ALERT – The Great Haddasim Scam – A Halachic Analysis And Warning

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(By Rabbi Yair Hoffman for the Five Towns Jewish Times)

“Psst..  Hey Buddy, wanna buy some Arba Minim? I got Lulavs, Esrogs, and some good Hadassim for you..”

Watchout, however, you may be purchasing something that Chazal call, “Fools’ Hadassim.”

Most people know that the nickname for Iron Pyrite is “Fools’ Gold.”  Few people, however, know that there are non-kosher Hadassim out there called “Fools’ Hadassim” or rather, in the Hebrew – “Hadas Shoteh.”

It is one of the scandals having to do with the Haddasim that has not really been adequately addressed. When “photocopied Mezuzos” were being sold at Jewish Seforim stores and Judaica shops – the Sofrim and Rabbonim got together and pulled the plug on it. When falsified kosher certifications were printed on non-kosher cheese in Canada this past summer – the Canadian authorities were able to find it and stop it.

Yet for some reason, the non-triple leaved Haddasim scam has never really been fully revealed or addressed. By the way, the Hadas or myrtle is a woody, evergreen plant with essential oils that is indigenous to the Mediterranean area.

THE PROBLEM

What is the Hadassim scam? It is a fact that is only whispered among Talmidei Chachomim, but many, many of the Hadassim that are sold are not kosher – and never were. Most of the haddasim being sold are unkosher, because they do not fit the halachic requirement of Meshulashim – three leaves emerging from the same circumference of the twig.  Indeed, even some of the pre-packaged Hadassim with a hechsher from a BaDaTz are invalid and in these cases it is almost impossible to check them because the packages are closed and cannot be inspected.

The Gemorah in Sukkah 32b explains that the word “avos” used to describe the hadas plant means that the leaves are braided. In order for something to be considered braided – three strands are required.

TWO POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS

What needs to be done is that the Judaica stores who sell the haddasim (and of late the makeshift street-corner Arba Minim dealers) should inform the consumer that the majority of hadassim are actually non-kosher. Either that or they should stop selling the problematic ones altogether.

THE THREE, OR FOUR VIOLATIONS

There are actually three or four areas in which halacha is being violated. Firstly, the innocent people who are buying the Arba Minim with haddasim that are posul are not fulfilling the Mitzvah of Arbah Minim. They could be spending $150 on an esrog only to find that they did not fulfill the Mitzvah at all since the hadassim were posul.

The second violation is that of Bracha Levatalah. Those people with haddassim that are not meshulash – are reciting blessings incorrectly.

The third violation is that of Lifnei Iver – putting a stumbling block before the blind.

And finally, the fourth possible violation: Many Rishonim are of the opinion that a non-triple-leaved Hadas is actually considered a different halachic genus. If that is the case than there is also a violation of Bal Tosif – the prohibition of adding onto the Torah. This violation would even be violated if someone had merely added one extra Hadas to three fully kosher ones. Other Rishonim hold that the violation involved in using a Hadas Shoteh – Fools’ Hadas is not that it is a different halachic species or genus – it is that it is not Hadar – beautiful.

As far as the question as to how it is possible for the Fools’ Hadas to be considered a different genus, the Mishnas Yaavetz explains that it is in fact, possible, for two different geus to emerge from the same mother. There is also the idea that sometimes a male offspring is permitted while a female offspring would be forbidden.

DEFINING MESHULASH

Below is a picture drawn by the author of three  types of haddasim leaves that come together. There are three levels of leaves in the illustration. Level b is considered meshulash according to all rishonim (See Tur 646). Level a is considered meshulash according to some rishonim (Tosfos Sukkah 32b t’lasa). Level c is completely non-kosher.

The Ran’s opinion is that the entire hadas must be meshulash. Ideally, the Shaar HaTziyun says we should follow this view. However, the Shulchan Aruch 646:5 states that if the majority of the hadas is meshulash – the hadas is kosher bdieved.  According to the simple understanding of this halacha, since the Hadas must be three handbreadths, the majority of the Hadas must be greater than 1.5 handbreadths to be kosher.

HOW MUCH IN PRACTICAL TERMS?

In practical terms, according to Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l there must be 5.4 inches of  meshulash Hadas. According to the Chazon Ish, there must be 6 inches and according to Rav Chaim Na’eh zt”l, there must be 5 inches.

DO THE 5.4 INCHES OF MESHULASH NEED TO BE CONSECUTIVE?

The ruling of the acharonim is that the area that is meshulash – does not need to be consecutive – as long as it constitutes the total majority of the Hadas (See PMG MZ 646:9 and Shulchan Aruch Haav #3). Some acharonim even imply that it is kosher even if the Hadas is bigger than 3 Tefachim and the meshulash area is only slightly more than 1.5 handbreadths (See Bikkurei Yaakov #14). The Mishna Brurah is concerned, however, for the first view.

IS THE MAJORITY CALCULATED BY INCHES OR BY NUMBER OF LEAF LEVELS?

We mentioned earlier that according to the simple understanding of the halacha one would need to have more than 1.5 handbreadths for the Hadas to be kosher. Indeed, this is the way the Chazon Ish indicates that the halacha may be.

There is, however, a possibility that we do not calculate Meshulash by mere distance, but rather by the number of leaf levels. That’s right, when it says majority of the Hadas – it could mean that out of 29 leaf levels, only 15 of them need to be Meshulash, and since the leaf levels are shorter and thus more numerous toward the top of the Hadas – maybe we have a majority of leaf levels. The Rav Shulchan Aruch clearly implies that a majority of the number of leaf levels is how we calculate the requirement of Meshulash. Those that follow Lubavitch custom can calculate with number of leaf levels. If you happen to have purchased a semi-problematic set of Haddasim, then ask your Rav.

There are other halachos that may render a Hadas invalid, such as the top wood missing or if it is too dried out and withered. There is even a problem of a grafted Hadas, if one knows clearly that it was grafted. This article dealt solely with the concept of Meshulash.

The author can be reached at [email protected]

(YWN World Headquarters – NYC)


17 COMMENTS

  1. So just one second- the Badatz Eida Chareidis, Rabbi Landau from Bnei Brak or the countless other MAJOR certifications all don’t know about this and only a Rabbi Hoffman posting on YWN is aware of these issues??! I’m sure he’s correct that an issue exists but I take issue with the fact that he’s willing to say that “MOST” hadassim sold WITH their certifications are actually pasul!

  2. Dear R’ Hoffman, you’re right, but you talked too much without being practical and offering solutions.. this is a big problem, and I go through this every year, I buy four sets of the “best” out there, alef alef alef with shiur chazon ish and pay top dollar, but when i open the packaging most of the hadasim are not meshulash as stated, some are dry and leaves already fell off, I’m lucky if I can make one kosher set out of the four packages I bought. But bottom line what do we do?? should we grow our own hadasim or buy loose ones and pay $20 a stick? any suggestions? Unfortunately in this generation we live superficially, we go by packaging, stickers and numerous kashrus symbols, but we don’t know what’s truly inside. Good hadasim do exist, but they never make it to the market, they are set aside for rabbonim , admorim, and wealthy people, but everyone else has to buy from the street. So what do you suggest R’ hoffman? do you have a solution? it’s not a chochma to know that most hadasim on the market are bad, you can be a better chochom if you find a solution.

  3. Kudos to the author for documenting the fraud being perpetrated by the Arba Minim industry. His next article should tackle the much greater fraud being perpetrated by the kashrus industry!!!

  4. It is well known in Yerushalayim that to find mehudar hadassim, one needs to spend hours manually checking through hunderds of open hadassim which are sold in the shuks. The good ones can go for 150 shekels for three hadassim.
    I heard from an expert on hadassim that the growers take out the best hadassim and sell them in the shuk and not in packages, that way they make the most profit.
    Rabbi Hoffman has made a very important point, however, he forgot to specify that one only needs one kosher hadas and not three in order to be yotzei bedieved. He is right that the packaged ones can be very bad, even the so-called “aleph aleph”. This is a great scandal! However, at least in the “aleph aleph meshulash kulo shiur chazon ish”, most of the time there will be at least one hadas which is meshulash in the majority of levels according to rabbi chaim Noeh’s shiur. So it would be kosher bedieved.
    I remember a few years ago seeing some “mashgichim” packaging hadassim with a prominent hashgocha, who looked like at-risk youth. The hashgochos need to be more on top of things!
    Remember, hashgochos are money making for-profit businesses, and need to be kept in line by the public!

  5. In defense of Rabbi Hoffman, I think his point is that we need to be educated consumers and to begin a protest of some sort to the sellers. I America we used to be able to pick our own haddasim like we did the other three minim. The new invention of trusting some guy in EY to check for us (and then charge us an extra $15-$25) is not working and its not honest. The alternative is for everyone to just be grumpy and pay top dollar for a new trend in this mitzvah and not even get what we pay for. Perhaps if enough people complain we can be like the guys in the picture and pick out our own from a bucket. It may also require reading a mussar sefer dealing with laziness and develop a chvivus hamitzvah in spending time on a precious mitzvah.
    The fact that every year they add another alef level is also a sign that we are moving in the wrong direction. I think soon we might need to use exponents to the alef to say what level is. Can someone explain the difference between the triple alef and the double alef?

  6. It has been know for the longest time; You need to check your packaged Haddasim. It is impossible to accurately check so many haddasim and package them, send them and it should still be kosher leMehadrin.
    The ones with Rabbanut Hechesher are much more accurate. I usually find three out of three pkgs and sometimes from two. I give the rest to my kids.
    NOTE – the Haddasim mentioned are NOT posul beDieved. Rubo Meshulosh is kosher as well, though not leKatchilah. And yes, Its the old case of v’Lo Am HaArotz Chasid: you spend $200 or more for Lulav/Esrog and yet you have a beDieved mitzvah…

  7. Another practical solution for change might be if people are willing to take the time to do a sampling of various brands and see if they are indeed selling what they say they are. We could then compile a list and publicize those haddas seller that are fraudulent. This is not like most other kashrus issues which are relying completely on the trust of the mashgiach. Anyone can open a package with a measuring tape and see if the package is fraudulent or not. The only other alternative is to be a sucker like pipel harif and just take the abuse.

  8. Just a though to throw out on this. If it really is the case that most of them are posul, then the reality would be that there wouldn’t be enough haddasim available for every Yid to get a kosher set. In that case, the price or the “kosher Haddasim” would jump to maybe $1,000 each. And that’s why those who actually think that most haddasim are posul don’t let everyone else know that that’s the case, since they don’t want to pay $1,000 for haddasim. Either that, or else the rabbonim actually think that they are really kosher. But it can’t be both ways.

  9. Hadas Shoteh does NOT mean ‘a fool’s hadas’ just like ‘kelev shoteh’ does not mean ‘a fool’s dog’. The latter means ‘a mad (rabid) dog’ and the former means ‘an irregular hadas’, a myrtle that has an uneven layout of its leaves.

  10. Rabbi Hoffman, Is there a way that you could write your articles without being mekatreig on Klal Yisrael? There are ways of phrasing things and of disseminating information that could be more positive than your writing style. Not to hide, or sweep under carpets, but to not look down constantly on Klal Yisrael and point out all of our mistakes. Just highlight how you could raise us up. Thanks and Gmar Chasima Tova.

  11. Dear Rabbi Hoffman –

    I have been reading your interesting and thought-provoking writings for years, and rarely post in response to them, even if I don’t agree 100%.

    However, in this case, I felt compelled to do so.

    You are making very serious charges here.

    Rav Yisroel Belsky zt”l used to say with regard to things like this that there is an inyan brought down in Chazal שלא להבעית את ישראל – not to panic Klal Yisroel. Yidden who do so much for mitzvos are now being told by you that their efforts are for naught, that they are being had, taken for suckers, etc. I wonder, did you discuss this with a wide variety of gedolim, morei horaah at the top level, people who lead Klal Yisroel, or just perhaps with some people who learn, but may very well lack the full understanding of the realia, metzius of the matter, with a broad understanding of shitos?

    I discussed the matter with someone who is an expert in the realia of the matter, and has written about daled minim, and he relayed to me the following –

    Based on the pictures it is obvious that the author assumes that it is the base of the leaf stems (rachis) – and not the leaves themselves – that must line up. There is a source for this opinion amongst the poskim of the previous generation (Chazon Ish), but this opinion is not, and has never been mainstream. This topic is discussed extensively in the contemporary sefarim and the consensus is (Rav Wozner, etc.) that there is such an opinion, but the halacha does not follow it. It is the leaves themselves – and not the base of the stems – that must align. Accordingly, all three levels in the picture are mehudar. ALL pre-packed hadasim are packed following this opinion.

  12. Your all upset at yair about how he speaks so negitavly about haddasim and klal yosroel yet when he wrote about womens wigs which may have major issues no one said boo

  13. Rabbi Hoffman’s comments are interesting but nowhere in his article nor of the many comments did I find a simple question that needs an answer. What is indeed “hadas shoteh”? in other words, what makes something “sh0teh”? All leaves are irregular if you look at them with a microscope-and even at normal eye view, most leaves are a fraction irregular to each other. Hence, the question is what makes something irregular”? a millimeter distance? tenth of an inch? Unless we have a better understanding of this measurement of irregularity ,we cannot say that Hadassim are “posul” anywhere. the leaves depicted in the article may very well be all acceptable in their present alignment. maybe a “hadas shoteh’ is only when they are an inch from each other . Until we have a better understanding of this measurement, it could be that no “hadass’ is posul.

  14. Unclemo was correct.Yair Hoffman. You wrote that judaica stores need to tell customers that a majority of hadasim sold are pasul.

    This may have been a typo but an unforgivable one to claim that a majority of jewish lulav sets are pasul.

  15. This is what Rabbi Hoffman wrote (copy and paste at 11:23 am):

    “What needs to be done is that the Judaica stores who sell the haddasim (and of late the makeshift street-corner Arba Minim dealers) should inform the consumer that the majority of hadassim are actually non-kosher.”

    To me, this means, most that grown are non-kosher, not most that are sold. Either way, if most that are grown are non-kosher, the buyer needs to be careful what they buy.