In this issue
April 9, 2014

Jonathan Tobin: Why Did Kerry Lie About Israeli Blame?

Samuel G. Freedman: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Jessica Ivins: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Kim Giles: Asking for help is not weakness

Kathy Kristof and Barbara Hoch Marcus: 7 Great Growth Israeli Stocks

Matthew Mientka: How Beans, Peas, And Chickpeas Cleanse Bad Cholesterol and Lowers Risk of Heart Disease

Sabrina Bachai: 5 At-Home Treatments For Headaches

The Kosher Gourmet by Daniel Neman Have yourself a matzo ball: The secrets bubby never told you and recipes she could have never imagined

April 8, 2014

Lori Nawyn: At Your Wit's End and Back: Finding Peace

Susan B. Garland and Rachel L. Sheedy: Strategies Married Couples Can Use to Boost Benefits

David Muhlbaum: Smart Tax Deductions Non-Itemizers Can Claim

Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.E : Before You Lose Your Mental Edge

Dana Dovey: Coffee Drinkers Rejoice! Your Cup Of Joe Can Prevent Death From Liver Disease

Chris Weller: Electric 'Thinking Cap' Puts Your Brain Power Into High Gear

The Kosher Gourmet by Marlene Parrish A gift of hazelnuts keeps giving --- for a variety of nutty recipes: Entree, side, soup, dessert

April 4, 2014

Rabbi David Gutterman: The Word for Nothing Means Everything

Charles Krauthammer: Kerry's folly, Chapter 3

Amy Peterson: A life of love: How to build lasting relationships with your children

John Ericson: Older Women: Save Your Heart, Prevent Stroke Don't Drink Diet

John Ericson: Why 50 million Americans will still have spring allergies after taking meds

Cameron Huddleston: Best and Worst Buys of April 2014

Stacy Rapacon: Great Mutual Funds for Young Investors

Sarah Boesveld: Teacher keeps promise to mail thousands of former students letters written by their past selves

The Kosher Gourmet by Sharon Thompson Anyone can make a salad, you say. But can they make a great salad? (SECRETS, TESTED TECHNIQUES + 4 RECIPES, INCLUDING DRESSINGS)

April 2, 2014

Paul Greenberg: Death and joy in the spring

Dan Barry: Should South Carolina Jews be forced to maintain this chimney built by Germans serving the Nazis?

Mayra Bitsko: Save me! An alien took over my child's personality

Frank Clayton: Get happy: 20 scientifically proven happiness activities

Susan Scutti: It's Genetic! Obesity and the 'Carb Breakdown' Gene

Lecia Bushak: Why Hand Sanitizer May Actually Harm Your Health

Stacy Rapacon: Great Funds You Can Own for $500 or Less

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Ways to Save on Home Decor

The Kosher Gourmet by Steve Petusevsky Exploring ingredients as edible-stuffed containers (TWO RECIPES + TIPS & TECHINQUES)

Jewish World Review Oct. 2, 2003 / 6 Tishrei, 5763

Consumer Tips from an Esrog Maven

By Joshua Silver

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If Ralph Nader would writer a guide to purchasing "The Four Species" necessities, this would be it. Yes, folks, Yom Kippur is fast approaching — which means Succos (Tabernacles) is just around the corner.

http://www.jewishworldreview.com | Buyer, beware! When it comes to purchasing "The Four Species" for the holiday of Succos, misconceptions abound. I see your puzzled look. "The Four Species" sounds like something from a science fiction movie, not items used for a Jewish tradition.

So let's clear things up: what we're talking about here are four types of plants -- not your garden-variety magnolias, but flora imported from exotic countries, with price tags to match. Every Succos, Jews all over the world make it a point to literally get their hands on a lulav (date palm branch), an esrog (citron), hadassim (myrtle branches) and aravos (willow branches) so they can fulfill the Torah commandment stipulating this mysterious obligation. "The Four Species" is the collective term for these items.

Essentially, one takes hold of these four items together on each of the days of Succos (excluding the Sabbath) recites a blessing, and shakes the lulav (and attendant greens) in a prescribed manner. The mitzvah is replete with symbolic and kabbalistic meanings. Unifying these disparate items symbolizes the harmonizing of your body's organs in one human being, the uniting of all types of Jews, and ultimately the bonding of the Jewish People with the Divine.

To view a sample page, please click HERE.

You can purchase The Esrog and Lulav Handbook: The Laws of the Four Species by clicking HERE.

Sales help fund JWR.

Obviously, this must be good for your soul, even if it seems a bit bizarre. But why do sets of "The Four Species" vary so much in price? You can get a "kosher" set for about $40, but many will sell for upwards of $100, some for as high as $600-$700. As a consumer, how are you to know that you're getting your money's worth? (Hint: it depends on the quality of the esrog.)

Trust me, you won't find Ralph Nader checking things out in your Judaica store to give you the guidance you need. If you want to judge the value of the set you are considering (or that your rabbi just handed you), you will need to become "an educated consumer." You need to know what features make each of the "species" valuable, questionable or disqualifies it for use according to Jewish law.

Knowledge like this doesn't grow on trees. Of course, the best way to learn the ropes is to go shopping with an expert, someone who has studied all the laws and has observed the greats make their selections. Should you not be able to collar your local Jewish scholar for this task, however, you do have an alternative. This year, there is a new book on the subject -- one that teaches you all the basics about selecting a lulav and esrog, and you don't even have to know Hebrew!

The Esrog and Lulav Handbook: The Laws of the Four Species by Rabbi Hadar Margolin is as straightforward as its title. Recently published by ArtScroll/Mesorah Publications, it is the ideal introduction to the formidable task of judging the quality of goods in your price-range. When you're dealing with produce, even items that are the same price will not be identical - each will have its strong points and its flaws. The goal is to get the best you can afford.

Reputable dealers will not try to sell you an item that is not fit for use, but it's important to remember that even an esrog or lulav that started out in perfect condition from its country of origin may arrive damaged by the time it reaches your hands. Your scrutiny can matter. If you know what to look for, you can ask intelligent questions.

I found The Esrog and Lulav Handbook to be succinct, clear and helpful. It's loaded with photos (Click HERE for examples.) and drawings that illustrate every point. In addition to showing you what disqualifies an item, it also shows you instances of blemishes that may appear serious, but aren't. For instance, there is a series of photos that show off-white scars on the surface of an esrog. The caption informs you that these do not disqualify the esrog, but that they do detract from its overall quality. Of course, the handbook will not discuss specific prices, as these change from year to year and the book is intended to be kept for annual review.

It's designed for easy use as a reference, with definitions, lists and editorial boxes that summarize important facts. Like all books on Jewish law, it carries the usual caveat that it is not intended to decide matters of Jewish law in individual instances, that it is only a guide. If you have a really questionable item, you must ask a rabbi. Ah, but now you know what to ask!

A visit to a Judaica store (or better yet, one of the huge ad hoc markets, be it in Brooklyn, Jerusalem, or wherever there is a hefty Jewish population) to buy your "Four Species" is a wild, exhilarating, chaotic experience. Everyone is examining hundreds of items at once - discussing, questioning, bargaining, then finally purchasing their selection, followed by a smile, a handshake and a cheerful "Gut Yuntif!" I admit that for some of us it takes guts to walk in there; now that I've studied the new handbook, however, I feel I have the confidence I need.

If you pre-order your esrog and lulav set through your synagogue, you still need to study this manual -- not to play catch-the-rabbi in halachic discourse, but so you can take your esrog and lulav in hand with true appreciation. You will find yourself examining every ridge of the esrog, admiring the posture of your lulav.. When it comes time to say the blessing, you will take them in hand like an expert. You've examined them and they've passed inspection. Now treasure them as vehicles to a new spiritual awareness.

There's nothing like being a maven.

Every weekday JewishWorldReview.com publishes uplifting articles. Sign up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.

Joshua Silver is a writer living in New York. To comment, please click here.

© 2003, Joshua Silver