Rabbi Dr. Chaim Simons

Kiryat Arba

Elul 5768 – September 2008

© Copyright. Chaim Simons. 2008

Introduction (1)

It is written in the Torah “And you shall take for yourselves on the first day the fruit of a goodly tree….” (2) What is the identity of this fruit? From the translation of the Torah by Onkelus (3) and from discussions in the Talmud, (4) we can see the identity of this fruit to be an etrog. We shall begin by examining the botanic identity of the etrog.

Botanists have made a detailed classification of flora, in which every different “subspecies” has a unique name, which is traditionally in Latin. The “kingdom” of flora is divided into “divisions” which are divided into “classes” which are divided into “subclasses” which are divided into “orders” which are divided into “families” which are divided into “genera” which are divided into “species” which are finally divided into “subspecies”. (Further divisions are also known.)

The citrus fruit is a member of the Rutaceae family. This is a family of dicotyledonous plants, which mainly consists of shrubs and trees. The Rutaceae family has about 144 genera and 1,600 species, and is found in temperate and tropical regions. In addition to citrus fruits, this family includes, for example, rue (a woody and bushy herb), satinwood, shrubby trefoil or wafer ash, and prickly ash. (5)

One of the 144 genera of the Rutaceae family is the citrus fruit, which includes citrons (etrogim), lemons, oranges, grapefruits and pumellos. Even those citrus fruits which are botanically close to the citrons cannot be used as etrogim on the Festival of Sukkot. Not even lemons which are very close to the etrog, (and are regarded as the same species in the laws of kilayim), can be used. (6)

The genus citrus is divided into a number of species, one of them being citrons, in Hebrew etrogim, and these are further divided into subspecies which include, the Eretz Israel (Balady) etrog, the Diamante (Italian/Calabria/Yanova) etrog, the Moroccan etrog, the Corfu (Greek) etrog, the Yemenite (Taimani) etrog, the Florentine etrog, the Corsican etrog and the Chinese etrog. (7) As is to be expected, they are called by these names, since this is the locality where they grow, even if in the distant past they originated from different parts of the world. Most of these species are or have been used by various groups of Jews around the world.

Today almost all these different species have been transplanted and grow in Israel. Some Jews still use the same species as they were accustomed to use in the Diaspora. For example, Yemenite Jews in Israel tend to use the Yemenite etrog and Chabad use Diamante (Calabria) etrogim. (8)

The usual reason for disqualifying a particular species of etrog is the problem of grafting (9) and not any suggestion that the species is not an etrog. Even a seed from an etrog grown on a tree which had been grafted in the distant past, would according to most opinions still be regarded as grafted. (10) Therefore the pedigree of a particular etrog tree has to be investigated thoroughly.

In this paper, we will make a study of the Chinese etrog, which until now has rarely been used as an etrog for the mitzvah on Sukkot. It should be stressed that the purpose of this paper is not to make a Halachic ruling on the use of this etrog. That is the function of the Rabbinical authorities.

About the Chinese Etrog

The official name given by the botanists to the species called citrons is Citrus medica. The Chinese etrog which is one of the citron subspecies, is known as Citrus medica var. sarcodactylis. (11)

The tree on which the Chinese etrog grows is shrubby and reaches a height of about two metres. It has long irregular branches which are covered in long thorns. The leaves of this tree are large, oblong, crinkled and leathery and are coloured pale green. They are about 10-15 cms long. The tree also has blossoms with clusters of white or pale purple fragrant flowers. (12)

The lower part of the fruit of this tree looks like any other etrog. The upper part is however noticeably different from other species of etrogim, in that it is segmented into finger-like sections whose length can reach 30 cms. (13) However, the fruit is usually about 15-30 cms in length. (14)It has a very thick peel, (15) with no, or only a small amount of flesh or juice, (16) resembling the Yemenite Etrog in this respect.

The Chinese etrog is seedless (17) and in this respect resembles the Moroccan etrog. A citrus flower is considered a perfect flower, which means that the male flower and the female flower are found as parts of the same single flower, the male part being the stamens, namely the organs bearing the pollen, and the female part the ovary, namely the organ which bears the seed. The pollen is transferred to the ovary by the wind or by insects, and this produces etrogim which will be seedy. If however the temperature is very high, the pollen will not be viable, and it will not germinate or grow and will therefore be unable to fertilise the egg. In such a case the fruit will be parthenocarpic and the etrogim will be seedless. Therefore in areas of Morocco which are very hot, the etrogim are seedless. (18) The Shanghai area has almost as high temperatures as Morocco (19) and this could be the reason why the Chinese etrog is likewise seedless.

At the beginning of the development of this etrog, the fingers are closed. As time progresses they may open up to different extents, alternatively, depending on the growing conditions they could remain closed. (20) In a shop selling Chinese etrogim, one might find a mixture of those where the fingers are completely closed and those where they are open. (21)

One should mention that most of the other species of etrogim, namely those which have some flesh inside, (and even more so with other types of citrus fruit), are segmented into finger like sections internally, but their peels are totally fused together and thus there is no external sign of segmentation. However, the Chinese etrog “is indeed a citron but lacks the gene which causes the sections of the fruit to fuse.” (22)

This etrog is widely cultivated in China, Japan, Indo-China and India. (23) From a wall painting from El-Kab (24) in ancient Egypt, it can be seen that the Chinese etrog was also known in ancient Egypt. (25) The tree cannot be planted in every part of the world since it is sensitive to frost and various other climatic conditions. It grows best in temperate conditions. In addition to the Far East, a suitable area for growing is, for example, the coast of Southern California. (26) Just as with other species of etrogim from different parts of the world which grow in Israel, it would seem that the cultivation of the Chinese etrog should pose no difficulties in the appropriate areas of Israel.

In general, Chinese etrog trees can be grown from cuttings taken from branches two to four years old. These cuttings replete with foliage must be buried deep in the soil. (27) Since it has been reported that the Chinese etrog tree will give fruit even in the first year of growth, (28) in the event of these trees producing fruit before the three years required by the laws of orlah are up, (29) care must be taken not to transgress the laws of orlah both when eating and when using the fruit for the mitzvah.

As with other species of etrogim, the peel of the Chinese etrog can be candied into succade. For this purpose etrogim have an advantage over other citrus fruits in view of the fact that their peel is extra thick and their inner rind less bitter. (30) The zest of the Chinese etrog can also be used in salads. The fingers are cut off and sliced longitudinally and the pith is then removed. (31)

In China (32) and Japan this etrog is well-known and highly esteemed for its fragrance and beauty and is used for perfuming rooms and clothing. (33)

The Chinese etrog is also known as “Buddha’s hand citron”. One of the religions practiced in China is Buddhism. The etrog is offered up as a religious offering in Buddhist temples. According to Buddhist tradition, Buddha prefers the fingers of the etrog to be in a position where they resemble a closed rather than an open hand as closed hands symbolise to Buddha the act of prayer. (34) Since this is clearly an act of idol worship, the use for the mitzvah of a particular etrog which had been utilised for Buddhist offerings would require a Halachic ruling. (35)

Laws of Etrog with reference to the Chinese Etrog

Size: The minimum size for an etrog is the volume of an egg. (36) A Chinese etrog is certainly above this minimum size. (37)

Colour: The ideal colour for an etrog is yellow. (38) When it first grows it will be green and it will then turn yellow. (39) There are discussions by the Rabbis as to whether a green etrog which will eventually turn yellow can be used for the mitzvah. (40) As with other species of etrogim, the Chinese etrog is first green and then turns yellow. (41) Also as with other etrogim, the juxtaposition of apples with Chinese etrogim will turn the etrogim yellow quicker. (42)

Black spots: A black spot can sometimes make an etrog pasul, especially if it is on the “chotem.” (43) There are different opinions as to which area of an etrog is called the chotem. The strictest opinion is the top portion of the etrog after it begins narrowing. (44) The question is how one defines the “chotem” for a Chinese etrog, which opens up like the fingers of a hand. However before it opens up, this etrog is shaped similar to other etrogim and one can easily identify where the chotem is. If however the etrog has already opened, it would seem that the area of the chotem would become far more problematic.

Pitam: The pitam is the upper tip of the etrog which protrudes beyond the etrog. If it is missing, the etrog is often pasul. (45) Since it seems that there never was a pitam on a Chinese etrog, would this make this etrog pasul? A similar question arises with a Yemenite etrog which also does not have a pitam and there the Rabbis have ruled that the Yemenite etrog is not pasul, since this is way it normally grows. (46)

Oketz: The oketz is the portion of the etrog with which it is connected to the tree, namely the stem of the etrog. If the oketz has fallen out, and a cavity is left, then the etrog is pasul. (47) Naturally, as with all fruits, the Chinese etrog has an oketz and obviously a similar law will apply.

Part missing: If even a minute part of the etrog is missing, the etrog is pasul (on the first day of Sukkot), (48) and this would of course apply likewise to a Chinese etrog. It can often happen that one of the many thorns on an etrog tree can scratch the etrog. If however such a scratch on an etrog, has become encrusted, then the etrog is not pasul. (49) This can also arise with a Chinese etrog, the tree of which has long thorns. (50)

Seedless: A problem which has been discussed and researched at length regarding the Moroccan etrog, is the fact that it is seedless and there are those who therefore say that it is pasul. However this argument has been rejected and the Moroccan etrog is thus not pasul. (51) The Chinese etrog does not have seeds either (52) (53) and as with the Moroccan etrog, this lack of seeds should not pasul the Chinese etrog.

Grafted etrog: According to almost all opinions, a grafted etrog is pasul, even if the grafting had been done many generations earlier to the ancestor of that particular etrog tree. (54) For this reason there have been disputes on etrogim which have originated from many different parts of the world. (55) Some authorities try to give signs that indicate a non-grafted etrog. These include a non-smooth outer skin, a sunken in oketz, only a little flesh and juice, (and some add, the direction of the seeds being vertical). (56) These indeed are the signs found on a Chinese etrog. (57) However today, due to the advances in agricultural technology, it is possible to reproduce these signs even in grafted etrogim. (58) Furthermore, even before these advances in agricultural technology, there were discussions as to whether or not one could rely on these signs, or if there had to be a tradition that the etrog was ungrafted. (59)

Smell: As with other etrogim, the Chinese etrog has a very strong smell. (60) The main function of any fruit, and this includes the etrog, is to be eaten, and the smelling of it is only secondary. Thus the particular etrog which is being used for the mitzvah may be smelled during Sukkot. (61) This would likewise apply to the Chinese etrog.

Trumot and Ma’asarot: If a Chinese etrog were to be grown in Eretz Israel, the same rules for these mitzvoth would apply as with other species grown in Eretz Israel. (62)

Is there a Tradition for using the Chinese Etrog?

To look into this question, one needs to look into the history of the Jews of China which goes back nearly a thousand years, and some say even longer. Around the year 1100 a group of Jews settled in the large city of Kaifeng in northern China, (63) at the invitation of the Emperor of that city, (64) (although some give the date as about 100 years earlier, (65) and according to some Arab reports even a further 150 years earlier. (66)) In Kaifeng they managed to maintain their Jewish identity, despite being cut off from all other Jewish communities for roughly seven centuries. (67) In addition to the Kaifeng community, there have been Jewish communities in other Chinese cities including Beijing (Peking), Hangchou, Ningpo, Ningxia and Canton, but very little is known about them. (68)

In 1163, the Jews began to build a Synagogue in Kaifeng. (69) Possibly they rented a place as a house of worship even before that date. (70) During the course of the next five hundred years, this Synagogue was repaired or rebuilt nine times, in some cases after a natural disaster. (71)

As already stated, for hundreds of years, the Jewish community in Kaifeng was isolated from all other Jewish communities in the world and when its Rabbi died around 1800-1810 (72) there was no successor. Hence the community was left without a religious leader. Synagogue services and observances of the Festivals might have lasted a little longer but by about 1850, the Jews had assimilated amongst the Chinese. (73) In 1854 the Synagogue became a ruin. (74)

Although the community was isolated from world Jewry, a lot is known about its history. (75) Much of what we know about the community comes from inscriptions found on steles (stone pillars) in the courtyard of the Synagogue dating from the years 1489, 1512 and 1663 and a further stele from 1679 built into the wall of a nearby house, (76) on which were engraved the history of the Jewish community, Jewish rituals and observances of the community and moralistic teachings. (77) In addition, portions of prayer books for Sabbaths and Festivals, and Hagaddot for Pesach are extant. (78) From this we can see that the liturgy was certainly Talmudic and Rabbinic, in common with other Jewish communities in the world. (79) There are also lengthy reports by western visitors, usually Christian missionaries, from about the year 1600 onwards. (80)

From the steles we know that the Synagogue had 13 Sifrei Torah, (81) and held three services every day. (82) The order of the service was identical with that laid down by the Rambam, which is also followed by the Yemenite Jews. (83) Furthermore, many of the rites of the services were similar to those practiced by other Jewish communities in the world. (84)The annual cycle of the Reading of the Torah was almost identical with that followed in the West, a small difference being that it was divided into 53 Parashiot (85) rather than 54. The Kaifeng community knew how to accurately calculate the Jewish calendar (86) (which is not a simple thing to do!). Unlike the Karaites, the Chinese Jews also knew about and observed festivals and other notable days which were of Rabbinic origin, such as Chanukah, Purim and Tisha b’Av. (87) They also had hakafot on Simchat Torah. (88)

In this paper, we are particularly interested on what occurred on Sukkot and especially with regards to the Arba’at Haminim.

In one of the manuscripts from the community there is a list of Readings from the Torah for the festival of Sukkot. (89) There the readings are identical (90) to those read by other Jewish communities. (The Torah readings for Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah are also given. (91) This shows that the community observed two days Yom Tov, in common with other Diaspora communities).

Also amongst the manuscripts is one which includes handwritten portions of the prayers for Sukkot. These are the berachot preceding the amidah, the amidah for Yom Tov of Sukkot followed by the entire Hallel, (92) but there is no mention of the Arba’at Haminim. However in another handwritten manuscript there is included a list of the prayers said on Yom-Tov of Sukkot, Shabbat Chol Hamoed Sukkot and weekday Chol Hamoed Sukkot. In the last mentioned, amongst the list of prayers is found the word “lamed-vav-lamed-bet-vav” (“lulavo”?), (93) which is almost certainly referring to taking the lulav some time during the morning service of Chol Hamoed Sukkot. If one takes the lulav, one takes it together with the other three species, which of course includes the etrog. But unfortunately, nothing further was found in this, or indeed in any other manuscript.

In addition to these manuscripts, from the works of the historians, we can see that the Chinese Jews were fully aware of the Festival of Sukkot. A Sukkah was built in the courtyard of the Kaifeng Synagogue. (94) Father Jean Domenge, a Jesuit, who visited the community writes of how he attended Sukkot services in the Synagogue during the Sukkot of 1722. (95) He does not mention seeing any Arba’at Haminim in the Synagogue, but this is not surprising since he writes “I went to the Synagogue on the Saturday during the week of their feast of Tabernacles.” (96) (emphasis added) The Arba’at Haminim are not taken on the Shabbat during Sukkot. (97)

James Finn, who wrote on Jewish life in the interior of China, noted in his book published in 1843, regarding the Chinese Jews, “They observe circumcision, passover, tabernacles, the rejoicing of the law, and, perhaps, the Day of Atonement, for it is said that on one day of the year they fast and weep together in the synagogue.” (98)

Even after the Jewish community had effectively assimilated, reports given by outside visitors strongly indicate that Sukkot had been observed in former generations. One of these is in a report given by a Christian visitor, Rev. W. A. P. Martin, who went there in 1866. Rev. Martin writes, “They remember the names of the Feast of Tabernacles, the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and a few other ceremonial rites that were still practiced by a former generation; but all such usages are now neglected.” (99) Another report, although possibly less reliable, by J. L. Liebermann, the first western Jew to visit Kaifeng, writing in 1899 about past generations (of a hundred years earlier?) states, “The Jews keep the sabbath, and hold weekly services in the Rabbi’s house. They celebrated Passover, Tabernacles etc., but use the Chinese tongue instead of Hebrew.” (100) (101)

Apart from this sole reference in the above mentioned manuscript, nothing has been found regarding the Arba’at Haminim. The fact that they read on the first days the portion in the Torah which includes this mitzvah confirms that they knew about it. Since they were isolated from world Jewry and world Jewry almost certainly did not even know of their existence, they obviously did not import etrogim from other parts of the world. Further study would thus be required to determine from where they obtained their etrogim.

In the mid-19th century following the First Opium War of 1839-1842 between Britain and China, a smallish number of Baghdadi Jews moved to Shanghai in China, and built several synagogues there. (102) These Jews were scrupulous in the observance of mitzvoth, (103) and they imported their etrogim from Eretz Israel. (104)

Does the fact that they imported etrogim indicate that their Rabbis did not accept the Chinese etrogim as kasher? A specific answer to this question is reported for a year when the only etrogim available were the Chinese etrogim. The Rabbis prohibited their use. (105) It is not reported in which year this occurred or whether it was Rabbis from Baghdad or Shanghai who pronounced this prohibition.

Possibly these Rabbis followed the opinion of Rabbi Yoseph Chaim (who disagreed with his teacher Rabbi Abdullah Somech) and did not want to accept the Chinese etrog as kasher for the mitzvah. (106)

One might ask why the Jews in Shanghai waited for a year when only Chinese etrogim were available to ask this question. The answer could be that they may have wanted to continue with the traditions that they had in Baghdad and use the same species of etrog as they had been accustomed to use there.

Alternatively, they may have asked their Rabbis as soon as they arrived in Shanghai, and been told they could not use the Chinese etrog, but should use species of etrog brought from abroad. However, in a year when importing etrogim was not possible, they may in view of the changed circumstances, have again asked the question but again been given a negative answer.

The Baghdadi Jewish millionaire David Abraham arrived in Shanghai in about 1880 and at some later date planted an etrog tree (obviously of the species the Baghdadi Jews were accustomed to use) in the garden of his mansion in Shanghai, (107) together, it would seem, with the flora for the lulavim, hadassim and aravot. (108) He employed a whole team of Chinese gardeners to tend these plants. (109)

Towards the beginning of the 20th century, there were both Sepharadi and Ashkenazi Jewish communities in Kobe in Japan. Relations between these two communities were cool. However the Ashkenazim went to the Sepharadi Synagogue on Sukkot to perform the mitzvah on the Arba’at Haminim and then returned to their own Synagogue for the continuation of the service. The Arba’at Haminim in Kobe were brought to Japan each year just before Sukkot from the Abraham family gardens in Shanghai. (110) This would indicate that the only Arba’at Haminim available at that period in Shanghai were from the Abraham gardens.

Hence it would seem that the tens of thousands of Ashkenazi Jews from Eastern Europe, who arrived in China at this period, forming fairly extensive communities, (111) also had no alternative but to use these Arba’at Haminim from the Abraham gardens.

At the start of the Second World War, Jews fleeing from Hitler, including the entire Mirrer Yeshiva reached Shanghai. What they did about the etrog is described in detail later in this paper.

It is reported that after the Second World War, the Rabbis ruled that Jews in Shanghai could use the Chinese etrog on Sukkot, but without a berachah. (112) It is not reported in which year, or to which Jews in Shanghai this ruling was given, or who the Rabbis were.

Chinese Etrogim in the Responsa

There is very little in the Halachic literature on the question of the acceptability of the Chinese etrog for the mitzvah. The Gemara does not directly mention an etrog with fingers. The closest is the case of the twin etrog (t’yom in the language of the Gemara (113)) – which on the face of it would be two etrogim fused together – like Siamese twins.

On this “t’yom” etrog, the ruling of the Rambam (114) (and others (115)) is that it is kasher. But what does the Rambam mean by “t’yom”? About a hundred years after the Rambam, there lived in Eretz Israel, Rabbi Tanhum ben Yoseph Yerushalmi (c.1220-1291) who subsequently went to Egypt, where he died. (116) One of his books was “Al-Mursid al-Kafi” which was a lexicon giving in alphabetical order the etymologies of all the words found in the Rambam’s Mishneh Torah. Rabbi Tanhum translates this word “t’yom” when used in connection with the etrog, to refer to the Chinese etrog, (117) and hence, according to this, the Rambam holds that the Chinese etrog is kasher for the mitzvah.

One might well ask how the Rambam, who lived in the Middle East, knew about etrogim which grew in the Far East. The Rambam, apart from his phenomenal knowledge of Judaica, was also a very famous medical practitioner and physician to the Sultan, the Grand Vizier and other members of the court. At that period there were Arabs who travelled to the Far East and it is quite possible that they returned with samples of the Chinese etrog which they showed or even gave to the Rambam. It has even been suggested that well before the period of the Rambam, the Romans and the Greeks brought these Chinese etrogim from the Far East to the Mediterranean area. (118)

During the course of the Rambam’s lifetime, there were Rabbis in Spain who considered him to be a heretic and they wrote to Germany saying that he deserved to be excommunicated. A Rabbi Meir from Germany came to investigate and when he arrived, the Rambam’s servant brought in food that looked like human hands. The Rambam saw the reluctance of this Rabbi Meir to eat this food and the Rambam then informed him that it was an edible plant. (119) Could this item have been a Chinese etrog?

About the middle of the 19th century, a question regarding the permissibility of the Chinese Etrog was sent from the city of Hangchow (or possibly Hongkew) in China (120) to Rabbi Abdullah Somech, who was one of the leading Rabbis in Baghdad at that period. The questioner asked about etrogim growing in his city and said that they were like those in Baghdad in their shape and identification marks but with one difference. This was that the upper half of the etrog resembled the hand of a man with about 10 or 15 fingers, some being long whilst others were short. The questioner wanted to know (in view of the fact that etrogim sent from Egypt often arrived blemished due to the long journey, or arrived only in the middle of the Festival), whether these Chinese etrogim could be used and if so, could a beracha be said over them.

Rabbi Somech began his responsum by making a comparison between the Chinese etrog and an etrog grown in an unnatural shape using a mould. Such an etrog would be pasul. However he discounted this comparison, since the hand shape is the natural way that etrogim grow in China. He then went on to compare it to an etrog grown in a mould, retaining the general oval shape of an etrog, but looking like the rungs of the wheels of a water-mill. Such an etrog would be kasher. However again he discounted the comparison, since there is a much greater difference between a Chinese etrog and a “conventional” etrog, than there is between an etrog looking like the rungs of the wheels of a water mill and a “conventional” etrog. His next comparison was with a twin-etrog which the Shulchan Aruch rules is kasher. If a twin etrog which is like two separate etrogim is kasher, how much more so, rules Rabbi Somech, must the Chinese etrog which only differs from other etrogim by its finger like upper portion, be kasher. (121)

However Rabbi Somech’s pupil, (who was also his brother-in-law), Rabbi Yoseph Chaim (the Ben Ish Chai) disagreed with him on the matter. He held that for an etrog one cannot rely on identification marks alone. There has to be a tradition that a particular fruit is an etrog, or that it is similar to an etrog from another city. But in contrast, any tree which has not got a tradition of being indeed an etrog tree and whose fruits are not really similar to the etrogim of another place for which we have a tradition, cannot be used for the mitzvah. Rabbi Yoseph Chaim also brought a proof from the fruit called dibdib, which was found in Baghdad and had the identification marks of the etrog, looked like an etrog but was sour. The tradition in Baghdad was that it could not be used as an etrog, even in a case of extreme necessity, even though the majority of etrogim in the world were also sour. He went on to argue that the reason that a twin etrog is permitted is that on the same tree are to be found etrogim which are not twin etrogim. This he said is in contrast to the Chinese etrog where all the etrogim on the tree are the same. Furthermore, no-one had ever heard that there exist etrogim which have fingers coming out of them. (122)

Mirrer Yeshiva in Shanghai

Towards the beginning of the Second World War the Mirrer Yeshiva fled from Eastern Europe, travelling by train across Russia and then by ship to Japan. After a number of months they moved on to Shanghai where they remained for over five years.

One of the most difficult things to obtain in a place like Shanghai is an etrog. The remaining three species for the mitzvah are easier to obtain since they grow in a variety of climates.

In his book “Operation: Torah Rescue”, Rabbi Yecheskel Leitner explains what the Jews in Shanghai did to obtain etrogim during the period of the Second World War. (123)

He writes that for several decades prior to the Second World War, the Jews of Shanghai had obtained their etrogim from a tree which had been planted in the garden of the Jewish millionaire David Abraham who lived with his family in a mansion in Shanghai. However, after the attack on Pearl Harbour in December 1941, which brought the United States into the war, the Abraham family, being British subjects, were arrested and interned in a civilian prisoner of war camp and their mansion was confiscated by the Imperial Japanese Army.

Prior to the following Sukkot, someone arranged for a Chinese to climb the tall walls surrounding this mansion and pick some etrogim. In retaliation the Japanese cut down the etrog tree.

Before the approach of the following Sukkot, two Jews from Shanghai together with a Chinese guide went on an expedition in search of etrogim. They had been informed that there were certain regions where etrog trees were alleged to grow. They finally found them on a vacation site for wealthy Chinese businessmen, near the city of Hangchow, which is situated about 160 kilometres south-west of Shanghai. These etrogim, however, had an extension growing out from the main fruit that bore a similarity to the fingers of a human hand.

They brought back a number of these Chinese etrogim to Shanghai. Some of the Jews used them but without making the beracha, others just used them as a symbolic commemoration of the mitzvah, whilst others refused to use them at all, saying that they were not etrogim.

On reading Rabbi Leitner’s book, it was not clear to me what the source was for the Jews of Shanghai to come to the three different decisions on whether or not to use these Chinese etrogim. Rabbi Leitner is not just an author who has researched a book on the Mirrer Yeshiva in Shanghai. He himself was present at the Yeshiva in Shanghai at that period (124) and so he saw things firsthand.

I therefore wrote Rabbi Leitner a letter asking him “Was any material written on the halachic aspects of this Chinese esrog and the reasons that the experts in halacha came to different conclusions.” (125)He replied, (126) “The pertinent discussion of such a problem is found in the Shulkhan Orukh” giving the references to the comments of the Mishnah Brurah (127) and the B’eer Hettev, (128) arguing that “the decisions regarding the use of such an Esrog (or non-Esrog evtl. (sic) ) are clearly expounded in those explanations.”

On looking up these references, I found that they were general comments on the correct procedure in a time of hardship when a kasher set of Arba’at Haminim was unavailable. Here the authorities differentiate between having a valid species which has a blemish which makes it pasul and having a different species, such as a grafted etrog. In the case of the latter, it should not be taken under any circumstances to avoid any error in future years.

I replied to Rabbi Leitner that what I had had in mind was not a general reference “but details of the specific discussions on this question between the Rabbis of the Mirrer Yeshivah which led to at least three different conclusions.” (129) In reply (130) he answered quoting a different chapter in Shulchan Aruch (131) but not specifying which paragraph. It would seem that he was referring to two paragraphs (132)which dealt with the case when a particular species is not available, at which time an alternative may not be taken. He added in this letter that to the best of his recollection “new points were not added” to this reference in the Shulchan Aruch and “no additional material was published then on it nor deposited in the various libraries of the Mirrer Yeshivah.”

I was puzzled as to why the Rabbis in Shanghai were not prepared to rely on the ruling of Rabbi Somech, considering the very extreme wartime circumstances, and why even those who used this Chinese etrog, refrained from making a beracha over it. Possibly, the responsa of Rabbi Somech on the Orach Chaim was not available in wartime Shanghai.

It seems that when the members of the Mirrer Yeshiva fled to Japan and then China, they managed to take very few books with them. In Shanghai hundreds or even thousands of copies of books (133) such as the Talmud were lithographed by Chinese printers. (134)

However it is reported that when the Jewish Sepharadi millionaire, Silas Hardoon, built the magnificent “Beth Aharon” (Museum Road) Synagogue in 1927, (135) he included a large Jewish library. (136) (Rabbi Leitner when describing the Synagogue complex does not mention the existence of such a library. (137)) The other Synagogues also had libraries. (138) However there are no catalogues available of the books in these libraries and so we don’t know whether they had the responsa of Rabbi Somech on the Orach Chaim. If they had, Rabbi Leitner would have probably mentioned it in his correspondence with me.

There is a further possible reason for the Mirrer Yeshiva’s reluctance to use the Chinese etrog. If the etrogim which were brought to them had open fingers they would have looked completely different from the etrogim that they were used to in past years. For this reason the Yeshiva may have had serious doubts as to whether they were in fact etrogim.


With today’s methods of rapid international transport, it is unlikely that in any place in the world where there is a congregation of Jews, the only etrog available will be the Chinese etrog. However, it is possible that a Jewish traveler to the Far East who happens to be far from a Jewish settlement on Sukkot, could find the only etrog available to him to be the Chinese etrog. (139) In such a case, it would be advisable for him to telephone a Rabbinical authority and ask whether he could rely on the opinions which permit the use of this Chinese etrog. (140)

(1) This etrog is also known by many other names, e.g. fingered citron, flesh-finger citron, Buddha’s hand citron, foshou (in Chinese), Indian citron. However in this paper the name “Chinese etrog” has been chosen, since the various Halachic questions on its possible permissibility were sent from China or occurred in China.
(2) Leviticus chap.23 verse 40.
(3) Targum Onkelos on Leviticus chap.23 verse 40.
(4) Babylonian Talmud, Sukkah 35a ; Jerusalem Talmud, Sukkah chap.3 halachah 5.
(5) “Rutaceae”, Encyclopaedia Britannca, vol.19, (Chicago: Encyclopaedia Britannica Inc, 1963), p.769.
(6) Rabbi Avraham Yeshaya Karelitz, Chazon Ish - Zeraim, (Bnei Brak, 5719 - 1959), Kilayim, chap.3 par.7.
(7) Wikipedia, “Citron”, (Internet: It is reported that in the UC Riverside Citrus Variety Collection in California there are 35 kinds of etrogim. (Julie Gruenbaum Fax, “The secret life of etrogs”, The Jewish Journal, 27 September 2007, (Internet:
(8) Shulchan Aruch Harav, Orach Chaim, additions, p.72 (725).
(9) e.g. Rabbi Eliahu Weissfish, Arba’ath HaMinim HaShalem, (Jerusalem, 5735 - 1975), pp.185-208.
(10) Ibid., pp.259-60.
(11) Walter T. Swingle, “The Botany of Citrus and Its Wild Relatives", The Citrus Industry, revised edition, (University of California, 1967-89), vol.1 chap.3, p.372, (Internet: Some botanists call it Citrus medica var . sarcodactylus. These names are used interchangeably in the scientific literature.
(12) Wikipedia, “Buddha’s hand”, (Internet: ; Bay Flora, “Buddha’s Hand Citron Tree”, (Internet: buddhahand.html); Practically Edible, “Buddha’s Hand Citron”, (Internet:!opendocument&BaseTarget=Right)..
(13) Practically Edible, op. cit.
(14) Citrus Variety Collection, “Buddha’s Hand citron”, (Internet
(15) Wikipedia, “Buddha’s hand”, op. cit.
(16) Swingle, op. cit.; Bay Flora, op. cit.
(17) Wikipedia, “Buddha’s hand”, op. cit.; Bay Flora, op. cit.; Practically Edible, op. cit.
(18) Two letters from Professor W. P. Bitters of the University of California to Rabbi B. Polatsek, 30 October 1980, 4 June 1981, (reproduced in Rabbi Yisrael David Harpenes, Pri Etz Hadar, (Brooklyn, New York: 5746 – 1986) pp.125-27).
(19) The Best of Morocco, Weather in Morocco, (Internet: ; Wikipedia, Geography of Shanghai, (Internet:¬_of_Shanghai).
(20) Citrus medica “Sarcodactylis”, (Internet:
(21) Flickr, “Buddha hands”, photograph, (Internet:
(22) e-mail from Rabbi Dr. Ari Zivotofsky, 3 August 2008.
(23) Swingle, op. cit.
(24) El-Kab is the present name of the ancient site of Nekheb, which was situated in the third nome of Upper Egypt, on the right bank of the Nile. It is a very ancient site with a lot of graffiti probably, dating from the Biblical period, on the walls of the wadis. (The Site of El Kab, Internet:
(25) Shmuel Tolkowsky, Citrus Fruits (Pri Atz Hadar), Jerusalem: Bialik Institute, 1966), pp.43-44. Tolkowsky writes that he doesn’t believe that this drawing can be anything but the Chinese etrog.
(26) Wikipedia, “Buddha’s hand”, op. cit.
(27) Ibid.
(28) Exotic plants in Mexico, “Citrus Medica var. sarcodactylus”, (Internet:
(29) Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah, chap 294; Rabbi Weissfish, op. cit., p.90.
(30) Wikipedia, “Succade”, (internet:
(31) Wikipedia, “Buddha’s hand”, op. cit.
(32) Much research has been done on this etrog by Chinese researchers, and this has been published, most of the publications being in Chinese. (For list of published papers see: Citrus Variety Collection, op. cit.)
(33) Swingle, op. cit.
(34) Wikipedia, “Buddha’s hand”, op. cit.
(35) cf. the various rulings on sheitels after it was discovered that the hair from which they were made may have come from Hindu women who had offered the hair up in their temples. Collection of Documents on the Sheitel Shailah, (Internet:
(36) Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim, chap.648 par.22.
(37) Citrus medica “Sarcodactylis”, op. cit.; Practically Edible, op. cit.
(38) Rabbi Yaacov Emden, Mor V’ktzizh, (Altona, 5521 – 1761), chap.648.
(39) Shulchan Aruch. Orach Chaim, chap.648, Mishnah Brurah par. 65.
(40) Ibid.; Rabbi Yechiel Michal Stern, Kashrut Arba’at Haminim, Jerusalem , Machon Imrei David, 5752 – 1993), pp.196-97.
(41) Practically Edible, op. cit.
(42) Flickr, photograph, op. cit.
(43) Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim, chap.648 par.16.
(44) Rabbi Stern, op. cit., pp.79-80, 188-89.
(45) Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim, chap.648 para 7.
(46) Rabbi Weissfish, op. cit., p.270.
(47) Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim, chap.648 par.8.
(48) Ibid., par.2.
(49) Ibid., Rema; Rabbi Stern, op. cit., p.43.
(50) Fingered citron, photograph. (Internet:
(51) Rabbi Harpenes, op. cit., pp.97, 137.
(52) Practically Edible, op. cit.; Exotic Plants in Mexico, op. cit.
(53) There is another clone where the seeds hang free in the locules. (Robert Willard Hodgson, “Horticultural Varieties of Citrus”, The Citrus Industry, revised edition, (University of California, 1967-89), vol.1 chap.4, p.556, (Internet:
(54) Rabbi Weissfish, op. cit., pp.259-60.
(55) e.g. Rabbi Weissfish, op. cit., pp.185-208.
(56) Rabbi Moshe Isserlis, Sheilot Uteshuvot Rema , (Cracow, [n.d.]) chap.126 ; Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim, chap.648, Mishnah Brurah par.65.
(57) Bay Flora, op. cit.; Practically Edible, op. cit.; Flickr, “Buddha hands”, photograph, op. cit.; PlantWorld” photograph, (Internet:
(58) Rabbi Stern, op. cit., p.75.
(59) Rabbi Moshe Sofer, Chatam Sofer – Orach Chaim, (New York, 5718 – 1958), chap.207; Rabbi Schneur Zalman Fradkin, Torat Chesed, (Warsaw, 5643 – 1883), chap.34.
(60) Wikipedia, “Buddha’s hand”, op. cit.
(61) Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim, chap.653 par.1 and Mishnah Brurah chap. 653, par.1.
(62) Rabbi Weissfish, op. cit., pp.91-92.
(63) Eric Zurcher, “Eight Centuries in the Chinese Diaspora: The Jews of Kaifeng”, Sino-Judaica, (Sino- Judaic Institute), vol.3 (2000), p.11.
(64) Professor Tang Yating, “Kaifeng Jewish Community”, paper for the SIMS Melbourne, 2004, (Internet:
(65) Ibid.
(66) Donald Daniel Leslie, “The Kaifeng Jewish Community”, Studies of the Chinese Jews, compiled by Hyman Kublin, (New York: Paragon, 1971), p.196.
(67) Zurcher, op. cit., p.11.
(68) Xu Xin, The Jews of Kaifeng, China, (New Jersey: Ktav, 2003), pp.151-60.
(69) 1489 stele, 1663 stele, (reproduced by William Charles White, Chinese Jews, second edition, (University of Toronto press: 1966), part 2, pp.11, 88).
(70) Xin, Jews of Kaifeng, op. cit., p.78.
(71) 1489 stele, 1512 stele, 1663 stele, 1679 stele, (reproduced by White, op. cit., part 2, pp. 12, 13, 43, 46, 62, 64, 88, 97-100); Jews in Old China, trans. and ed. Sidney Shapiro, (New York: Hippocrene Books, 1984) pp.40-41).
(72) Donald Daniel Leslie, The Survival of the Chinese Jews, (Leiden: Brill, 1972) p.54.
(73) Xu Xin, “Jewish Identity of the Kaifeng Jews”, From Kaifeng … to Shanghai, ed. Roman Malek, (Nettetal: Steyler Verlag, 2000), p.127; Leslie, Survival of Chinese Jews, op. cit., pp.54, 56.
(74) Yating, op. cit.
(75) For a list of primary sources, etc. on the Jews of Kaifeng, see: Leslie, “Kaifeng Jewish Community”, op. cit., pp.195-97.
(76) A translation into English of all the texts written on the steles together with many footnotes is given in White, op. cit., part 2, pp.7 -103.
(77) Ibid.
(78) Donald Daniel Leslie, Jews and Judaism in Traditional China – A Comprehensive Bibliography, (Sankt Augustin: Monumenta Serica Institute, 1998), p.33. There are 30 manuscripts of these prayers in the Hebrew Union College, Cincinnati, and in a few others in other libraries.
(79) Leslie, Survival of Chinese Jews, op. cit., p.86.
(80) Leslie, “Kaifeng Jewish Community”, op. cit., p.196.
(81) 1663 stele, (reproduced in White, op. cit., part 2, pp.65, 89).
(82) 1489 stele, 1663 stele, (reproduced by White, op. cit., part 2, pp.9, 59).
(83) Marcus N. Adler. Chinese Jews, Lecture given on 17 June 1900 in London, (Oxford: Horace Hart), p.16.
(84) 1489 stele, 1512 stele, 1663 stele, (reproduced in White, op. cit., pp.10, 11, 44, 46, 59, 60, 61).
(85) 1489 stele, 1512 stele, (reproduced in White, op. cit., pp.9, 43).
(86) Xin, Jews of Kaifeng, op. cit., pp.83-84.
(87) This is known from the various extant manuscripts in the Hebrew Union College, Cincinnati. see: Leslie, Jews and Judaism in Traditional China, op. cit., p. 33.
(88) Jean Domenge, documents 2a, 7a, (reproduced in Joseph Dehergne and Donald Daniel Leslie, Juifs de Chine, (Rome: Institutum Historicum, 1980), pp.147, 167).
(89) MS 932 Hebrew Union College, Cincinnati, Hebrew Manuscripts from China no.13, folios 37-39, (Jewish National Library MS 19224).
(90) With the exception of the maftir for Shabbat Chol Hamoed Sukkot, where the portion “v’hikravtem” is given. This is the maftir read on Shabbat Chol Hamoed Pesach. It would seem that a writing error occurred when copying this manuscript.
(91) MS 932 Hebrew Union College, op. cit., folios 40-41.
(92) MS 935 Hebrew Union College, Cincinnati, Hebrew Manuscripts from China no.16, (Jewish National Library MS 19227).
(93) MS 932 Hebrew Union College, op. cit., folio 39.
(94) Domenge, document 3, description of the Kaifeng Synagogue, (reproduced in Dehergne, op. cit. p.154); James Finn, The Jews in China, (London: Wertheim, 1843), p.18.
(95) Domenge, document 7a, (reproduced in Dehergne, op. cit., p.166).
(96) Ibid.
(97) Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim, chap.658 par.2.
(98) Finn, op. cit., p.23.
(99) Leslie, Survival of Chinese Jews, op. cit., pp.61-62, 88.
(100) Ibid., p.64 fn.1.
(101) There is a further reference to Sukkot brought by Domenge document 2a: “Bibles, written entirely by hand with good ink that they make themselves and renew every year after the feast of Tabernacles.” (reproduced by Dehergne, op. cit., p.147).
(102) The Jews of China, vol.2, ed. Jonathan Goldtein, (New York: M.E.Sharpe, 2000), pp.86-87.
(103) Maisie J. Meyer, From the Rivers of Babylon to the Whangpoo, (Langham, Maryland: University Press of America, 2003), p.81.
(104) Ibid., p.85.
(105) The Jewish Journal , op. cit.
(106) The differing opinions of Rabbi Somech and the Ben Ish Chai are discussed later in this paper.
(107) Rabbi Yecheskel Leitner, Operation: Torah Rescue, (Jerusalem: Feldheim Publishers, 1987), p.108.
(108) Aviva Shabi, “Baghdadi Jews in Shanghai”, The Scribe, (London, The Exilarch’s Foundation), no.72, September 1999, p.41.
(109) Ibid.; Ezra Yehezkel-Shaked, “The Ohel Shelomo Synagogue in Kobe, Japan”, Nehardea – Journal of the Babylonian Jewry Heritage Center, (Or-Yehuda: The Babylonian Jewry Heritage Center), no.10, November 1997, p.10.
(110) Nehardea, op. cit., p.10.
(111) Goldstein, op. cit., p.87.
(112) The Jewish Journal, op. cit.
(113) Babylonian Talmud, Sukkah 36a.
(114) Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Lulav, chap.8 halachah 8.
(115) e.g. Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim, chap.648 par.20; Aruch Hashulchan Orach Chaim, chap.648 par.41.
(116) “Tanhum ben Joseph (Ha-)Yerushalmi”, Encyclopedia Judaica, vol.15, (Jerusalem: Keter Publishing House, 1971), col.797.
(117) Al-Mursid al-Kafi – The Lexicon of Tanhum ben Yosef Hayerushalmi to Mishne Tora of Maimonides, with translation from Judaeo-Arabic into Hebrew by Hadassa Shy, (Jerusalem: The Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, 2005), pp.638, 639.
(118) Wikipedia, “Buddha’s hand”, op. cit.; Exotic Plants in Mexico, op. cit.
(119) Allerlei Geschichten Maasse-Buch, (Frankfurt am Main: J. Kauffmann Verlag, 1929), pp.242-45; Ma’aseh Book, translated into English by Moses Gaster, (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1934), pp.461-66. This book of moralistic stories in Yiddish was first published in Basel in 1602 and has been translated and reprinted numerous times, sometimes with additional stories.
(120) The words in Hebrew used by Rabbi Somech transliterated are “from the country of Gin from the city of Hanchan”. It is known that there was a Jewish community in nearby Shanghai and in this same area, the Chinese etrog was to be found. It is very reasonable to assume that the reference of Rabbi Somech was to the country of China – (what other country could it be?!) and the city Hangchow, or Hongkew which was an area of Shanghai. In his paper dealing with the kashrut of unusual etrogim (Techumin vol. 24, 5764 (2004) p.345, published by Tzomet, Alon Shevut), Rabbi Dr.Avraham Ofir Shemesh suggests that what Rabbi Somech meant by Gin was Ujjain, a holy city in central India. It is hard to accept this since Ujjain is a city and Rabbi Somech writes about the COUNTRY of Gin.
(121) Rabbi Abdullah Somech, Zivchei Tzedek, part 2, Orach Chaim, (Baghdad: Bechor Chutzin, 5664 – 1904), chap.37.
(122) Rabbi Somech, op. cit., reply by Rabbi Yoseph Chaim, the Ben Ish Chai to Rabbi Somech.
(123) Rabbi Leitner, op. cit., pp.108-10.
(124) See p.123 of Rabbi Leitner’s book where a photocopy of his ghetto pass is reproduced.
(125) Author of paper to Rabbi Leitner, 6 November 1994, (from files of author of this paper).
(126) Rabbi Leitner to author of paper, 23 November 1994, (from files of author of this paper).
(127) Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim, chap.649, Mishnah Brurah, pars. 53, 54.
(128) Ibid., Be’er Heteiv, par.14.
(129) Author of paper to Rabbi Leitner, 1 December 1994, (from files of author of this paper).
(130) Rabbi Leitner to author of paper, 16 December 1994, (from files of author of this paper).
(131) Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim, chap.651.
(132) The paragraphs are 12, 13.
(133) Yaakov Edelstein, “The Mirrer Yeshiva in Shanghai during the Second World War”, Kivunim, no.19, May 1983, (Jerusalem: World Zionist Organisation), p.131.
(134) David Kranzler, Japanese, Nazis & Jews, (Hoboken, New Jersey: Ktav, 1988), p.434.
(135) Shanghai Jewish Center, (Internet:
(136) Kivunim, op. cit., p.129.
(137) Rabbi Leitner, op. cit., p.92.
(138) Kranzler, op. cit., p.434.
(139) Techumin, op. cit., p.344.

(140) Grateful Acknowledgments are due to (in alphabetical order): Rabbi Yecheskel Leitner (during the year 1994); Librarians at the Jewish National and University Library, Givat Ram, Jerusalem together with the staff of the Microfilm department; Ms. Asia Nawe of Sasa-da; Librarians at Kiryat Arba Municipal Library; Users of Wikipedia Reference Desk who answered my questions; Librarians at Yeshivat “Nir” Kiryat Arba Library; Rabbi Dr. Ari Zivotofsky.


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