Choosing a proper lulav

When buying a lulav, it is a good idea to have someone knowledgeable to help, but it is also important to be familiar with the rules below.

Halacha Hotline of the 5 Towns ,

Lulavim
Lulavim
Shimon Cohen


On the first day of Sukkot, there is a biblical commandment, mitzvat asei d’orayta[2] to pick up (see note)[3] arba’ah minim, the Four Species..

On Chol Hamoed (The Intermediate Days of) Sukkot, there is a rabbinic commandment, mitzvah d’rabanan[4] to pick up the arba’ah minim. On Shabbos, however, by Rabbinic decree, we do not fulfill this mitzvah, regardless of whether it coincides with the first day of Sukkot or with one of the days of Chol Hamoed Sukkot.)

Certain conditions that render the arba’ah minim invalid. called pesulim[5] apply only on the first day of Sukkot. In chutz la’aretz,[6] if the only arba’ah minim available on the second day of Sukkot are of the type that are pasul (invalid) on the first day of Sukkot but valid on Chol Hamoed Sukkot, one should perform the mitzvah using them, but not recite a blessing, b’rachah.

The arba’ah minim consist of one lulav, three hadasim, two aravot, and one etrog.

In order to be valid, the arba’ah minim must satisfy numerous requirements, including those that apply to shiur (halakhic minimum/maximum size), tamut (completeness), and hiddur (beauty) – as defined by Chazal.[7] The requirements of shiur are applicable all seven days (but see note).[8] The requirements of tamut are applicable only on the first day of Sukkot.

There is a dispute amongst the Poskim (halaלhic authorities) whether the requirements of hiddur are applicable only on the first day of Sukkot or are applicable on Chol Hamoed Sukkot as well. The Shulchan Aruch rules leniently, whereas the Rema rules stringently. Sephardic custom follows the Shulchan Aruch,[9] whereas Ashkenazic custom follows the Rema in this regard (but see note).[10]

The Lulav

To understand the halakhot that pertain to the lulav, a short introduction is in order. The lulav consists of a thick middle stem, known as the shidrah (spine), from which leaves branch out. The lulav is picked from the tree when its leaves still grow upwards along the spine, before the leaves spread away from the spine. In general, each leaf is a double leaf, folded over. The middle leaf – which grows directly from the top of the shidrah – is called the t’yomet. As will be seen, the t’yomet is more sensitive halakhically than the other leaves. Most lulavim have only one t’yomet growing out of the top of the shidrah, but some have two.

Shiur

The shidrah must be 4 tefachim (handbreadths) long (see note).[11] The shidrah includes only the part of the spine from which leaves branch out. Thus, the leaves that extend above the top of the shidrah (and which grow out of the shidrah) are not included in the shiur of 4 tefachim.[12] Also, the part of the shidrah at the bottom part of the lulav from which leaves do not branch out is not included in the shiur.[13]

Pesulim due to lack of hiddur

Note: According to Ashkenazic custom, these pesulim apply on all days of Sukkot. According to Sephardim, these pesulim apply on the first day of Sukkot (and possibly the second day of Sukkot in chutz la’aretz), and not on Chol Hamoed Sukkot. See the summary at the beginning of the article.

1. If the top of the lulav is clipped off, the lulav is pasul (invalid). This halakha has two applications:[14]

a) The majority of the leaves of the lulav are clipped off at their tops, even if the t’yomet is not clipped off; b) The t’yomes it clipped off at the top, even if all the other leaves are intact.

Note: If the lulav has two t’yomot growing out of the top of the shidrah and only one is clipped off at the top, one may be lenient and consider the lulav valid.[15]

2. If the lulav is curved severely to the side, or to the front (i.e., away from the person holding it; see note),[16] such that it resembles a sickle or a hump, it is pasul (see note).[17] If the lulav is curved toward the person, it is valid, since it is natural for a lulav to grow in such a manner.

3. If the top of the shidrah is bent over, the lulav is pasul. If the shidrah is straight but the tops of several leaves at the top of the lulav are bent over, there is a dispute amongst the Poskim regarding its validity. If only the top of the t’yomet is bent over, most Poskim rule that it is valid; some even hold that if it is fused closed it is even preferable, (see note),[18] but some Poskim hold that it is pasul.[19]

4. A lulav that is dried out (that is, when it loses its green color and turns tan)[20] is pasul. This halakha has two applications: a) The majority of the leaves of the lulav are dried out, even if the t’yomet is not dried out; b) The t’yomet is dried out, even if all the other leaves are not dried out. Thus, a lulav from a previous year is almost certainly pasul.[21]

Pesulim due to lack of tamut

Note: These pesulim apply only on the first day of Sukkot, not on Chol Hamoed Sukkot.[22] With regard to the second day of Sukkot in chutz la’aretz, see the summary at the beginning of the article.

1. If the t’yomet is split (i.e., its double leaf is split apart into two) such that it resembles a himneik (the tines of a fork), and the t’yomet now appears like two separate leaves, the lulav is pasul (see note)[23] even if the t’yomet is split only a small way down (see note).[24]

(The Poskim write that in order to resemble a himneik it must be split and resemble a “V.”)

Some Poskim rule that the pesul of himneik applies also to the two leaves that flank the t’yomet.[25] It would seem that if the lulav has two t’yomot growing out of the top of the shidrah, and even one of them is split such that it resembles a himneik, the lulav is pasul.

2. If the leaves of the lulav are split apart, the lulav is pasul. This halakha has two applications: a) The majority of the leaves of the lulav are split (i.e., each double leaf is split apart into its two parts) the majority of the way down, even if the t’yomet is not split; b) The t’yomet is split the majority of the way down – even if it does not resemble a himneik, and even if none of the other leaves are split.

Some Poskim rule that it is pasul even if the t’yomet is split only a tefach, and others rule even more stringently that one should not use a lulav whose t’yomet is split whatsoever (see notes).[26],[27] If the lulav has two t’yomot growing out of the top of the shidrah, the lulav is pasul if either of the two t’yomot individually is split – to the degree mentioned above. (Note: while each of the two individual t’yomot may not be split, there is no need for the two t’yomot to be connected to each other.)[28]

3. If the leaves of the lulav grew as a single leaf (not doubled, folded over), the lulav is pasul. This halakha has two applications: a) The majority of the leaves grew as single leaves, even if the t’yomet grew as a double leaf (see note);[29] b) The t’yomet grew as a single leaf, even if the rest of the leaves grew as double leaves.[30] If a leaf is doubled, but one half is narrow and covers less than the majority of the other half, the leaf is considered to be single, not double.[31]

Sources:

[1] Literally, four species, referring to the lulav (palm branch), esrog (citron), hadasim (myrtle branches), and aravos (willow branches).
[2] Biblical Positive Commandment.
[3] In addition, there is a Rabbinic requirement to wave (and – according to Ashkenazic custom – shake) the arba’ah minim in a prescribed manner.
[4] Rabbinic Commandment.
[5] Conditions that render the arba’ah minim invalid.
[6] Outside of Eretz Yisrael.
[7] Chachameinu zichronam livrachah; our Sages, may their memories be blessed.
[8] Nevertheless, oftentimes we allow a smaller shiur for mitzvos d’rabanan. Accordingly, it is possible to fulfill the mitzvah with smaller arba’ah minim on Chol Hamoed Sukkot. See Mishnah Berurah 484:1 and Sefer Arba’as Haminim Hashaleim o.e. page 156.
[9] Yalkut Yosef, Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 548:37.
[10] Still, Ashkenazim view the issue as somewhat of a safeik. Thus, when another safeik is involved, such that the situation is a s’feik s’feika (a doubt of a doubt; or a double doubt), one might be able to act leniently to use them to fulfill the mitzvah and perhaps even recite a b’rachah – at least when it is difficult to obtain minim that are certainly valid; see Sha’ar Hatziyun 649:53; see also M.B. 649:36.
[11] One tefach is 3–4 inches long. Hence, the shidrah must be 9-12 inches long. However, since lulav is a mitzvah d’oraysa (at least on the first day), whenever possible we make sure to use the larger size or approximately 12 inches. See Bi’ur Halacha chapter 271:13 s.v. Shel Revi’is and Sefer Arba’as Haminim Hashaleim o.e. page 156 with note 84.
[12] M.B. 650:2.
[13] See Bi’ur Halacha 645:2 s.v. va’adayin; Sefer Arba’as Haminim Hashaleim o.e. page 7.
[14] S.A. O.C. 645:6 with Rema; M.B. 645:28.
[15] Mishnah Berurah 645:29.
[16] This halacha is presented with the assumption that one is holding the lulav with the spine facing him, as is the prevalent custom; see M.B. 650:8.
[17] See Sefer Arba’as Haminim Hashaleim o.e. page 240, #36-37. This occurrence is not prevalent among lulavim on the market.
[18] Because that ensures that the t’yomes is not split; see below in the text.
[19] See S.A. O.C. 645:9 and M.B. #40-42.
[20] See Sefer Arba’as Haminim Hashaleim o.e. page 236, #23.
[21] See, however, Rema O.C. 649:6, who is more lenient in cases of difficulty.
[22] Magen Avraham 645:6. See also notes 23 (“For further discussion...”) and 29 (“S.A....The M.B....”).
[23] On the first day of Sukkot (see above in the article regarding the second day in chutz la’aretz). For further discussion on this matter, see Sefer Arba’as Haminim Hashaleim o.e. page 235, #18.
[24] See Dirshu Mishnah Berurah n.e. 645:32 note 55 for a discussion of when (if at all) gluing the leaf together will alleviate the issue of himneik.
[25] Magen Avraham 645:7; Sha’ar Hatziyun 645:33.
[26] Rema 645:3; M.B. 645:16,19. The reason some Poskim rule strictly and invalidate a lulav whose t’yomes is split a tefach or even a small amount is that they are concerned that it will split further due to the na’anu’im (shaking of the arba’ah minim; see note 3) and eventually become split the majority of the way down.
[27] See Dirshu Mishnah Berurah n.e. 645:19 note 29 for a discussion of when (if at all) gluing the leaf together will alleviate the issue of a split t’yomes.
[28] See Sefer Arba’as Haminim Hashaleim o.e. page 232 #13.
[29] S.A. O.C. 645:3. The Mishnah Berurah 645:13 cites the Ritva as being in doubt whether this pesul applies only for the first day of Sukkot or for all days of Sukkot. The consensus of the Poskim, however, is to be lenient on Chol Hamoed Sukkot (see Sha’arei Teshuvah 645:5; Sefer Arba’as Haminim Hashaleim o.e. page 235, #19). (See above in the article regarding the second day in chutz la’aretz).
[30] Rema O.C. 645:3. See previous note.
[31] Kashrus Arba’as Haminim (Hebrew edition) page 141, citing Rav Elyashiv.



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