Laws of the Etrog
How to choose an Etrog
"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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Laws of the Esrog
- It is important to buy an etrog that has a reliable hechsher (certification that it is not grafted) in order to be sure that is not grafted.
- An etrog must be at least the size of an egg. If the etrog is longer than an egg but not as wide as an egg, but its total volume is more than that of an egg, it is still kosher. 
- If the pitom falls off or the stem on the bottom of the etrog is completely removed, the etrog is invalid.
- Some poskim invalidate an etrog that has black dots found on its chotam, while others deem it valid.
- An etrog that is completely green is invalid. If, however, if it started to become yellow, it is valid.
- See note for a list of other ideal qualities. Besides for the qualities that Chazal specified, the niceness of an etrog includes its subjective beauty.
- A grafted Etrog is pasul whether it was grafted with lemon, promerance, or any other fruit.
- The signs given by the Achronim to distinguish a grafted etrog from a real one are not to be relied upon nowadays when it’s possible to graft an etrog and make it look very much like an etrog.
- Rather one should not buy an Etrog except from a trustworthy seller and can testify that the Etrog isn’t grafted.
- Even if the Etrog is only in doubt one may not make a Bracha on the Etrog.
- If one has an etrog that’s safek if it’s grafted and an etrog that’s not as hadar (“beautiful”), one should make the Bracha on the true etrog first and after shaking the minim with it, one should take the one that’s a safek grafted.
A Dry Esrog
- An Esrog which is so dry that it doesn't have any moisture is invalid.
- It is possible to check if an Etrog is invalid by piercing it with a needle with a string attached and if there's moisture on the string the Etrog is not considered dry. In order that this procedure not make the Etrog invalid because of a hole, one should pierce the thick part of the Etrog without piercing the Etrog completely through and through, others suggest that one should pierce it along the length of the Etrog.
- An Etrog from the previous Sukkot is considered a dry Etrog which is invalid. Some say, however, that if an Etrog from a previous year was left closed in a moist and cool area it is possible to be moist and valid for the mitzvah.
A Punctured Esrog
- A hole of any size invalidates the etrog. Many poskim hold that it is not an issue if only a piece of the outermost peel is removed, while some say that it is acceptable even if a piece of the thin yellow peel is removed.
- An Etrog which is punctured through and through is invalid. Some say that it is valid as long as no part of the flesh of the Etrog is lacking. Only in extenuating circumstances may one rely on the second opinion.
- An Etrog which is punctured up until the inner chamber where the seeds are but doesn't go through completely, some say it is invalid and others argue.
- If any of the flesh of the Etrog is lacking, it is invalid. Others, however, say that an Etrog which is lacking is only invalid if it is punctured completely and is lacking, or it is lacking at least the area of an Isur (a coin at the time of the gemara). In extenuating circumstances one may rely upon the second opinion. If the outermost peel, which acts like a thin ice-frosting on the Etrog, is lacking the Etrog is still valid.
- If the flesh of the Etrog deteriorated but the inner chamber in which the seeds are is intact, the Etrog is valid.
Esrog without Pitom
- An etrog whose pitom falls off is not valid to be used for the mitzva of daled minim, see footnote. According to some poskim, this invalidation only applies for the first day of sukkot since that is the only time that it's diorayta. However, all this only applies if the etrog had a pitom from the outset. If it never had a pitom, then it is valid.
Trumah and Maaser
- Trumot and Maaserot must be taken off for the Etrog be to be used for the mitzvah, otherwise the Etrog is pasul for all seven days of Sukkot. Therefore, one must be careful in finding a reliable seller. If one cut an etrog from a non-Jew’s field in Israel that etrog should not be used unless one forgot to take off and it’s already Yom Tov (when it’s forbidden to take off trumah and masser).
- Any of the four minim that are stolen are unfit all 7 days of Sukkot.
- Any of the four minim that are borrowed are unfit for the first day of Sukkot.
- One of the four minim that are borrowed is fit the shakings of hallel and hoshanot but not the first shaking of the lulav on the first day of sukkos
- One shouldn’t cut any of the four minim from the field of a non-Jew (even with his permission) but rather one should allow the non-Jew to cut it himself and give it to you. This is only preferable, however, after the fact, the minim are fit for the mitzvah and one may make a Bracha on it.
Eating the Etrog
- It’s forbidden to eat an Etrog all the days of Sukkot and if one does take a bite out of the Etrog it’s unfit
- In Israel, it's permissible to eat the Etrog on Shemini Aseret, and in Diasopara (outside Israel) one may eat it on the ninth day of Sukkot.