Join The Conversation With Mishpacha's Weekly Newsletter

Lulavs Lulavs, Everywhere

Ari Z. Zivotofsky and Ari Greenspan

Today, buying a set of arba minim is easy, but there was a time when lulavim in particular were so rare that they were passed from generation to generation. What changed all that?

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

In our times, we take it for granted that lulavim are plentiful and widely available. But it wasn’t always so.

In northern and eastern Europe, where date palm trees don’t grow and importers were rare, it was common that congregants fulfilled their halachic obligations with the one set in town: that of the rav or the congregation. Rav Moshe Feinstein ztz”l, born in Belarus in 1895, was known to have told people that he used the same lulav for three successive years before coming toAmerica in 1936.

Today, we are blessed with an abundance of lulavim, but most of us never stop to think where they come from. In fact, our lulavim have had different sources over time and there is a lively halachic debate about which are kosher. As we will see, a ban on lulav exports from Egypt a few years ago only served to strengthen the Israeli lulav industry and to introduce a new practice that has made many more kosher lulavim widely available.


From Whence the Lulav?

The Torah explicitly states that one aspect of the rejoicing that we are commanded to feel on Succos, zman simchaseinu, is achieved through the shaking of the arba minim. Along with esrog, aravos, and hadassim, the largest and most prominent member of the group (and the one after which the mitzvah is usually named and which the blessing mentions) is the lulav. It is referred to in the pasuk (Vayikra 23:40) as “kapos tmarim” — unopened palm fronds (see Rashi and Succah 32a).

The most common and acceptable source of lulavim is the standard date palm tree (Phoenix dactylifera). These trees can grow fairly tall, up to 25 meters, making harvesting the lulav a nontrivial matter. The date palm is dioecious, meaning that it produces separate male and female plants. Only the female produces fruit, although both produce lulavim. Each tree produces either pollen but no seeds (the male) or seeds (and then fruit) but no pollen (the female). In nature, when the trees are close to one another, the wind is sufficient to effect pollination. However, in commercial production, hand pollination is standard practice.

Ancient farmers, along with Chazal, were well aware of this and that once the female sheath splits open it was important to pollinate it within a few days. The Mishnah (Pesachim 4:8) relates that the people of Yericho pollinated palm trees all day on Erev Pesach. Note that the word used in the Mishnah, murkav, is often used to denote “grafting” and was probably used in this context because farmers at that time would tie the male flower sheath onto the female tree so that when the pollen matured it would be close to the female. Not fully appreciating the meaning of “murkav” in this context, numerous translations of the Mishnah translate it as “grafting” and some Mishnayos with illustrations show an unusual drawing of palm trees being grafted.

Date palms grow across the world, but they thrive in warmer climates. At 10 degrees Celsius the trees cease to grow, and at 5 degrees Celsius they are damaged. Date palms prefer warm summers and have therefore been grown inIsraeland theMiddle Eastfor thousands of years.


To read the rest of this story, please buy this issue of Mishpacha or sign up for a weekly subscription.

Share this page with a friend. Fill in the information below, and we'll email your friend a link to this page on your behalf.

Your name
Your email address
You friend's name
Your friend's email address
Please type the characters you see in the image into the box provided.

Weekly Struggle
Shoshana Friedman Cover text: promise big and deliver what we promise
Only Through You
Rabbi Moshe Grylak A response to last week’s letter, “Waiting in Passaic”
Are You Making a Kiddush Hashem?
Yonoson Rosenblum In communal affairs, “one bad apple…” often applies
Chance of a Lifetime
Eytan Kobre I identify with the urge to shout, “No, don’t do it!”
Work / Life Solutions with Bunim Laskin
Moe Mernick "You only get every day once"
Seeking a Truly Meaningful Blessing
Dovid Zaidman We want to get married. Help us want to date
Shivah Meditations
Rabbi Emanuel Feldman Equivalence between two such polar opposites is puzzling
Magnet Moment
Jacob L. Freedman Everyone’s fighting a battle we know nothing about
Secrets and Surprises
Riki Goldstein Top-secret suits Eli Gerstner just fine
Blasts of Warmth
Riki Goldstein Keeping the chuppah music upbeat in low temperatures
Behind the Scenes
Faigy Peritzman The intrinsic value of each mitzvah
Good Vision
Sarah Chana Radcliffe Good or bad, nice or not? What you see is what you get
Day of Peace
Mrs. Elana Moskowitz On Shabbos we celebrate peace within and without