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Shabbat Parashat Ki Tisa 5781

Igrot Hareaya Letters of Rav Kook: Supporting Non-grafted Etrogim

Vol. I, #17, p. 15

Date and Place: 25 Adar 5665 (1888), Yafo

: The honorable members of the “Pri Etz Hadar” association

Body: I received your honorable letter, which brought joy to my heart to know that we have “redeemers” in the Holy Land for the holy mitzva [of lulav and etrog] to save the entirety of Klal Yisrael from grafted etrogim. Grafted etrogim have been spreading broadly throughout the Jewish people, which upsets anyone who fears Hashem and truly desires [that] mitzvot [be done properly]. From my perspective, I am prepared to stand by you to the extent that my limited abilities will allow me to succeed.

When you are able to complete the necessary steps to clarify that [an orchard of] etrogim is kosher and clear of any concern of grafting, I will testify about them before the nation of Hashem in the dispersion of exile that they are indeed kosher and clean from this blemish. I am sure that “our brethren, the Sons of Israel” will know to give precedence based on this fundamental advantage of the kashrut of etrogim, by being assured that they are not grafted but clearly kosher. This exceeds the advantages of external beauty, which is easier to achieve when the fruit are grafted onto lemon rootstocks.

These are the details that you honored men must fulfill so that I can give a certificate of kashrut in a positive spirit, with Hashem’s help:

1. You must clarify for me with complete certainty that the source of the seeds from which your etrog trees come are from etrog trees that grow uncultivated, [which is an indication] that there is no concern of grafting.

2. Allow me to appoint G-d-fearing supervisors with expertise in the matter to check the orchards by means of their roots in a reliable check to ascertain that they have not been grafted with another species.

3. There must be a reliable supervisor who will be present at the time of picking and packaging to attest that grafted or questionable etrogim were not mixed in among the etrogim that are free of questions. He must also make sure that terumot and ma’asrot were taken according to Torah law and that there is no problem of orla (fruit from the tree’s first three years).

When you will fulfill these three requirements, I will, with Hashem’s help, strongly attest to your etrogim’s kashrut [while noting that they are] raised by our brethren who work the fields of the Holy Land. I hope that all of the greatest rabbis in the Diaspora, and all who fear Hashem and perform mitzvot in the best way, will stand by your side. All those who love the Holy Land in all the places that the Jewish People are dispersed will strengthen your hands, which are involved in sacred work, so that you will be able over time to plant more orchards that produce kosher “choice fruit of the tree” (the Torah’s term for etrogim). This will enable the holy mitzva to be fulfilled according to its halachot in a certifiable way by all of the nation of Hashem. This will also give greater strength and vigor to the Jewish settlement efforts in Eretz Yisrael and give employment to farmers in our Holy Land who work the land with the sweat of their brow, planting kosher etrog orchards according to Torah law in a manner that brings honor and magnificence.

Sign Off
: The blessed Hashem should bless you and bring success to the work of your hands. He should enable us to see the happiness of Zion and its building through the ingathering of its children into it in joy. “Those who come shall be rooted in Yaakov and will bud and flower in Israel, and they shall fill the face of the world with produce” (Yeshayahu 27:6).


Historical Note: Some two years later, Rav Kook published a book called Etz Hadar, which clarifies the problem of grafted etrogim and calls on Jews to buy from those farmers in Eretz Yisrael who grow kosher etrogim.

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