הפולמוס על אתרוגי קורפו ואתרוגי ארץ ישראל — 1875—1891

Translated title of the contribution: The Controversy over Etrogim from Corfu and Palestine, 1875—1891

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

According to the traditional understanding Jews use and recite a benediction upon etrogim (citrons) on the Sukkot festival. Many etrogim, however, are grown on trees which in fact have the roots of lemon trees; such etrogim are known as 'grafted' etrogim. The halakhic discussion of such etrogim, in the nineteenth century, allows us an interesting view of the interweaving of halakhic, economic and Zionist considerations. The halakhic controversy concerning grafted etrogim is centuries old, appearing in the responsa literature since the sixteenth-century writings of R. Meir of Padua in Italy ('Maharam') and R. Moshe Alscheich in Palestine. The halakhic question is whether grafted etrogim are acceptable ('kosher') and whether, accordingly, the relevant benediction may be recited over them, given the fact that they grew on trees whose roots are of lemon trees and only their boughs are those of etrogim. Which then is the determining factor — the root or the bough — i.e., is such fruit an etrog or something else? Rabbis from the sixteenth century forbade the recitation of the benediction for this or that reason. Some simply held that it is not an etrog, while others disqualified it as being less than complete or considered it to be `disgusting in the eyes of Heaven' since it was based on mixing species. Some rabbis allowed blessing such an etrog when there was none other available, and others at least allowed its use (although without the benediction) in such circumstances. Still others forbade its use altogether fearing that it might turn an exception into a habit. With the first marketing of Corfu etrogim in the eighteenth century, in the markets of Italy, Eastern and Central Europe, most of the Ashkenazic and Sephardic halakhists tended to deem them grafted and, therefore, forbad their use. But when the question was put to R. Ephraim Zalman Margaliot, the author of `Bet Efrayyim' and one of the foremost halakhists of the first quarter of the nineteenth century, he ruled that Corfu etrogim are permitted and the benediction may be said upon them without hesitation (leḥatkhila) and not only if no others are available. This broad decision was generally not accepted until the controvery of 1845–1846. From then on, however, the Bet Efrayyim's opinion was accepted and contributed to a more permissive decision. Most Ashkenazic and Sephardic authorities now decided that Corfu etrogim are not grafted, and a benediction upon them was legally allowed. This widespread decision was based on the testimony of the rabbi of Corfu, R. Yehuda Bibias, and as he was a local authority, it enabled Corfu etrogim to become very popular in Eastern and Central Europe. The controversy revived prior to Sukkot, 1874, spearheaded by Jeḥiel Brill, editor of the newspaper HaLevanon. Brill, who was closely associated with the tradition population of Palestine and oriented towards the Jews of Eastern Europe, campaigned against the monopoly of Corfu etrogim, which raised the price of the fruit. The controversy took on new directions when Jeḥiel Michel Pines entered the fray. Pines published in newspapers a call to prefer Palestine etrogim so as to support the resettlement of the land and the productivity of its Jewish population. Another figure who joined the controversy was R. Ḥayyim Eleazar Wachs, the rabbi of Pietrekov, who wanted to use etrogim as a way to bolster the economic basis of the Warsaw Kollel he ran. A variety of Lithuanian rabbis also entered the dispute on both sides of the divide, introducing `orthodox' tones into the controversy. In the course of the controversy, the rabbis of Jerusalem decided to check the situation in situ. They thus sent a delegation of Ashkenazic etrog dealers to inspect the etrog orchards in Jaffa and Um-el-Fakham. The delegation came to the conclusion that most of the Jaffa etrogim are grafted and originate in Corfu. This decision aroused tensions between Ashkenazim and Sephardim in Palestine, for the latter controlled the Jaffa etrog market orchards while the former merchants controlled orchards in the north. Eventually, the two communities agreed to allow all Palestinian etrogim. In the eighties the Zionist newspapers entered the controversy, preferring Palestinian etrogim for ideological reasons. This new orientation pushed the halakhic dispute to the sidelines, and many rabbis who had preferred Palestinian etrogim to those from Corfu due to halakhic reasons now saw fit to abstain from commenting on the matter, lest they be thought to be supporting the Zionists. The polemics revived once more in the latter half of the 1880s, after a delegation led by R. Wachs and R. Joshua Trunk of Kutna visited Palestine. They attempted to bolster the case for Palestinian etrogim, but their voice was hardly heard, given the widely known data that Palestinian etrogim are frequently grafted and that the broad permission for their use had resulted only from inter-communal economic considerations. In the end, what settled the matter was a blood libel in Corfu in 1891, which led many Jews to leave the island and united Jews around the world against the Greeks of Corfu, and, hence, against purchasing Corfu etrogim. In numerous lands the Jews imposed bans against Corfu etrogim, and they were supported even by those authorities who had previously preferred them.
Translated title of the contributionThe Controversy over Etrogim from Corfu and Palestine, 1875—1891
Original languageHebrew
Pages (from-to)75-106
Journalציון: רבעון לחקר תולדות ישראל
Volumeסה
Issue numberא
StatePublished - 2000

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