Warning: There are lulavs for sale this week from Hamas in Gaza. Don’t buy them!
Israel imports more than 600,000 lulavs — closed palm branches — every year to meet the demand for more than 1.2 million branches used during the Jewish holiday of Sukkot. The lulav is one of the four species that the Bible mandates for Sukkot celebrations and the holiday prayers for winter rains.
While most of Israel’s lulavs come from the Jordan Valley and Arava, in past years we also imported more than half a million branches from Egypt — that’s about 40 percent of the annual demand. A further 700,000 of the two million lulavs used in Diaspora Jewish communities also came from Egypt, exported through Israel. But this year, the Egyptians have refused to sell us lulavs. Another sign of the post-revolution chill in Egypt-Israel relations.
So the geniuses and holy men in the office of Minister of Interior Eli Yishai, head of the ultra-Orthodox Shas Party, decided to beg Defense Minister Ehud Barak for permits to import lulavs from Hamas in Gaza. Yishai’s aide, Shlomi Levi, proudly told the ultra-Orthodox press that he had appealed for more than 100,000 lulavs from Gaza.
Of course, Israel has imposed a complete ban on imports from the Iranian-backed, radical Islamist, anti-Semitic, jihadist regime in Gaza. The only thing that Hamas sends us are rockets and missiles though the air, and sometimes terrorists and kidnappers through tunnels. Hamas has been holding Gilad Shalit in captivity for more than five years.
So Israel imports nothing from Gaza, on the understanding that Hamas should not be making a red cent from trade with Israel. I dare say that this is a policy understood by all Israelis. The exception to this rule, apparently, is Yishai.
Under pressure from Yishai, Barak agreed to issue exceptional import permits for Gaza lulavs.
This is morally and religiously outrageous. It is unthinkable that a Jew could think that he or she is properly fulfilling a religious obligation of joy and prayer before God with blood-stained lulavs from Hamas. It reminds me of the Talmudic phrase: “Tovel vesheretz beyado.” This means that is ridiculous and hypocritical to immerse yourself for purification in a ritual bath while grasping an unclean reptile. It is a contradiction in terms.
It is similarly obtuse, unfeeling and hypocritical to stand in prayer before God grasping an “unclean” lulav. It is worse than obtaining a stolen lulav, which is expressly forbidden by the Talmud.
How can one even imagine standing in a sukkah or a synagogue and uttering the blessing, “Blessed are you Lord, King of the Universe, who commanded us to take a lulav,” and then the unique blessing over time, the “Shehechiyanu,” with a terrorist lulav?
So I call for a consumer boycott of lulavs from Gaza. As you go to the market for the four species this week, before Sukkot begins on Wednesday, demand that the seller provide you with proof of provenance for your lulav. Insist that it be from the Jordan Valley or the Arava (or from Jordan or Spain, if you must) — not from Gaza.
Furthermore, I call upon the chief rabbinate of Israel, which has been silent on this issue, to issue a religious ban on lulavs from Gaza. And if this means that there aren’t enough lulavs to go around, so be it! We can share lulavs, or, as Halachah dictates, share our sets by giving them as gifts to one another.
Not everybody has to have their own set of four species. Not long ago, in Europe and in North Africa and even in Israel’s early years, sets of four species were a scarce commodity, and Jews managed just fine. I say that it is better that there should be only one set per synagogue or one set per community than for synagogues be filled with lulavs that support Hamas. I am waiting to hear a clear moral statement to this effect from our national chief rabbinate.
In the meantime, keep your conscience clean and your holiday observance beyond reproach by spurning those ill-begotten and shameful lulavs from Gaza.
* Originally published in Israel Hayom, October 9, 2011.