Lulav prices this year are about the same as last year after a meticulously planned lulav cartel was broken at the last minute by a lone exporter from Bnei Brak who managed to import about 100,000 lulavs from El Arish, Egypt on Yom Kippur eve. The Bnei Brak-based importer, who insisted on remaining anonymous, told The Jerusalem Post he was charging NIS 10 per lulav on the wholesale market, instead of the NIS 25 demanded by the cartel. As a result of his underbid, the cartel fell apart and prices this year for lulavs are about the same as last year despite a lulav shortage caused by an Egyptian ban on imports that was lifted only partially just days before the Succot holiday. Meir Mizrahi, head of the Agriculture Ministry's Plant Protection and Inspection Services and Plant Quarantine Service, said that a total of 465,000 lulavs were imported from El Arish and another 37,100 from Gaza, lower than the 700,000 normally exported from Egypt alone. Traders estimated that another 80,000 to 90,000 lulavs grown locally, primarily by kibbutzim in the Jordan Valley, reached the market as well. One trader recounted how the cartel was broken: "Before the importer from Bnei Brak brought in his lulavs, distributors were forced to pay about NIS 25 per lulav on the wholesale market. The cartel controlled about 300,000 lulavs from Egypt. Then the word got around that the guy from Bnei Brak had managed to get his shipment of 100,000 through and was charging just NIS 10 per lulav. Distributors all over refused to pay more than NIS 10." Lulav traders said that the NIS 10 wholesale price is slightly higher than last year, but the price rise was not passed on to the consumer in most cases. Although prices are about the same, the quality of the lulavs is worse than last year because many lulavs were delayed many days under inferior conditions. Lulavs, or palm fronds, are used by religious Jewish men during Succot to perform the biblical commandment to "takeâ€¦branches of palm trees" together with willow branches, a citron and myrtle branches and "rejoice before the Lord your God." According to sources close to the lulav market, the cartel used aggressive methods to corner the local market. Attempts to bring lulavs from Jordan were blocked. The shipment of 100,000 lulavs that eventually broke the cartel was delayed repeatedly. Initially, the shipment was held up by Egyptian officials who insisted on checking every single carton. "This was surprising because the Egyptians never do that," said an Agriculture Ministry official. Once the shipment reached Israeli customs it was delayed for reasons that are still unknown. One trader claimed there was another delay after police were tipped that the shipment contained drugs. An Agriculture Ministry official said he received a phone call from the cartel claiming that the Egyptian documentation was not sufficient since it did not detail the source of the lulavs, so the shipment should not be permitted into Israel. According to Israeli plant protection directives only lulavs from El Arish are allowed to be imported. Lulavs from other places in Egypt are suspected of being infected with fungi, diseases and pests. One source said that shipment finally managed to enter Israel after the head of the cartel was detained by the General Security Service last Tuesday evening. "The guy was at the border crossing doing everything in his power to stop the shipment," said an Agriculture Ministry source. "But then he disappeared." In a related story, the Chief Rabbinate issued a kashrut warning on myrtle branches [hadasim] purportedly under the halachic supervision of Rabbi Eliezer Simha Weiss of Kfar Haroeh and Emek Chefer. The rabbinate said that only myrtle branches in wrapping that has Weiss's full name clearly printed without abbreviations are under Weiss's supervision.