Is a pitomless etrog kosher? If it is kosher is it better or worse than an etrog with a pitom? These are a couple of the questions I was asked yesterday. Other than the more normal Sukkot questions of do I need to cut those branches hanging over my sukkah, and is this lulav kosher?
So what is a pitomless etrog? Look at the diagram on the left. The pitom, is the tip of the etrog. The pitom is extremely fragile, if it were to break off during the first two days of Sukkot, the etrog is not fit to make the beracha over. It has been known for the pitom to break off especially families with small children!
As such great efforts have been done to strengthen the pitom. Here is an extract from an article on wikipedia: "Many more pitoms are preserved today thanks to an auxin discovered by Dr. Eliezer E. Goldschmidt, formerly professor of horticulture at the Hebrew University. Working with the picloram hormone in a citrus orchard, he discovered, to his surprise, that some of the Valencia oranges found nearby had preserved perfect pitams. Citrus fruits, other than an etrog or citron hybrid like the bergamot, usually do not preserve their pitam. When they occasionally do, it would at least be dry, sunken and very fragile. In this case the pitams were all fresh and solid just like those of the Moroccan or Greek citron varieties. Experimenting with picloram in a laboratory, Goldschmidt eventually found the correct “dose” to achieve the desired effect: one droplet of the chemical in three million drops of water. This invention is highly appreciated by the religious Jewish community." See the full article at wikipedia.
Other than strengthening the pitom, it has been shown that some etrog species lose their pitom naturally while on the tree. Such etrogim are 100% kosher. The only issue is when the etrogim lose their pitom post harvest. Then the etrog would be not kosher. To read an interesting article on the history of pitomless etrogim click here and see page 20.
Now, both etrogim with pitom and those without are kosher, provided that the the pitom fell while on the tree. Which one is better? In halacha, we always look to try and do hidur mitzvah, to do the mitzvah in the best possible way. In this case choosing the best possible etrog. There is a disagreement among the poskim which is better but most hold that with a pitom is better. However, if you know that your young children or grandchildren will shake your lulav you may like I do, prefer an etrog without a pitom.
Wishing you all a very happy Sukkot, Moadim Lesimha!