The Torah calls the etrog the “fruit of the goodly tree.” Our sugya deals with how we know that this is the etrog.
The Torah uses the word “tree/wood” and “fruit” in describing the etrog. According to the midrash, this means that the Torah refers to a fruit whose taste is like the wood of the tree on which it grows. The Talmud seems to think that the wood of the etrog tree tastes just like the etrog itself (never tried this). That’s how we know that the Torah refers to the etrog.
If we are looking for a fruit that tastes like the wood of the tree, then why not use the pepper (what we call black pepper)? The Talmud cites another baraita in which R. Meir midrashically demonstrates that the Torah refers to the pepper tree when phrasing the laws of orlah (the prohibition of eating fruit in its first three years of growth). Here the Torah uses “food” and “tree” in juxtaposition to teach that if the fruit tastes like the tree, it is liable for orlah.
The reason we don’t use peppers as one of the four species is that this is just impossible. One peppercorn would not even be noticed. And since the Torah refers to one fruit, a handful of peppercorns is not allowed.
The Torah calls the etrog the “fruit of the hadar tree.” Rabbi plays on the word “hadar,” reading it as “ha-dir.” A “dir” is an animal pen. Just as an animal pen contains various sizes of animals, as well as blemished and unblemished ones, so too the etrog is part of a tree with various sizes and qualities of etrogs still on it.
But, the Talmud asks, couldn’t we say the same thing of any tree—don’t most trees have large and small fruits, blemished and unblemished.
To answer, the Talmud offers a small emendation—on an etrog tree the old, large fruits remain even once the new ones have begun to bud.
The baraita concludes with two more puns on the word “hadar.” The first is to split the word into a prefix “heh”—the—and the word “dar” which means to live. The etrog lives on the tree from year to year.
The second pun is based on Greek. As you know, in Greek water is “hydra.” Ben Azzai says that the Hebrew “hadar” refers to the Greek “hydra” and thus means the etrog, a tree that grows on any type of water (stream, rain or irrigated). I think it’s interesting to see the rabbis reading Greek into the Torah. Creative!
Most of today’s section discusses why one cannot use an etrog that is “orlah”—fruit during is first three years of growth.
This is the same comment we saw above with regard to the lulav. Anything from a city condemned for idol worship is already considered as if it doesn’t exist. Therefore, an etrog from such a city has no minimum measure.
Just a reminder, the condemned city was a theoretical category, one certainly no longer in existence by the rabbinic period.
The mishnah doesn’t allow one to use an etrog that is orlah, produce during its first three years, from which one cannot derive any tangible benefit. We should note that just because one can’t “benefit” from orlah doesn’t inherently mean it can’t be used in the performance of a mitzvah. When one performs a mitzvah one is not considered to be “benefiting” at least not in any way that would violate a prohibition from benefiting from something. So the Talmud must look for other reasons why one can’t use an orlah etrog.
There are two different reasons given as to why one can’t use such an etrog. First of all, it can’t be eaten. Second, it has no monetary value.
The Talmud notes that right now, until further notice, you should think that these positions are exclusive. Each sage holds one reason why an orlah etrog is disqualified and disagrees with the other. This assumption will change later on in this very passage.
The Talmud uses a different section of the mishnah as a difficulty against whichever amora holds that the reason an orlah etrog can’t be used is that it has no monetary value. The mishnah disqualifies an etrog that is taken from unclean terumah (produce given to priest, but has been ritually defiled). It is forbidden to eat unclean terumah, so this mishnah accords with the opinion that holds that orlah can’t be used because it can’t be eaten. But one may derive benefit from unclean terumah—not by eating it but by burning it and using the fire. Therefore we see that produce that cannot be eaten but has monetary value (such as unclean terumah) can still not be used for Sukkot.
The Talmud slightly adjusts our previous understanding of the dispute. Both amoraim hold that for the produce to be used in the performance of a mitzvah on Sukkah one must be permitted to eat it. Therefore, unclean terumah is invalid. They disagree whether it must also have monetary value. One holds that it must, and therefore orlah is invalid for two reasons—it has no monetary value and one can’t eat it. The other holds that an orlah etrog cannot be used for the same reason that an etrog of unclean terumah cannot be used—neither can be eaten.
The Talmud now asks why should we really care why an orlah etrog can’t be used—what practical ramifications are there to this dispute? After all, everyone agrees that it cannot be used.
The answer is that there are ramifications for another type of problematic etrog—one that is second tithe. Second tithe must be brought to Jerusalem and eaten there. So there is permission to eat second tithe. But according to R. Meir it is considered holy property, belonging to God, so it has no monetary value. Now we can see the ramifications that the dispute about orlah has on second tithe. According to the one who holds that orlah can’t be used because it can’t be eaten, since second tithe can be eaten, a second tithe etrog could be used. But to the one who holds that orlah can’t be used because it has no monetary value, a second tithe etrog can also not be used because it too has no monetary value.
The Talmud now concludes that it is R. Assi who said that an orlah etrog cannot be used because it has no monetary value. We can see this because R. Assi says that whether one can use a second tithe etrog depends on whether one holds like R. Meir or the sages. R. Meir says that second tithe has no monetary value because it belongs to God, whereas the sages say that it belongs to its owner and therefore has monetary value. R. Meir would not allow one to use a second tithe etrog, but the other sages would. Thus it can be concluded that R. Assi holds that orlah can’t be used because it has no monetary value. By deduction R. Hiyya b. Avin is the one that holds that it can’t be used because it can’t be eaten.
Today’s section deals with using produce from second tithe in the performance of a mitzvah.
R. Assi refers to three separate subjects—etrog, matzah and hallah (the small piece of dough separated from the larger batch of dough and given to the priest). In all three cases R. Meir says that if it is of second tithe it is not subject to the mitzvah and the sages disagree. We could, at least for now, understand this to mean that R. Meir holds that this is not regular food—it can be eaten but it belongs to God. The other sages hold that it is regular food, just that it has restrictions such as it must be eaten in Jerusalem. Still, it counts as one’s property.
R. Papa raises a difficulty on R. Assi. R. Assi implies that one must own one’s dough, matzah and etrog in order for it to be part of the mitzvah. Since R. Meir holds that one doesn’t own second tithe, R. Meir would hold that one cannot use second tithe in the performance of these mitzvoth. Now there is a verse that calls it “your dough” implying that if you don’t own the dough it is not liable for hallah. There is also a verse saying “take from yours” when it comes to the four species. As we have seen, this verse is used to teach that one must own one’s lulav (and hadas, aravah and etrog). But there is no verse or halakhah saying that one must own one’s matzah. So why should R. Meir disqualify second tithe matzah.
The answer is that the law that matzah cannot be of second tithe is derived from the use of the same word “bread” in the passage concerning matzah and concerning dough. Since both passages use the same word, halakhot that apply to one can be applied to the other. This technique is called a “gezerah shavah” and it is a little like a wormhole of rabbinic midrash, transferring material from one context to another.