There is a great discussion in the Acharonim as to whether or not there is a need to have dates on the tree. Is it a prerequisite that it must have fruits or it is just referring to the type of tree that gives off dates?
Lulav – Branches of a date tree
When it comes to the esrog, the Gemara discusses at length how we know that the words of the Torah: “pri eitz hadar,” is a reference to the esrog. However, in regards to the lulav, there is no such discussion, as to which tree a lulav is taken from. This is because the expression used by the Torah: “kapos temarim – branches of a date tree,” is clear what tree the Torah is referring to. The Gemara does point out that there are many stages in the development of the branches, and discusses exactly which stage of the branch should be used.
Is it necessary to use branches of a tree that actually has dates?
The Gemara (Menachos 27a), in discussing the four species used, relates that two of them bear fruit – the esrog, which is a fruit, and the lulav that has dates. The other two – the hadas and the aravah – do not bear fruits.
There is a great discussion in the Acharonim as to whether or not there is a need to have dates on the tree. Is it a prerequisite that it must have fruits or it is just referring to the type of tree that gives off dates? There are a number of examples where this question will be applicable: If there are old trees that still grow lulav branches, but can no longer give fruit; there are trees that grow in a cold climate that cannot bear fruit; or if they are planted in non-fertile soil. In addition, Rashi (Pesachim 56a) points out that the date trees come as male and female, with only one of them having the ability to bear fruit.
In all of these situations, there can still be branches, but no fruits, making matters even more complicated since one cannot always be sure what type of tree the lulav branch came from.
The question in all of these cases is whether they can be used for a lulav, even if the tree does not give off any fruits.
Reasons to allow such a tree
- Chasam Sofer – the type of tree
The Chasam Sofer (Sukah 34b) rules that there is no problem with using a lulav that is from one of the aforementioned trees, even if fruits will never grow on them. When it says in the pasuk to use a branch of a date tree, the Torah is simply referring to the type of tree, not that it needs to be actually bearing fruit. He proves this notion from the halacha of the aravos.
The Torah uses the expression: “arvei nachal,” which means willow branches that grow by a stream. Nonetheless, the Gemara tells us that any willow branches can be used, even if they grow in the desert, and it does not need to grow next to a stream. The Torah was just using this adjective to describe the type of willow branches that should be taken: ones that usually grow next to the water. As long as that type of willow branch is used it is fine, even if they grow in the desert. The same can be said for the lulav – the Torah is telling us to use a branch of a date tree, regardless of whether dates actually grow, since the Torah is simply referring to the type of tree, not that it needs to actually bear fruits.
- Chazon Ish – a tree which can bear fruits
The Chazon ish (Kilayim 2:18) discusses a tree that cannot bear fruits. He writes that it is acceptable for another reason: since it can be grafted with another tree, it is considered to be fruit-bearing.
- Rabeinu Bechaya – the Torah includes this tree
Rabeinu Bechaya, seemingly addressing this question, writes that the word temarim is used in the plural, meaning a branch from date trees, which is to include even the female date trees that do not bear fruit. In other words, the Torah is explicitly allowing the use of all date trees, even the ones that are not fruit-bearing.
- Rav Shlom Zalman – temarim is a reference to the tree
In Halichos Shlomo (Dvar Halacha 10:15) Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach writes that these lulavim are fine. He explains that if the word temarim would be referring to the fruit of the tree – namely the dates – one can argue that it would be necessary to have the actual fruit growing on the tree. However, the temarim in the Torah is not used to refer to the fruit. The fruits are called in the Torah as devash – sweet, honey like fruit. Since the word temarim is referring to the tree, it is unnecessary to have the actual dates growing on the tree. And the Gemara that calls the lulav “fruit bearing” – is just a way of telling us to use a branch of this type of date tree, regardless of whether dates actually grow on the tree.
Thus, we have a whole list of acharonim who allow a lulav from a tree that does not bear fruits. Interestingly, the Tzafnas Paneach understands that this question is, in fact, a machlokes in the Yerushalmi between Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Tarfon.
Halachically speaking, the Igros Moshe (4:21:7) also rules that using such a lulav is halachically acceptable. Thus, the consensus of the poskim seems to be that one is allowed to use a lulav, even if it comes from a tree that does not have any dates.
Lulav itself may be a fruit
It is interesting to note that the Drisha in Hilchos Arla, and the Mei’ri (Magen Avos pg. 121) write that all four of the species taken are considered fruits. This can be gleaned from the words of the Targum, as well, who writes that we take the following fruits: “lulav, esrog, hadasim, and aravos.” This notion, however, seems to contradict the Gemara that was mentioned earlier, which states that only two of the species bear fruit and the other two – the hadas and the aravah – do not bear fruits.
We can answer this question with the words of the Shibalei Haleket. The Shibalei Haleket discusses the brocha recited on berries that grow on the hadas. He writes that they are not considered bona fide fruits and one should make only a shehakol on these berries. This is also brought in Shulchan Aruch (203:5). He proves this from the aforementioned words of the Gemara, that the hadas is considered a tree that does not give off fruits. We must conclude that, although there are berries that grow, they are not considered bona fide fruits.
The same can be applied to the opinion of the Mei’ri: Although all four species have some level of being called a fruit, they are still not considered bona fide fruits.
We can end this discussion by mentioning the big question in regards to the Canary Lulav, lulavim that grow in the Canary Islands, which was a major debate in the poskim, if it is halachically acceptable. One of the issues is the fact that it does not give off any dates. There is a similar question in regards to a certain species of date trees which grow in Florida.
Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, in the aforementioned piece in Halichos Shlomo (Dvar Halacha 10:15) applies the same logic; the Torah is referring to a tree that is from this species. Since these lulavim are very similar in many ways, they should be considered part of the lulav species and should be acceptable.
Rav Moshe Feinstein (Igros Moshe 4:21:7) disagrees, and rules that these lulavim are not halachically acceptable. He posits that these are not considered the kosher lulavim.
Since these lulavim’s kashrus are questionable, one will not even find them being sold.
There is another important halacha that we learn from the text of the pasuk. The lulav is called: כַּפֹּת תְּמָרִים. The word כַּפֹּת means tied together, meaning that it should be a branch with the leaves held together. In fact, the Rama (645:1) adds that it is preferable for the leaves of the lulav to be close together.
The Mishna Berura writes that there is a dispute in the Acharonim if the Rama is recommending that the lulav leaves be totally together or if they are spread out a little is also fine. The Levush explains the reason that they should be as close together as possible, because the closer they are together is a bigger fulfillment of “kapos,” having the leaves together.
In the sefer Toras Hadaled Minim, the author quotes Rav Elyashiv zt”l as saying that if there is a little space at the top – which often happens, especially after many days of shaking – that is fine. His son-in-law, Rav Ezriel Auerbach shlit”a adds, that as long as when you put it down or when you shake it – it looks like it is together, that is also included in the preferable fulfillment of the mitzvah.
There is an interesting minhag that on Hoshana Raba we take off the rings, which are there to help keep the lulav leaves together. This minhag is mentioned by the rishonim and quoted by the Tur, as well as in Shulchan Aruch. This is alluded to by the word כַּפֹּת, which is spelled without a vuv, which has the numerical value of 6. This teaches us that, the lulav leaves only need to be together on the first six days.
Although the lulav is called in the Torah a branch of a date tree, the consensus of the poskim is that one can use a lulav even from a tree that does not have any dates.
In addition, we learn from the word כַּפֹּת that it is preferable for the leaves to be close together.