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Shabbat Parashat Haazinu| 5763

Ask the Rabbi

Question: How does the consumer approach buying lulav and etrog this year (the Sukkot directly after Shmitta)?
Answer: Let’s start with the easiest point. Aravot, which are not food, do not have kedushat shvi’it, (sanctity of Shmitta- see below) and, thus, do not have restrictions. It is possible that they were improperly handled during Shmitta, but this is not so common and, in any case, according to most poskim, they are not prohibited b’dieved (after the fact).
 Although, classically, it is edible produce which has kedushat shvi’it, the gemara (Sukka 40a) says that branches which are used for benefit before they are destroyed (hana’ato  u’bee-uro shaveh), as opposed to wood for burning where the burning precedes the heat, have kedushat shvi’it. Rishonim already discussed the status of the lulav (which once was used for a broom) and hadasim (which can be used for their fragrance). Practically, the assumption is that lulav and hadasim, which are used primarily for mitzvot (which are not considered worldly benefit), do not have kedushat shvi’it (see Minchat Shlomo 51.23).
 An etrog, as an edible fruit, certainly has kedushat shvi’it. There is significant discussion from the Tana’im to our day, whether its status follows its budding (chanata) or its harvest (likeeta). To avoid problems, most etrogim were harvested last year before Rosh Hashana and, will be this year, after it. However, all agree that we assume that an etrog which grew during Shmitta has kedushat shvi’it.
 The main complication regarding an etrog with kedushat shvi’it is how to buy it (normally there is a problem of weighing such fruit, but I never saw etrogim sold by the kilo). There are three basic, valid approaches which are used. One is to buy the etrog b’havla’ah, which means that the price of the etrog is included in the price of some other commodity, perhaps one of the other minim. In this way, the money does not receive kedushat shvi’it, which would cause problems. Those who rely on the heter mechirah can do so regarding the etrog as well. The otzar beit din system, which we encourage all during the Shmitta year, is fine for etrog as well. Under this system, a beit din (rabbinical court) supervises the handling of the orchard and sets the price of the fruit according to the cost of expenses (including permitted labor), not according to the fruit’s value to the consumer. Whenever one buys an etrog, he should demand rabbinical approval of the validity of the etrog. This year, the supervisors have a few more things to verify (there is a serious issue of shamur ve-ne’evad concerning how the laws of Shmitta were kept in regard to the growing the fruit, but this is beyond the scope of our discussion).
 After Sukkot, one should either eat the etrog, make jam from it, or wait until it is inedible before disposal.
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