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What is an Etrog?

by Rabbi Naftali Silberberg

  

Library » Holidays » Sukkot » Four Species | Subscribe | What is RSS?


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An Etrog (Hebrew for citron) is a greenish/yellowish citrus fruit most commonly known for its role as one of the Four Species, which are used as part of the Sukkot celebration1. It is the fruit pictured on the cover of the movie Uspizin.

The Torah tells us "And you shall take for yourselves on the first day [of Sukkot], the fruit of the Hadar tree, date palm fronds, a branch of a braided tree, and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God for a seven day period."2

Moses taught us that the fruit of the Hadar tree is the Etrog.

The Etrog is identified by the Talmud as a fruit that dwells on the tree throughout all four seasons. Thus Hadar, "beautiful," is also interpreted as Ha’dar "that dwells."

A Kosher Etrog must live up to quite a few standards, and can therefore be a bit pricy. An average Etrog sells for about $30 and it is not uncommon to see one for a few hundred dollars. It is best to purchase an Etrog from a reliable vendor or local Rabbi.

An Etrog which is harvested from an Etrog tree which was grafted together with another species – a practice which is unfortunately common, as the product of such a tree is quite beautiful – is invalid. An Etrog which is rabbinically certified comes from a tree which was inspected to ascertain that it is "purebred."

For this reason, many people prefer to use an Etrog which comes from the Italian province of Calabria (known as "Yanover" Etrogim). The orchards in this region have been providing Etrogim for centuries and are known to be of untainted pedigree. Many beautiful and kosher Etrogim are grown in Israel as well.

Following is a list of some additional laws pertaining to an Etrog (if you have questions regarding your Etrog bring it to your local Rabbi for inspection):

– An Etrog which is missing even an iota of its epidermis is invalid. It is kosher, however, if it was pierced while it was still on the tree and a new layer of skin has covered the cavity.

– Many Etrogim grow with a "pittum" (a stem-like piece of wood which protrudes from their very top). If this pittum completely falls off or is entirely removed, the Etrog is invalid. If the Etrog grew without a pittum, it is 100% kosher.

– Likewise, the Etrog is invalid if the stem on the bottom of the Etrog is completely removed.

– If the Etrog has bubbles projecting from its exterior in more than two places, it is invalid.

– An Etrog is supposed to have an oblong shape. An Etrog which is round like a ball is invalid.

– An Etrog which is speckled. i.e. it is discolored in more than one area, is invalid. Discoloration only invalidates an Etrog if it is noticeable when taking a precursory glance at the fruit; there is no need to closely examine it for this purpose. Often times, an Etrog has light brown spots on its skin, a result of a leaf which was lying on that area while it was growing. These spots do not invalidate an Etrog. Black spots on the Etrog, however, do pose a problem if they are easily noticeable and appear in more than one spot.

– The main beauty of an Etrog is in its top third which slopes downward. In this area, even one discoloration or bubble invalidates it

See also "What are the Four Species?" and "How and when do I use my Lulav set?"

Footnotes

  • 1. The other three are: The Lulav (palm branch), Hadas (myrtle branch), and Aravah (willow branch). The four of them together are usually referred to as "The Lulav set" or "The Lulav and Etrog".
  • 2. Leviticus 23:40

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Torah
Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
Talmud
Usually referring to the Babylonian edition, it is a compilation of Rabbinic law, commentary and analysis compiled over a 600 year period (200 BCE - 427 CE). Talmudic verse serves as the bedrock of all classic and modern-day Torah-Jewish literature.
Sukkot
A seven day autumn festival commemorating the miracle of the Heavenly Clouds which enveloped the Jews while traveling in the desert for forty years. On this holiday we dwell in makeshift booths and shake the Four Species.
Kosher
Literally means "fit." Commonly used to describe foods which are permitted by Jewish dietary laws, but is also used to describe religious articles (such as a Torah scroll or Sukkah) which meet the requirements of Jewish law.
Etrog
A citron; a greenish-yellow citrus fruit. We are required to take an Etrog on the holiday of Sukkot and shake it together with a palm branch, a myrtle and a willow.
Moses
[Hebrew pronunciation: Moshe] Greatest prophet to ever live. Led the Jews out of Egyptian bondage amidst awesome miracles; brought down the Tablets from Mount Sinai; and transmitted to us word-for-word the Torah he heard from G-d's mouth. Died in the year 1272 BCE.
Four Species
There is a Biblical command to take "Four Species" on the autumn holiday of Sukkot. These species are: palm branch, citron, myrtle and willow. It is customary to shake these species to all directions.