Fears of a Russian etrog shortage were averted this week after news that the export of the largely Italian-grown fruit to Russia will not be affected by EU sanctions against Moscow.

The agreement to exempt the export of the citrus fruit, used during the week-long holiday of Succot, from any sanctions was reached last year and applies also to the June extension of those sanctions, Russia’s Chief Rabbi Berel Lazar confirmed this week.

“The local government here said that, because this is a religious product, they are going to make sure no sanctions are going to be applied on the etrogim.” He added the etrogim are imported by Russia as a religious article, exempt from taxation.

Lazar was born in Milan to a Chabad rabbi, Moshe Lazar, who for the past 50 years has been responsible for supervising the export of etrogim in Calabria to make sure the fruit, which are easily bruised and rendered non-kosher, meet the highest standards. Berel Lazar travelled to Calabria to help his father, who is 83, with the harvest.

3 etrog varieties

3 etrog varieties

The prospect of sanctions is not the only challenge facing the etrog industry in Calabria. An unexpected frost this winter severely damaged the sensitive etrog trees, destroying approximately 90 percent of the crop, Moshe Lazar told JTA. The shortage means that, this year, fruit that was deemed unfit for export will be picked and exported as long as it is kosher, Moshe Lazar said. Even so, he added, the frost means “there won’t be enough etrogim to go around this sukkot.” This applies to Russia, too, said Berel Lazar.

The shortage has hiked up prices, with a prime Calabria etrog going for approximately $500, according to Rabbi Avraham Wolff of Odessa, Ukraine. “We’re worried that we may not have a Calabria etrog and we’re pulling all possible string to get at least one,” Wolff said. In previous years, his community was able to purchase five individual Calabria etrogim ahead of the holiday.