Shabbat Sukkot 5774
Ask the Rabbi: An Etrog’s Pitam and OketzRabbi Daniel Mann
Question: Why is it that when an etrog’s pitam breaks off, the etrog is pasul, whereas when the oketz falls off, it is still kosher?
Answer: We must check your assumptions, which are not as simple as the opening source seems to indicate.
The mishna (Sukka 34b) says explicitly that when the pitam is removed, the etrog is pasul, and when the oketz is removed, it is kosher. The simple explanation is that the pitam is a more integral part of the etrog fruit than the oketz. (A removed pitam makes the fruit incomplete (chasser), but there might also be a lack of hadar (being aesthetically pleasing). While the former disqualifies only on the first day, the latter is a problem throughout Sukkot (see Rama, Orach Chayim 649:4 and Mishna Berura 649:5).)
But what is a pitam? The gemara (Sukka 35b) describes it as a buchna (pestle). We must discuss terms and facts before proceeding. We usually identify the pitam as what is known as the citron’s style, the thin protrusion at the top of the fruit, which usually is the same color as the fruit. It actually emerges before the main fruit begins to grow. At the edge of the pitam is a brown crown-looking piece known as the shoshanta (stigma). On the opposite side, what we call the oketz is that which happens to be left of the stem when cut off from the tree. Thus, there is logic for the assumption that the pitam is more a part of the fruit and must be intact.
However, not all Rishonim agree with this identification of the etrog’s parts. Some say that the mishna’s pitam and oketz are both on the side of its “tail,” or stem (see Tosafot, Sukka 35b in the name of Ri Halevi). If the part of the stem that extends into the indentation where the stem is attached to the fruit is missing, the etrog is pasul. The oketz is, according to this, in the part of the stem that is further removed from the fruit, which is why it is not necessary for the etrog to be kosher. The Tur (OC 648) understands that according to this approach, if what we call the pitam is missing, the etrog is kosher, because the style is not part of the fruit, and it extends above the fruit, as opposed to a fully removed stem, which leaves that which looks like a hole in the fruit.
The Rambam (Lulav 8:7) is among those who hold that if either the pitam or the oketz is severed, the etrog is pasul. That which is kosher is when only some of the oketz is lost but enough remains for there not to be an indentation. On the side of the pitam, most understand (see Maggid Mishneh ad loc.) that according to the Rambam, the loss of the shoshanta does not pasul the etrog, only the more stick-like base of the pitam.
Regarding halacha, the basic ruling is that a missing shoshanta does not disqualify the etrog, whereas a missing pitam does (Shulchan Aruch, OC 648:7). The Rama (ad loc.) says that it is good if possible to avoid using an etrog with a shoshanta that fell. The Mishna Berura (648:29) does not clearly decide between the opinions in the case where part of the pitam is broken off but did not leave a hole in the top of the fruit; if part still protrudes beyond the fruit, it is likely kosher. For the oketz, enough of the stem must remain to provide a thin covering of the indentation (see descriptions of the Shulchan Aruch and Rama, OC 648:8)
The Rama points out that if the etrog never had a pitam, it is not a problem, and that indeed that is usually the case. An etrog always starts off with a pitam but it often dries up and falls off due to the sun or other factors. There is a discussion as to what happens if it fell off at a relatively late stage on the tree. If a light-color scab is found in the place of the pitam, it is a sign that it did not fall at the last moments (see Kashrut Arba'at Haminim, p. 28). If certification indicates the etrog came without a pitam, then they should have checked that it looks like it fell off early enough.So why does everyone talk about a broken pitam and not a missing oketz? Probably because it is much more common for the flimsy, protruding pitam to fall off.
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