As many Israelis spend the days before the Sukkot festival browsing outdoor markets for the Four Species, Israeli customs authorities find themselves battling smugglers trying to sneak citrons into the country.
Over the past two weeks alone, four passengers have been caught in three separate incidents, trying to smuggle about 400 citrons, or etrogs, into the country without paying customs tariffs, the ultra-Orthodox website KikarHashabbat reported.
The etrog, one of the Four Species, is the Hebrew name for the yellow or green citron fruit taken with the palm frond, myrtle bough, and willow branch on Sukkot. The fruit can run anywhere in price from $5 to hundreds of dollars.
One of the suspects is a yeshiva administrator in Beitar Illit. The man was caught with a suitcase packed with 125 etrogs and nothing else. During his interrogation, the administrator told customs officials that he had traveled to the Tunisian island of Djerba to buy the fruits, as his community only uses etrogs from the island. He also revealed he was traveling with a companion who had managed to sneak through customs. The second man was soon located and apprehended as well.
Customs tariffs for importing etrogs are assessed at 2.7 shekels per kilogram, plus 18% value-added tax. Importers also require permits from the ministries of health and agriculture.
In addition, a French Jew with some 150 etrogs was caught. The man claimed he was simply trying to perform a holiday mitzvah and distribute them to Jews in Israel.
An Israeli man was also nabbed with some 125 etrogs.
The Sukkot festival, or Feast of Tabernacles, starts Wednesday evening, September 18, and runs until sundown on Wednesday, September 25.