Etrog 311 R.
(photo credit: REUTERS/Amir Cohen)
On Succot, the Four Species – lulav (palm frond), etrog (citron), hadas (myrtle)
and arava (willow) – are taken each day except Shabbat. The species are gripped
together each morning as well as during certain portions of the service. Jewish
law goes further, noting that those who are meticulous should hold the lulav –
presumably together with the other species – when going from home to the
synagogue, during the entire prayer service and when returning home from the
This demonstrates dedication and love for the mitzva of taking
the Four Species (Rama OH 652:1).
While it is typical to see people
holding the Four Species during the service, it is less common to see people
traversing the streets armed with a lulav, an etrog, three hadasim and two
In a volume published in 1930, one hassidic master – Rabbi Hayim
Elazar Shapiro of Munkacs (Minhas Eluzar, 1871-1937) – commented that he had
seen and heard it said in the name of greats that there was a practice to only
hold the lulav during the service. Presumably the Munkatcher Rebbe meant that
the three species that were bound together – lulav, hadasim and aravot – were
held during the service and the etrog was not.
The Minhas Eluzar decried
this practice, calling it a “mistaken custom” and adding that it had no basis.
The Munkatcher Rebbe went further, warning that such conduct would lead innocent
bystanders to the erroneous conclusion that it was possible to discharge the
obligation of taking the Four Species without the etrog – the most difficult to
obtain and the most expensive of the Four Species.
clear critique, the Minhas Eluzar did not reveal the identity of who had adopted
this flawed practice.
RABBI YOSEF Yitzhak Schneersohn of Lubavitch
(Rayatz, 1880-1950) suffered from multiple sclerosis and in 1936 at the age of
56 he suffered a heart attack and stroke. His hands shook and he was physically
weak. As a result, Rayatz chose to avoid holding the etrog, lest he blemish it.
During the Hallel prayer he would only hold the bundle of the lulav, hadasim and
aravot. When it came time to shake the Species he would pick up the etrog. Each
time after he held the Four Species together, Rayatz would fastidiously check
the etrog to ensure that it remained flawless.
Almost 40 years after
Rayatz died, in 1987, his son-in-law and successor – Rabbi Menachem Mendel
Schneerson of Lubavitch (Ramash, 1902-1994) – explained that the hassidim had
seen Rayatz’s conduct and chosen to copy their master. The occasion for the
explanation was that Ramash himself, who had copied Rayatz’s custom over the
years, unexpectedly acted differently in 1987: he held the etrog with the other
Species for the entire Hallel service.
What happened in 1987? According
to the Bible, every seven years a Hakhel ceremony was held in the Temple. On
this occasion, all Jewish men, women and children assembled to hear the king
read from the Torah. This gathering occurred during Succot in the year following
a shmita (sabbatical) year (Deuteronomy 31:10-13). 1987 was a year following
On the fifth night of Succot 1987, Ramash explained that he had
changed what had become his own custom in an attempt to personally experience
the uniqueness of Hakhel – a time of ingathering of all Jews – and to inculcate
his followers in this vein.
Ramash died in 1994, about half a year before
the next Hakhel, so we do not know whether this was a one-time event or
something Ramash intended to do every seven years.
GOING BACK to the
origins of the practice: it is difficult to say whether or not the Minhas Eluzar
knew about the conduct of the Rayatz. The two hassidic masters had definitely
met and they shared various opinions, including an outspoken aversion to all
forms of Zionism. It is unclear, however, when Rayatz began his practice and
whether the Munkatcher Rebbe was aware of it.
Either way, the Munkatcher
Rebbe’s warning of the folly of such a custom was only partially realized: never
in Lubavitch circles was there a suggestion that one could fulfill the
commandment of the Four Species without an etrog. Nevertheless, hassidic
bystanders – including Ramash – sought to mimic the conduct of their leader and
they adopted the Rayatz’s custom. This practice became codified Lubavitch
practice as recorded in the official Lubavitch anthology of customs.
this day Lubavitch Hassidim do not hold the etrog while saying Hallel, picking
it up briefly for the sections that the Four Species are to be waved in
different directions and religiously examining the etrog before placing it down
and continuing with the Hallel service.
The writer is on the faculty of
Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies and is a rabbi in Tzur Hadassah.