1. A grafted Etrog is smooth, whereas a real Etrog has bumps. 2. The stem of the grafted Etrog sticks out while a real Etrog’s stem is sunken in. 3. A grafted Etrog is very juicy and has a thin rind, whereas the real Etrog does not have much juice and has a thick rind.

Additionally, the Olat Shabbat writes that one can check the position of the seeds. The seeds of a real Etrog will be in a vertical position, whereas the seeds of a graftedEtrog will be in a horizontal position. Regarding this identifying feature, the Bikkure Ya’akov, cited in the Mishna Berura, writes that he has personally checked many Etorgimand can attest that the position of the seed should not be a definite indicator.

Let us now examine the various types of Etrogim that are commonly used and the source of their tradition.

The Moroccan

Moroccan Etrogim have a very strong Mesorah and have been used for generations. The Yishre Lev (the Rishon L’Tziyon, Ribbi Hayim David Hazan from Izmir, 1790-1869) cites three of the greatest Hachamim of Morocco who testified that the tradition of the Moroccan Etrogim is undisputable and that they were the type that everyone used throughout their lands. Many more Aharonim tout the authenticity of the Moroccan Etrogim[10]Rav Moshe Shternbuch שליט”א writes[11] that the Rav of Brisk, Rav Yitchak Ze’ev Soloveitchik זצ”ל, would use a Moroccan Etrog.

In the year 1981, Rav Yisroel Harpenes, a Posek and author from Brooklyn, wrote a volume named “P’ri ‘Etz Hadar”. Citing the fact that the Moroccan Etrog’s seeds are not vertical but horizontal, in addition to the fact that it has far less juice than the other Etrogim (although Etrogim do not have a lot of juice, as we mentioned, these Etrogim are exceptionally dry), Rav Harpenes claimed that the Moroccan Etrogim do not meet the conditions that the Poskim set to be classified as an Etrog.

However, the contemporary Poskim reject this claim. Besides the Bikkure Ya’akov’s assertion that the seed position test is not as indicative, the Poskim understood that the identifying factors mentioned in the Rama should only be applied when one is in doubt whether a specific fruit is an Etrog or not. One who has a Mesorah – a tradition – that clearly identifies a fruit as an Etrog, should not be concerned about these indicators and may safely rely on his tradition.

The Hattam Sofer[12] writes that a Mesorah for an Etrog is like the Mesorah for the kosher status of a bird species. Just like one need not be concerned with the identifying factors of a kosher species if he has a reliable Mesorah on that species, so too, one may rely on a Mesorah identifying a species of fruit as an Etrog. [One must still ensure that the Etrogim weren’t grafted. An upright merchant, with Yir’at Shamayim, will seek out Etrogim from places in which they are carefully maintained and kept pure.]

The Yemenite

Yemenite Etrogim also boast a very strong Mesorah, and were the Etrog of choice of Hacham Ben-Tziyon Abba Shaul. Still, over the years, they have been the subject of a lot of grafting by private growers, as the Ohr L’Tziyon warns. The Sefer “Arba’at HaMinim LaMehadrin”[13] writes that he once interviewed a Yemenite Jew who prided himself on grafting Etrogim to receive the most durable and beautiful fruit. Again, as with the Moroccan Etrogim, one should buy from a reliable merchant to ensure that they are sourced from a proper grower.

Etrog “Hazon Ish”

Another very popular species of Etrogim are known as Etroge “Hazon Ish”. The species was identified by the Hazon Ish himself, when he arrived in Eretz Yisrael and saw an Etrog tree growing in the wild, near Tzefat. The Hazon Ish proclaimed to his students that these were indeed true Etrogim. One of his students, Rav Halperin, took from those Etrogim and charged great Talmide Hachamim such as Rav Michel Yehuda Lefkovitch זצ”ל, Rav Chaim Greineman זצ”ל and Rav Gedalia Nadel זצ”ל with growing them with the utmost care. Due to their relatively short Mesorah and high level of proper supervision they pose no concerns of grafting.

Yanover, Braverman

The Chassidim (especially Chabad and Satmar) seek out the Yanover Etrogim, which were originally grown in Genoa, a city in Northern Italy. The Hattam Sofer[14]writes that they have a strong Mesorah dating back to Rabbenu Tam and the Sages of Ashkenaz, if indeed they can be traced back to that same region. Today, many of theseEtrogim are grown in Calabria, a region in Southern Italy. Another brand of Etrogim known as the “Braverman” Etrogim, also have a Mesorah and were allegedly used by theMaharil Diskin (Rav of Brisk and Yerushalaim, 1818-1898).

With a Pittam or without?

Many are confused by the fact that some Etrogim do not have a Pittam (carpel). [“Hazon Ish” and Yemenite Etrogim do not have a Pittam, while Moroccan Etrogimhave a Pittam.] The Rama[15] cites the Rosh who writes that if an Etrog’Pittam falls off then it is not valid – unless it never had one to begin with. The Poskim grapple with the meaning of this Rosh, since every Etrog starts off as a Pittam.

Rav Chaim P. Sheinberg זצ”ל and Rav Meir Brandsdorfer  זצ”לare of the opinion that since we do not know the true meaning of the Rosh, one should only use an Etrogwith a Pittam. Others say, that the Rosh means to say that as long as the Pittam fell off while the Etrog was still connected to the tree, or, according to some, before the Etrogreached a third of its growth (an important milestone for many Halachot, such as Ma’aser etc.), then the Etrog is acceptable.

It is important to remember that despite the fact that many of the brands of Etrogim have a strong Mesorah throughout Am Yisrael – one must always ensure he is buying from a G-d fearing merchant who will ensure to source his Etrogim properly.


[1] ויקרא כו, מ [2] ל”ה ע”א [3] כלאים סי’ ג’ אות ז’ [4] סי’ תרמט ס”ד [5] שם, ומעלה שיש להתיר ע”י עכו”ם [6] סי’ תרמח ס”ק סה [7]  אול”צ ח”ד פל”ה ס”ז [8] סי’ קכ [9] שם [10] כ”כ בבכורי יעקב, והגד מרדכי סי’ ה’, זכר יהוסף ח”ג רל”ב בית שמחה סי’ א’ ועוד [11] תשובות והנהגות ח”א סי’ שפא [12] שו”ת חאו”ח סי’ ר”ז [13] עמ’ רעד [14] שם [15] סי’ תרמט ס”ז