Etrog (Hebrew: אֶתְרוֹג) refers to the yellow citron or Citrus medica used by Jews on the week-long holiday of Sukkot. While in modern Hebrew this is the name for any variety of citron, its English usage applies to those varieties and specimens used as one of the Four Species.
The romanization as Etrog is according to the Sephardic pronunciation, widely used in Israel through Modern Hebrew. The Ashkenazi pronunciation as in Yiddish, is esrog or esrig. Rarely it could also be transliterated as Ethrog or Ethrogh even in scholarly work, which is according to the Yemenite Hebrew.
"And you shall take on the first day the fruit of beautiful trees, branches of palm trees and boughs of leafy trees and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God 7 days!" Leviticus 23:40.
Rabbinic Judaism sees the Biblical phrase peri eitz hadar (פְּרִי עֵץ הָדָר) as referring to the etrog. Grammatically, the Hebrew phrase is ambiguous; it is typically translated as "fruit of a beautiful tree," but it can also be read as "a beautiful fruit of a tree," which helps explain the great care with which etrogs are selected for performing the Sukkot holiday rituals.
In modern Hebrew, hadar refers to the genus Citrus. Nahmanides (1194 – c. 1270) suggests that the word was the original Hebrew name for the citron. According to him, the word etrog was introduced over time, adapted from the Aramaic. The Arabic name for the citron fruit, itranj (اترنج), mentioned in hadith literature, is also associated with the Hebrew.
Size and shape
The fruit is ready to harvest when it reaches about 15 cm (six inches) in length. For commercial use it is generally harvested no earlier than January when it is at optimum size. However, for ritual use it must be picked while still small in order to reach the market in time. The optimal size is also the best for marketability, as by growing larger it may lose some of its beauty. Since the citron blooms several times a season, fruit may also be picked during July and August, and even in June. According to Halacha the fruit must only reach the size of a hen's egg in order to be considered kosher, but larger sizes are preferred as long as they can be held with one hand. Marketwise, a nice size fetches a higher price, so long as the fruit is also good in other aspects. If both hands are needed to hold it, it is still kosher, but less desirable.
The etrog may differ in shape since several citron varieties are used for that purpose, each bearing fruits with a distinct form and shape. Furthermore, a specific variety or even a single tree may also bear fruit in several shapes and sizes. An etrog of completely round shape is not-kosher, whilst a slanted or bent specimen is permissible but not the best. The bearing branch must be arched down with care, in order to get the fruit growing straight in a downward position. Otherwise the body of the fruit will be forced into a downwards curve because of its increasing weight. The practice of arching the branch must be performed very delicately in order not to break the stiff citron twig. While many prefer the pyramid shape of variety etrog, and others prefer the barrel shape of the Diamante, some look for an etrog with a gartel—an hourglass-like strip running around the middle, more commonly found on the Moroccan citron.
According to researchers, this gartel indicates when the bearing tree was infected by a certain virus or viroid, which decreases the albedo on the specific spot. These viroids have been around since at least the time of Bar Kokhba (circa 130 CE), based on the fact that archaeologists have unearthed a mosaic dated to that time which depicts an etrog with a gartel. Only the etrog is found to be susceptible to these viroids, proving again that the etrog is genetically pure and has not changed significantly over the centuries.
Color and texture
The fruit is typically picked while still green, taking advantage of ethylene gas to ripen the fruit in a controlled manner. The same gas is also naturally released from apples, so some growers simply put the fruits in the same box as apples. The etrog used in the mitzvah of the four species must be largely unblemished, with the fewest black specks or other flaws. Extra special care is needed to cut around the leaves and thorns that may scratch the fruit. It is also important to protect the fruit-bearing trees from any dust and carbon, which may get caught in the stomata of the fruit during growth, and may later appear as a black dot.
An etrog with an intact pitam is considered especially valuable. A pitam is composed of a style (Hebrew: "דַד"), and a stigma (Hebrew: "שׁוֹשַׁנְתָּא"), which usually falls off during the growing process. However, varieties that shed off their pitam during growth are also kosher. When only the stigma breaks off, even post-harvest, it could still be considered kosher as long as part of the style has remained attached. If the whole pitam i.e. the stigma and style, are unnaturally broken off, all the way to the bottom, it is not kosher for the ritual use.
Many pitams are preserved today thanks to an auxin discovered by Dr. Eliezer E. Goldschmidt, formerly professor of horticulture at the Hebrew University. Working with the picloram hormone in a citrus orchard one day, he discovered, to his surprise, that some of the Valencia oranges found nearby had preserved perfect pitams. Usually a citrus fruit, other than an etrog or citron hybrid like the bergamot, does not preserve its pitam. When it occasionally does, it should at least be dry, sunken and very fragile. In this case the pitams were all fresh and healthy just like those of the Moroccan or Greek citron varieties. Experimenting with the picloram in a laboratory, Goldschmidt eventually found the correct “dose” to achieve the desired effect: one droplet of the chemical in three million drops of water. This invention is highly appreciated by the Jewish community.
In order for a citron to be kosher it must be pure, neither grafted nor bred with any other species, therefore only a few traditional varieties are used. To prevent grafting, the plantations must be under strict rabbinical supervision.
|Citrus • Succade • Hybrid • Grafting • Chimera • Etrog • Sukkoth • Four Species
A general DNA study was arranged by the world-renowned researcher of the etrog, Prof. Goldschmidt and colleagues, who positively testified 12 famous accessions of citron for purity and being genetically related. As they clarify in their joint publication, this is only referring to the genotypic information which could be changed by breeding for e.g. out cross pollination etc., not about grafting which is not suspected to change anything in the genes.
Selection and cultivation
In addition to the above, there are many rabbinical indicators to identify pure etrogs out of possible hybrids. Those traditional specifications were preserved by continues selections accomplished by professional farmers.
The most accepted indicators are as following: 1) a pure etrog has a thick rind, in contrast to its narrow pulp segments which are also almost dry, 2) the outer surface of an etrog fruit is ribbed and warted, and 3) the etrog peduncle is somewhat buried inward; a lemon or different citron hybrid is opposing one or all of the specifications.
A later and not so widely accepted indicator is the orientation of the seed, which should be pointing vertically by an etrog, except if it was strained by its neighbors; by a lemon and hybrids they are positioned horizontally even when there is enough space.
The etrog is typically grown from cuttings that are two to four years old, the tree begins to bear fruit when it is around four years old. If the tree germinates from seeds, it will not fruit for about seven years, and there may be some genetic change to the tree or fruit in the event of seed propagation.
To protect the etrog during the holiday, it is traditionally wrapped in silky flax fibers and stored in a special box, often made from silver. After the holiday, eating from the etrog or etrog jam is considered a segula (efficacious remedy) for a woman to have an easy childbirth. A common Ashkenazi custom is to save the etrog until Tu Bishvat and eat it in candied form or as succade, accompanied by prayers that the worshiper will merit a beautiful etrog next Sukkot. Some families make jam or liqueur out of it, or stick cloves in the skin for use as besamim at the havdalah ceremony after Shabbat. The Dancing Camel Brewery in Tel Aviv, Israel uses the rinds of etrogim in their annual 'Trog Wit Beer, usually available around the Holiday of Sukkot.
- Etrog page by the CVC of UCR
- The Citrus Industry
- Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim, 648 and commentaries.
- Bar-Joseph, M. 2003. Natural history of viroids-horticultural aspects, pp. 246-251. In: Viroids. CSIRO Publication, Collingwood, Victoria, Australia.
- The Search for the Authentic Citron: Historic and Genetic Analysis; HortScienc 40(7):1963-1968. 2005
- Agog over etrog, Haaretz
- Style Abscission in the Citron. American Journal of Botany, Vol. 58, no 1. pp. 14-23
- A brief documentation of this study could be found at the Global Citrus Germplasm Network.
- Article by Professor Goldschmidt, published by Tehumin, summer 5741 (1981), booklet 2, p. 144
- Letter by rabbi Shmuel Yehuda Katzenellenbogen of Padua midst the 16th century, printed in Teshuvat ha'Remo chapter 126
- Shiurey Kneseth Hagdola and Olat Shabbat, cited by Magen Avraham, Orach Chaim chapter 648, comment 23
- Chiri, Alfredo. (2002). Etrog
- Sunkist Website
- Weisberg, Chana (2004). Expecting Miracles: Finding meaning and spirituality in pregnancy through Judaism. Urim Publications. p. 134. ISBN 9657108519.
- Etrog recipes (link no longer valid)
- The Historic Trail of the Elusive Etrog
- Citrus Propagation by Ultimate Citrus
- Fact Sheet HS-86 June 1994 by the University of Florida
- CROP PROPAGATION II: SEXUAL PROPAGATION
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Etrog.|
- First evidence of the etrog tree in Israel
- The Citrus Variety Collection by the University of California Riverside
- Ancient Treasures and the Dead Sea Scrolls
- Mosaic depicting an etrog
- Lulav, Etrog, Shofar and Menorah, 2nd Cent. CE, Ostia Synagogue
- An antique Hebrew coin depicting an etrog
- Pictures homecitrusgrowers.co.uk
- Evyatar Marienberg and David Carpenter, The Stealing of the ‘Apple of Eve’ from the 13th century Synagogue of Winchester, Henri III Fine Rolls Project, Fine of the Month: December 2011