Shas leader Aryeh Deri boasted in a video filmed and broadcast on Sunday of spending $5,000 on an etrog – the citrus fruit used during the Jewish holiday of Sukkot – seemingly admitting to violating Israeli law on the use of cash.
In the video, the lawmaker is seen standing in his sukkah telling a man sitting next to him that he paid $5,000 (NIS 19,032) in cash for the etrog. Israeli law only allows for purchases of up to NIS 15,000 to be made in cash between private citizens.
“There’s a special custom: we have etrogim of all kinds,” Deri says, showcasing etrogim on a table. He holds up one of them, and tells the man next to him: “This is the most expensive etrog of them all, here in the box… $5,000.”
“What do you say?” the man marvels.
“Absolutely, in cash,” Deri replies.
In response to the video, Deri’s office said that the Shas leader was joking about the citron’s price, and that Deri had only paid a few hundred shekels for the fruit.
???? טוב יש לו הרבה כסף????
דרעי הציג הבוקר בסוכתו – האתרוג הכי יקר שרכש "5,000 דולר במזומן!".
צילום: ראובן נתן לוי pic.twitter.com/d5OCyC1YoR
— Asslan Khalil (@KhalilAsslan) October 1, 2023
“For many years, the chairman of Shas, Rabbi Aryeh Deri, has made it a custom to bless on Sukkot with a variety of etrogim (citrons) from different varieties, including Moroccan etrogim, Yemenite etrogim, and the Chazon Ish variety,” the statement said.
“This year, in his sukkah, he had large etrogim and a small Moroccan etrog. Humorously and in order to defend the honor of the Moroccan etrog, Rabbi Deri jokingly said, ‘Do not look at the small size of the Moroccan etrog; in Satmar in America, they pay thousands in cash for it.'” [Deri was born in Meknes, Morocco.]
“As mentioned,” the statement continued, “the comment was made in jest. The etrog itself, like all the etrogim, Rabbi Deri purchased in Israel for only a few hundred shekels, as is his custom.”
Etrogim in Israel generally sell for about NIS 100-800 ($25-$210). There are those that go for “north of NIS 5,000 ($1,300),” etrog salesman Nati Hadaddi told Channel 12, “but those are truly outstanding specimens.”
Deri, the former interior minister, was jailed in 2000 for receiving bribes, and served 22 months in prison. In a subsequent case, in January 2022, Deri reached a plea bargain in which he admitted to tax fraud charges and resigned from the Knesset, promising to end his political career, and was spared a second jail term. When Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appointed him as interior and health minister in the government he formed late last year, the High Court ruled that the appointment was “unreasonable in the extreme,” due to his criminal convictions, requiring Netanyahu to fire him.
Deri said two weeks ago he was no longer interested in returning to government.
An etrog is a citron fruit that is central to the Sukkot festival. The fruit is one of the “four species” associated with the holiday, and Jews are commanded to hold one alongside a lulav (palm frond) as they recite the holiday’s prayers.