04. What Invalidates the Four Species

There are five categories of disqualification that invalidate the four species:

  • The species must be those which the Torah specifies, and no others. The “fruit of a hadar tree” is an etrog and not a lemon. Even a hybrid etrog is invalid (section 10 below). “Boughs of dense-leaved trees” are hadasim with threefold leaves, not wild hadasim. One must take a willow branch, not a poplar branch.
  • They must retain their natural form. Thus, if the leaves of the lulav grow on only one side, or most of the leaves of the hadas or arava have fallen off, they are invalid.
  • They must be of the required size. If they are too small, they would not be referred to as “the fruit of a hadar tree” or “branches of a palm tree” or “boughs of dense-leaved trees” or “willows of the brook” (as explained in sections 7-9 and 12 below).

If a specimen does not meet these three requirements, it is invalid for the entire festival.

  • They must possess hadar (beauty, aesthetic pleasantness), that is, they have not lost their natural form and beauty – for example, by completely drying out, even if they retain their basic shape. Most poskim invalidate specimens that lack hadar only on the first Yom Tov (Rambam; Ramban). Others say that this invalidates them all seven days (Rosh).
  • They must be whole. When it comes to an etrog, this means it must not be missing any flesh (section 11 below); regarding a lulav, it means the tiyomet must not be split (section 6 below). These defects invalidate the lulav and etrog on the first Yom Tov, but do not invalidate them during the rest of the festival. (See Sukka 34b; Tosafot ad loc. s.v. “she-tehei”; Rashi on 36b, s.v. “u-meshaninan.”)

Thus, to disqualify a specimen, it must have undergone a significant change. It follows that the stress that some people feel when choosing their specimens is unwarranted. True, in the upcoming sections we will deal extensively with the various defects that invalidate the four species, but these issues rarely come up.

Even though most of the specimens on sale are kosher, Jewish practice is to enhance the mitzva by choosing beautiful specimens, as the Torah says, “This is my God and I will glorify Him (ve-anvehu)” (Shemot 15:2), which the Sages expound to mean: “Beautify (hitna’eh) yourself before Him through mitzvot: Make a beautiful (na’ah) sukka, a beautiful (na’eh) lulav…” (Shabbat 133b). This, however, should not be a source of stress.

When circumstances are pressing and it is impossible to obtain kosher specimens, one may fulfill the mitzva using specimens that lack hadar or are not whole (requirements 4 and 5 above), such as a lulav which is dried out or has a split tiyomet. According to most poskim, one even recites the berakha when taking them; others say that one does not recite it.[2]

In addition to the five types of disqualification, which relate to the specimens themselves, one also does not fulfill the mitzva with a stolen specimen. On the first Yom Tov, even a borrowed specimen is invalid (as explained below in section 13). Additionally, anything dedicated for idolatry is invalid to fulfill the mitzva (SA 649:3).


[2]. “R. Yehuda said: ‘It happened that city-dwellers would bequeath their lulavim to their children (i.e., a dried -out lulav is kosher).’ [The Sages] said to him: ‘Pressing circumstances are no proof’” (Sukka 31a-b). Thus, even the Sages agree that a dry lulav may be used under pressing circumstances. According to Raavad, they would use dry lulavim only so that the mitzva would not be forgotten, but they did not recite the berakha. SA 649:6 shows concern for this position. In contrast, Rambam maintains that one does recite the berakha over a dry lulav, but not over a lulav disqualified for one of the other reasons. According to the vast majority of Rishonim, under pressing circumstances one may recite the berakha over the four species even if they are not hadar or are incomplete. These include R. Yitzḥak ibn Gi’at; Maḥzor Vitri §373; Rabbeinu Tam; Rid; Itur; Ha-manhig; Raavya 2:653; Rosh (Sukka 3:14); Smag; Or Zaru’a; and many more. This is also the view of Radbaz; MA; Eliya Rabba; and MB 649:58.

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Translated By:
Series Editor: Rabbi Elli Fischer

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Editor: Nechama Unterman