A Practical Guide to Selecting the Arba Minim

I see many individuals who are completely lost when shopping for their Arba Minim. To aid and facilitate your purchase of the Lulav and Esrog etc, I am posting general guidelines. If you have any specific questions, feel free to ask me. Even better, ask your personal Rav to check your Lulav and Esrog before Yom Tov, as many issues are difficult to describe and must be seen.


5 Things To Look For When Buying An Esrog
  1.     The Top Section is Crucial – Always start checking from the top, the side of the Pitom or where the Pitom would be. A black dot on the top that is easily noticeable renders the Esrog Pasul. A white dot would also invalidate the Esrog, but most light colored dots are beige, not white. This is the most common problem to look for.
  2.     The Whole Body – Next, the entire Esrog should be examined for holes or scratches that would make the Esrog Chaser, lacking. Also, numerous discolorations that can be seen from all sides while examining the Esrog render it Menumar, spotted, and Pasul even if they are all only on the bottom of the Esrog. Furthermore, brown spots may indicate a recent bruise which is likely to darken and turn black over the course of the next few days.
  3.     The Stem – The stem should be checked to make sure it is firmly attached and not likely to fall off.
  4.     The Pitom – The Pitom should also be inspected to insure that it is free of blemishes and that it is strong enough to last the week of Sukkos. If the Esrog does not have a Pitom, the place where the Pitom would usually be should be checked to verify that it did not break off, but rather grew without a Pitom.
  5.     Overall Beauty – Of course it adds to the beauty of the Esrog if it is a good size and has an attractive shape and color, but these are of secondary concern.
6 Things To Look For When Buying A Lulav
  1.     Closed – The primary issue is to insure that the middle leaf is completely closed all the way to its tip. Preferably, one should not even be able to see two separate points.
  2.     Not Dry – Also, it is important that the Lulav has not dried out and shriveled, but a little brown on the tip is natural.
  3.    Complete – Furthermore, care must be taken that the tip has not broken off.
  4.     Covered In Brown – Some prefer to take a Lulav where the tip is covered with brown Korah insuring its complete closure, while others avoid such a Lulav out of concern for what lies underneath.
  5.     Knepel – Also, some prefer a Knepel, where the tip of the leaf is folded over, as such a Lulav will almost never split. However, some Poskim invalidate such a Lulav because of its bent state. If the tip bends slightly, but not so much that the tip points back to the bottom of the Lulav, is not a problem and has all the advantages.
  6.     Beauty – A long, thick, straight and green Lulav is ideal, but not of primary importance.
5 Things To Look For When Buying Hadassim
  1.     Mishulash – The main concern with Hadassim is that the leaves should be in sets of three. This requires examining that all the sets of three leaves in the required length grow parallel to each other.
  2.     Falling Leaves – Furthermore, one must check that no leaves have fallen off.
  3.     Dry or Broken – Also with Hadassim, they must not be dried out or broken at the tip of the branch.
  4.     Size – Preferably, the leaves should each be smaller than a thumbnail
  5.     Branch Exposure – Preferably each set of leaves should be close enough to the next set that none of the wood of the branch is exposed.
4 Things To Look For When Buying Aravos
  1.     Edges – The Aravos should have long leaves that are either completely smooth or only have very fine serrations.
  2.     Lavluv – One should check that the tip of the branch has not broken, and for this reason many look for Aravos with Lavluv, the bunch of immature, unopened leaves at the tip.
  3.     Dried/Shriveled – Also, the Aravos should not be dry or shriveled and no leaves should have fallen off, and since this is a very common problem, it is preferable to replace the Aravos frequently over the course on Sukkos.
  4.     Grey Goods – Finally, since Aravos are commonly grown in private yards and on public property, it is especially important to insure that the person you are buying from really has permission to cut and sell them. All of the Arba Minim are Pasul if stolen.


17 thoughts on “A Practical Guide to Selecting the Arba Minim

  1. Maybe also note:

    maybe add – 7. From a seller who has certification that this Ethrog was from a real Ethrog tree and not a tree or branch that was grafted.

    “but rather grew without a Pitom.”
    maybe add .. (or the Pithom fell off before picking and left a brown crust where the pithom used to be.)

    Lulav ..”straight”
    maybe add .. and not with a noticeable backwards curve.

    Hadassim .. ” grow parallel to each other”
    maybe add ..so if one encircles a thread around each Hadas branch it will touch the root/branch juncture of each of all three leaves,.

    • Your point regarding a Hechsher is excellent. It is essential to ascertain that the Esrog is truly that. Furthermore, a Hashgacha will insure that it is not Orlah and that Terumos and Ma’aseros have been taken.
      Your observation relating to the Pitom is also accurate. It is not necessary that there “never” was a Pitom, indeed this is impossible. However, it must fall off naturally and at an early stage in the development of the Esrog.
      Regarding the Lulav, ideally, the perfect Lulav would have no curve at all. However, a significant enough curve to render it Passul is virtually unseen.
      The degree or precision required in the leaves of the Hadassim is a Machlokes HaPoskim, and many hold that it is not necessary for a string to touch them all as long as they generally appear to be on the same plane.

  2. An interesting point, The כף החיים points out that it is incumbent on the Rov or Dayan in a town to go and inspect the members of the community’s Sukkah, since there are so many intricate halachos that not everyone is familiar with! I have never come across this practice, perhaps it is a minhag with sefardi kehillos?

  3. מי כעמך ישראל!
    Interestingly, I have just visited a soft drinks company in Italy where they produce a drink that is entirely flavoured by infusions of Esrog skin! It is a slightly different breed of Esrog it also grows in Calabria = Yanave, though has a different botanical name. the fruit remains green even after ripening on the tree and though it has shkios and blitos and other simanim, they claim that the skin is smoother or softer is actually known as Citrus Diamante as opposed to Citrus medica which turns yellow on the tree. Diamante is the name of the town in Calabria where these plants originate from. I may be mistaken in that all Calabrian Esrogim are known by this name but I actually have seen Esrogim growing wild ornamentally in The Naples region and they are yellow on the tree. This company explained that historically this Green Citrus Diamante was cultivated around Lake Garda in Northern Italy where the drinks company is located, but now all comes from Calabria. This product will shortly have a KLBD certification.

    The Diamante citron was one of the most important varieties candied by the largest factories at Livorno Italy; it was gathered from Liguria, Naples, Calabria & Sicily and then shipped into England and the United States.[1]

    Cedro Ordinario as illustrated by Volckamer.
    Genoa was known to supply citron for the Jews since the times of the Tosafists, along with Sanremo, Bordighera, and the rest of Liguria.[2] The city is located in the region of Liguria which has a long history of citron cultivation,[3] thanks to the massive mountain chain (Apennines) which protects it from turbulent winds.[4] Genoa has also a known history of banking, and they may have also traded the citron grown in the rest of the country, being a well established Seaport as well.
    Although little is known about the Genuese variety they used to grow, Volkamer indicated that it was very similar (besides the taste in which the Genuese was reported to be not as good) to the one illustrated by him[5] as well as by Ferrari[6] as the Cedro Ordinario. Therefore, it is considered to be of oldest Ashkenazic tradition for the Jewish ritual during the Feast of Tabernacles.[7]
    Most adherent to the Diamante variety of Calabria are still the Chabad’s who’s late Rabbi’s were always in support for this traditional variety.[8] Among the other Hasidic sects it is most used by the Satmars.

    A Citron Tree in Calabria supported with sticks.
    [edit]Kashrus Supervision

    The citron in Calabria was celebrated by poets like Byron and D’Annunzio, but is only saved from extinction, thanks to the Jewish tradition.[9]
    While Calabria is at the southern point of Italy, and its climate most Mediterranean, it is the most suitable for the citron. Even though, during the winter it is still too cold for the citron, and this is why the farmers need to protect them with blue or green plastic covers. Most of the citron trees in the area are grafted onto foreign rootstock, to save them from freeze and all different kinds of illness. This practice renders their fruits non-kosher for the Sukkot ritual, and therefore in order for a mashgiach to certify a citron as kosher, he must first carefully inspect the tree to confirm it was not grafted.

    A double graft union, one at the stem and one at the branch.
    A Jewish delegation comes from Israel to Santa Maria del Cedro every year between July and August to choose the best fruit to be used in the holiday for the Jewish community. The selection of the best fruit is a virtual ritual. The mashgichim, each followed by a peasant carrying a box and a pair of scissors, go to the citron farms at five in the morning. The mashgiach proceeds slowly looking left and right. Then he stops and looks at the base of the tree, right where the trunk comes up from the ground. A smooth trunk means the tree has not been grafted and the fruit can be picked. The mashgiach lies down on the ground to examine better the lower branches between the leaves.
    Citron varieties
    Acidic-pulp varieties:
    Diamante citron
    Greek citron
    Balady citron
    Florentine citron
    Non-acidic varieties:
    Moroccan citron
    Corsican citron
    Pulpless varieties:
    Buddha’s hand
    Yemenite citron
    Related Articles:
    Citrus • Succade • Hybrid • Grafting • Chimera • Etrog • Sukkoth • Four Species
    This box: view talk edit
    Once the good fruit is found, the mashgiach shows it to the peasant who cuts it off leaving a piece of the stalk. Then the mashgiach analyses the picked citron one more time and if he decides it is worthy he wraps it in oakum and puts it in the box. The farmer receives the agreed sum for each picked fruit. Then the boxes are sealed and sent to the Lamezia Terme airport with a final destination Tel Aviv.[10]

  5. Each Tree is inspected for Grafting signs.
    Although Diamante is also growing in Puerto Rico, Sicily and Sardinia, their citrons are not used for the Jewish ritual, since no kashrut certification was present at tranplantation. Seeds and cuttings of inspected trees were planted in the Israeli village of Kfar Chabad, with the hechsher certification by major kashrut organizations.
    The methods for tree checking to verify if the tree is grafted or not, were established by a board of rabbis in Israel by 1877 as described in Kuntres Pri Etz Hadar which was published in Jerusalem a year after.
    [edit]Other citron varieties

    Different Citron varieties used as Etrog, are the Greek Citron, the Balady Citron, Moroccan Citron and Yemenite Citron.

  6. So, how can we actually tell if an etrog without a pitom had grown that way, (i.e. fell off naturally), or it had been broken afterwards? Perhaps you could give a few discerning features to look for?

    • A Pitom that falls off at an early stage of development will generally leave an indentation where it used to be. Furthermore, if the point of former attachment healed over and developed scar tissue similar to a Blettle, it is a clear indication that the break occurred while still attached to the tree.
      However, a star-shaped pattern in the white circle is almost conclusive evidence that the Pitom broke off after the Esrog was picked.
      Whenever there is any doubt, the Esrog should always be shown to a Rav with experience in the subject.

    • We count the four tefachim from the bottom of the lulav until the end of the shedra, which is where the last pair of leaves branch off of the spine. This is not the tip of the lulav itself. Generally, lulavim on the market today are much longer than this and it is not usually an issue.

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