How to Buy a Lulav and Etrog

What to look for, how to care for it and uses after Sukkot

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So that the leaves of the palm do not spread out obtrusively, the lulav should be bound at three points along its length. The bands are made from its leaves. If they are not already on the lulav, you can ask the seller to bind them for you, or you can improvise a bind yourself. (The three bands represent Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; creation, revelation, redemption...) Aside from this, it should have a good feel in your hand and possess whatever other qualities you feel a lulav should possess--e.g., good spring, length, tight leaves, loose leaves, a thick backbone, a thin backbone.

When you buy it ask for a plastic bag to keep it in. This will be used to preserve its freshness and protect it throughout the holiday.

The Myrtle

They should be at least three tefahim (approximately 10") long. There must be three branches.

The leaves of the myrtle, ideally, should grow in clusters of three at every  spot on the stem. Often, however, the three leaves do not emanate from the exact same spot on the stem. You should select myrtle branches which have at least three clusters of three emanating from single spots-preferably near the top.

The Willow

They should be at least three tefahim (approximately 10") long. There must be two branches.

The leaves of the willow, ideally, should grow in clusters of two at every spot on the stem. Often, however, the two leaves do not emanate from the exact same spot on the stem. You should select willow branches which have at least two clusters of two emanating from single spots-preferably near the top.

How To Care For The Species

Until you have to assemble them, store the parts separately. The etrog will come wrapped in a padding material and enclosed in a box. Make sure to keep it wrapped in this, with the pittam well protected. If you have a separate etrog box, store it there. Otherwise, keep it in its box and in a safe place. It is advisable, although not necessary, to keep it in the refrigerator. The etrog has an amazing quality: It will not rot. It will dry up, but not spoil. The myrtle and willow will spoil and should be kept in the refrigerator wrapped in a wet towel. These will dry up and the leaves will fall off. So handle them with care. Avoid overhandling them. Once they are squeezed into the little holder gadget that comes with the lulav, it is best not to remove them, as this will generally rip the lower leaves off.

Rather than do this, either:

(1) Take off the entire holder, wrap the leaves in a wet towel, and store in the refrigerator; or (2) slip the whole lulav with the holder and branches into the plastic bag, put a little bit of water in the bottom of the bag, seal (tie) the top. It can be left out as is or stored in the refrigerator.

The lulav will generally stay fresh for at least the seven days without special care required of it.

What To Do With It Afterward

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Rabbi Michael Strassfeld

Michael Strassfeld is the rabbi of the Society for the Advancement of Judaism, a Reconstructionist synagogue in Manhattan, co-author of The First Jewish Catalog, The Second Jewish Catalog, A Night of Questions: A Passover Haggadah, and author of The Jewish Holidays: A Guide and Commentary.

Sharon M. Strassfeld is co-author of the Jewish Catalog series.

Richard Siegel

Richard Siegel is the Interim Director of the School of Jewish Communal Service at HUC-JIR. He worked for 28 years at the National Foundation for Jewish Culture, the last 16 as Executive Director.