Laws of Lulav and Esrog

Who can think of Sukkos? We haven’t even celebrated Rosh Hashana!

The Talmud instructs us to study the laws pertaining to a holiday 30 days before the holiday. It’s less than 30 days to Sukkos and the laws of Lulav and Esrog are complicated and many. So let’s begin!

Before we get into the what, let’s take a moment to discuss the why. There are a number of reasons suggested as to why we take the Lulav and Esrog on Sukkos.

The Rambam (in the Guide to the Perplexed) sees Sukkos as the culmination of the Exodus. As our ancestors traveled through the desert there were no trees or vegetation. Upon arriving in the land of Israel, the lush greenery overwhelmed them and made them immediately aware and grateful for the beautiful land that they were given. By taking the four species on Sukkos, species that were readily available throughout the land of Israel, we are reminding ourselves of the excitement our ancestors felt, and this in turn should inspire us to be grateful for the gift of Eretz Yisrael.

The Sefer Hachinuch suggests another reason behind the Mitzvah of Lulav and Esrog. The holiday of Sukkos is described in the Torah as Chag Ha’asif, the festival of gathering, as the holiday coincides with the harvesting of one’s produce. The harvested produce would naturally bring great joy to the owners. The taking of the Lulav and Esrog is a way of channeling the self-joy we experience at this time and direct it to G-d. Additionally, celebrations can at times take a turn away from the spiritual. By utilizing the same items that we are ecstatic over, we ensure that our celebration will maintain a spiritual flavor.


There are three layers to an Esrog; the glaze on the outside, the green/ yellow skin, and the white flesh. When purchasing an Esrog, one of the things to look for is if any of the flesh is missing. If it is, the Esrog cannot be used on the first day and therefore should not be purchased. It may take an expert to distinguish between the different layers and to ascertain if flesh is missing or if there is a discoloration.


If any part of the stem of the Esrog is missing it is invalid to be used on the first day of Sukkos. The same is true if any part of the flesh is missing (see Laws #3). On the second day of Sukkos, if a small part of the flesh or stem is missing it may be used.


All Esrogs grow with a pittum but many fall off as it grows. If the pittum falls off after it is harvested it is invalid. If a little bit of wood of the pittum remains it may be used.

One may use an Esrog whose pittum fell off on Chol Hamoed if no other Esrog’s are available.

Discoloration of the Esrog can make it invalid. White, black, dark brown, and dark green are colors that can make an Esrog invalid. One discolored dot on the top of the Esrog invalidates the Esrog. The top of the Esrog is defined by where the Esrog begins to slant. Two such dots on any other part of the Esrog invalidates.

However, for these dots to cause an invalidation they must be seen when holding the Esrog at a comfortable distance. Seeing these dots up close does not invalidate the Esrog. 

Shaking the Lulav and Esrog: Take the Lulav in the right hand, Esrog in the left and hold the Esrog upside down. Say the blessing (on the first day a second blessing of Shehechiyanu is added), turn the Esrog over and shake in the four directions as well as up and down.


After Sukkos, one may dispose of their Lulav and Esrog in a way that is not degrading. Although some have the custom of burning them with their Chameitz so as to include them in another Mitzvah one may wrap them in a bag and place them in the regular waste.


Laws of the Sukkah

A few Halachos pertaining to building a Sukkah:

– One must first build the walls and then place the s’chach. Placing the s’chach first and then building the walls would invalidate the Sukkah.

– One must make sure there is no overhang (roof, leaves, etc.) over the s’chach. Any overhang invalidates the s’chach directly underneath.

– Ideally, one should not rest the s’chach directly on something that cannot be used as s’chach. Therefore, one should not place their s’chach directly on metal beams. Rather, they should place wooden beams over the metal ones and then lay the s’chach on top. Similarly, one should not tie their s’chach down with any material that cannot be used as s’chach (such as string or rope). One can usually get their s’chach to stay put by placing a piece of wood over the s’chach.

– S’chach must be heavy/ secure enough to be able to withstand a normal wind.

– If one needs to, they may tie their Sukkah down with a material that is 100% natural and unprocessed. 

There is a Mitzvah to decorate one’s Sukkah.

One Sukkos begins the Mitzvah is to treat the Sukkah like one’s home. This includes eating and sleeping.

Technically speaking, it is only when one eats bread or foods made of grains that one must eat in the Sukkah. It is ideal to eat everything in the Sukkah.

In terms of sleeping some are lenient not to sleep due to the weather, to keep a spouse company, or if they don’t feel safe. Again, ideally a person should sleep in the Sukkah.

One should light Yom Tov/ Shabbos candles in the Sukkah unless they are concerned of them blowing out or of a fire. In such cases, it would be better to light the candles in one’s home.

When eating bread or food made of grains in the Sukkah one makes the following blessing: Baruch Ata… Asher Kid’shanu b’mitzvososv v’tzivanu leisheiv basukkah. This blessing is only said if one’s eats of the food in a portion the the size of an egg or larger.

When making Havdallah there are differing opinions aboutmaking this blessing. One should eat some food afterwards that would necessitate the blessing to fulfill all opinions.

If one forgot to make the blessing one can make it during the meal. Even if one remembers after they finish saying Birkas HaMazon one can still say the blessing but they should remain in the Sukkah for a few moments afterwards.


Rain in the Sukkah:

If it is raining hard enough that it could be felt through the Sukkah a person is exempt from eating in the Sukkah. It is actually forbidden to say the blessing of sitting in the Sukkah when it is raining.

If a person left the Sukkah because of rain and already sat down to eat and then the rain stopped they do not have to go back to the Sukkah.

When it rains on the first night:

The laws of rain in the Sukkah on the first night are different than other nights. On the first night one should wait for a while before eating in one’s home. Ideally, one should wait up until an hour (if that is not practical due to young children or very hungry people then one need not wait that long). If it is still raining, one should make kiddush in the sukkah without the blessing of Leisheiv Basukkah. They should also eat a small portion of bread in the Sukkah and then finish the rest of the meal in one’s home.


Laws of Tisha B’av

The following activities are forbidden on Tisha B’av: 

– Eating and drinking (If one has any medical concerns please contact me before the fast)

– Intimacy

– Studying Torah that does not pertain to Tisha B’av

– Washing oneself in any way. This includes a prohibition against brushing one’s teeth and putting on deodorant. However, one may wash their fingers upon waking up. If one’s hands become dirty in any way, one can wash whatever part of their hand is dirty. If one wishes to bathe a child or wash dishes and their hands will get wet in the process it is permitted to do so.

On Tisha B’av one may not wear leather shoes. 

One should not greet others. If one is greeted, it is permitted to respond. 

One must sit on a low stool until Halachic midday, which in Baltimore will be at 1:13 PM on Tisha B’av.

One should not work for the first half of Tisha B’av. Ideally, one should not work the entire day.

There are some who sleep in a less comfortable fashion on the night of Tisha B’av. For example, if they normally sleep with two pillows they sleep with one. If they normally sleep with one pillow they sleep with none. If one can do so, it is a meaningful custom. If it will prevent them from sleeping and they will have a harder time fasting, or they have some condition which will make sleeping (or the next day) extremely uncomfortable, there is no need to do so.


Laws of Erev Tisha B’av that falls out on Shabbos

This year, Erev Tisha B’av falls out on Shabbos. There are a number of unique laws: 

There are differing opinions about learning Torah after midday. Ideally one should study sections that relate to the laws of Tisha B’av or the destruction of the Bais HaMikdash.

The regular seudas hamafsekes that is eaten before Tisha B’av (eating an egg etc.) does not take place. Rather, one may eat regular Shabbos food until the fast begins. One may eat Shalosh Seudos together with friends and family (if this what is normally done). 

The fast begins at sunset.

All the other restrictions begin at nightfall. 

One says the blessing on the candle after Shabbos. 

The rest of Havdalah is not made until Sunday night after the fast. One who davens maariv should add ata chanantanu and one who does not should say, Baruch Hamavdil. 

Havdalah on Sunday night consists of the bracha on the grape juice/ wine and the final bracha. 

If one needs to break the fast they should first make Havdalah  as it is described above. However, instead of grape juice or wine, it should be said with orange juice or coffee.

Laws of the Three Weeks and the Nine Days of Mourning

The Three Weeks of Mourning begin Saturday evening, June 27h. It is a time of mournful reflection for the destroyed Bais HaMikdash and subsequent tragedies. In order to instill within ourselves a sense of loss, our Sages instituted numerous restrictions to create a feeling of sadness. The Talmud writes that one who mourns the destroyed Jerusalem will merit to see it rebuilt.

It is customary not to say the blessing of She’hechiyanu during the Three Weeks. Therefore, one should avoid eating fruits that they have not eaten for a year, as this would necessitate saying the blessing. In addition, one should not wear new clothing that requires making the blessing of She’hechiyanu. This includes new suits and new coats. One may purchase these items during the Three Weeks, it is wearing them for the first time that is a problem. One may purchase and wear any other type of clothing during the Three Weeks.

One may not cut hair during the Three Weeks. Waxing and eyebrow care is permitted.

One may not listen to lively music during the Three Weeks. This is true for live as well as recorded music. Most have the tradition to not listen to any music, even if it is not lively.

A Capella music is a matter of debate but there is what to rely upon to listen to such music.

Listening to music as a way of staying awake in a car, to help one concentrate or something of that nature is permitted.

The custom is to refrain from doing anything that can even be remotely dangerous during the Three Weeks because of the bad track record the Jewish People have during this time period.Traditionally, this has included swimming in lakes or rivers and getting elective surgery. 

 Laws of the Nine Days

The ‘9 Days’ begin Shabbos, July 10th. In a very general sense, what is forbidden to be done during this period is: Home improvements, laundering, buying or wearing new clothes, eating meat, drinking wine, and bathing for pleasure. We will discuss the details of all these restrictions below.

Home Improvement and Gardening: It is forbidden to do any home improvements such as painting, building, adding extensions. One may not hire a non-Jew to do this type of work either. Light housework, such as sweeping, mopping, vacuuming, and basic cleaning is permitted. In terms of gardening, basic upkeep such as mowing the lawn, watering plants and flowers is permitted. Planting new seeds or flowers is not allowed.

Laundering: Included in the prohibition of laundering during the Nine Days is ironing, or sending any clothes to the dry cleaners (even if they will be ready after the Nine Days).

One may wash clothing for children aged six and under.

If one has no clean clothing for Shabbos one may wash clothing on Thursday and Friday so that they will have clean clothing for Shabbos.

Spot cleaning is permitted.

During the first 30 days of mourning for a loved one, one may not wear freshly laundered clothing. The same holds true for the Nine Days when we all mourn the destruction of the Batei Mikdash. The definition of freshly laundered clothing is clothing that has not been worn since it has been laundered. This does not mean that one must wear dirty clothing. Rather, once clothing has been worn for a half hour [prior to the Nine Days] it can be worn during the Nine Days. The prohibition of wearing freshly laundered clothing is limited to outer garments as opposed to undergarments and pajamas.

One is allowed to wear freshly-laundered clothing on Shabbos.

[For all you clever people out there, this may seem to indicate a loophole of sorts. If one can wear new clothing on Shabbos then perhaps one need not wear clothing before the nine days in order to take away their freshness. Instead one can wear them for the first time on Shabbos and ‘break them in’ that way. The problem with this idea is that it violates another prohibition – one may not prepare on Shabbos for the week to come. Therefore one would not be able to ‘prepare’ clothing that they only want to wear during the week by wearing them on Shabbos. Instead,]

If one runs out of clothing that was pre-worn before the Nine Days, one may cause the clothing to be considered not fresh by putting them on a floor that is dusty, removing the creases by stepping on the clothing, or by placing the clothing in a laundry basket with dirty laundry. All of these methods are only to be used post-facto. Ideally, one should prepare clothing before the Nine Days by wearing any outer garment that will be worn for at least a half hour.

As opposed to the Three Weeks when buying clothing of significance is forbidden, during the Nine Days buying any article of clothing is prohibited. (As a practical tip – before going Nine Days without laundry, it’s worth double checking that you have enough clothing! Also, don’t forget to buy non-leather shoes before Tisha B’av.) If there is a major sale which will be over before the Nine Days have passed it is permitted to buy a new article of clothing.

It is forbidden to make any new clothing (sewing, weaving, knitting, etc.) but it is permitted to sew up a tear or a button etc.

It is forbidden to eat meat/poultry or drink wine through the Nine Days. There are two reasons why this is so – 1) meat and wine increase happiness 2) it serves as a reminder of the meat of the sacrifices and the wine libations that are no longer.

One may use meat utensils but may not eat food that was cooked with meat (like eating a potato from a meat chulent).

There are no restrictions of meat and wine on Shabbos.

Included in the prohibition of drinking wine is drinking grape juice. However, any other alcoholic beverage is permitted. Wine that is used for cooking is allowed provided that there is no distinct taste of wine in the food.

Drinking wine/ grape juice on Shabbos is permitted, however Havdallah poses a problem. One should not use beer in place of wine. Rather, if there is a child between the age of 6 and 9 available they should drink the wine/ grape juice. If not, the one who made Havdallah should drink it. As is the case every Saturday night, one should ideally drink a r’viis which measures approximately 3.8 fl. oz.

A few final laws and customs that pertain to the Nine Days:

During the Nine Days, it is forbidden to swim, be it for pleasure or for exercise. If one must swim for medical reasons, please feel free to contact me to discuss further.

One should try not to be involved in a court case during the Nine Days if possible.

The custom is to push off saying Kiddush Levana until after Tisha B’Av because Kiddush Levana is supposed to be said in a state of joy.

When Erev Pesach falls out on Shabbos

A digest of the unique laws when Erev Pesach falls out on Shabbos: 

The fast of the firstborn takes place on Thursday, March 25th. In Ner Tamid, the siyum will take place at approximately 7:20 AM and will be streamed on Zoom. 

Bedikas Chameitz takes place on Thursday night after nightfall. 

Chameitz is destroyed Friday morning. This should take place no later than 12:10 PM.

The sale for Chameitz takes place Friday morning. Therefore, all chameitz that one intends to sale should be put away by 10:30 AM Friday morning. One should set aside some rolls to be used for the Shabbos meals in a safe place. Details on how to eat the Shabbos meals can be found below.

The passage known as Bittul (Kol chamira), which is normally said at the time of burning of the chameitz is said on Shabbos before 12:09 PM. 

Eating the Shabbos Meals: One should set their table with Pesach utensils and have Kosher for Pesach food. 

In order to fulfill one’s obligation of eating lechem mishna, Hamotzi on two rolls of bread, there are a number of approaches how to do so safely without getting chametz in one’s home. 

The simplest approach is to go outside to one’s porch and make Hamotzi there. Each person should eat a small amount of bread while outside. (The amount one must eat is approximately the size of a golf ball.) Any crumbs that fall to the floor can be ignored. 

The rest of the meal can be continued indoors.

One must finish eating all bread before 11:07 AM (Baltimore, MD). The meal can continue past this time.  

If one has any chametz left over that is large one could crumble it up and flush it down the toilet. This must be done before 12:09 PM. 

Seudah Shlishi – One is obligated to have three meals every Shabbos. There are are three ways to do so on Erev Pesach that falls out on Shabbos. 1. Start the first meal really early. Finish the meal and take a little break by reading a short book, or going on a short walk. Then return and eat the third meal with two rolls of bread. Of course this must be eaten before 11:07 AM. 

  1. There is an opinion that one can fulfill the obligation of eating the third meal with fruit, meat, or fish. One can then eat this meal at any point during the day. 
  2. There is an opinion recorded by the Magen Avraham that one can fulfill their obligation by learning Torah. This is not a conventional view. Nonetheless, one can rely on it if need be.

One cannot begin preparing for the Seder until nightfall on Saturday night, which is at 8:06 PM in Baltimore, MD.