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lspichkin 09-22-2007 11:41 AM

All About Etrog (aka Esrog or Ethrog)
courtesy of freshelectron and flickr

Etrog, ethrog or esrog are all different pronouncements of the word אֶתְרוֹג, which is the most common Hebrew name for the citron or Citrus Medica.

It is one of the Four Species used in a waving ritual during the Jewish holiday of Sukkot. The other species are the lulav (date palm frond), hadass (myrtle bough), and aravah (willow branch).

Leviticus 23:40 refers to the etrog as pri eitz hadar (פְּרִי עֵץ הָדָר), which literally means, "a fruit of the beautiful tree." Modern Hebrew translates hadar as "citrus" in connection with the rabbinical definition of the etrog as the fruit referred to by the Torah. But it is remarkable from the commentary of Nahmanides, that the word "Hadar" was the original Hebrew verb for the citron solely. The name was later replaced by the word Etrog meaning love and attraction in Talmudical Aramic, which was initially adapted in Babylonia after destruction of the First Temple. The Arabic name for the fruit itranj اترنج is also cognate with the Hebrew; the itranj is mentioned favorably in the Hadith. Similar names like "turunj" etc. are found in different languages.

The Etrog is typically grown from cuttings that are two to four years old; the tree begins to bear fruit when it is around three years old.[1] If seeds are used, it will not fruit until about seven years. Besides, there might be some genetic changes to the tree and its fruits, whenever seed propagation is used.[2]

The fruit is ready to harvest while reaches six inches in length, for the best marketing. It is typically picked off the tree while it is still green, but in order to be considered kosher, it most at least show signs of starting to ripen by the beginning of the holiday. Its inner rind shall be much wider than the pulp. The outer surface somewhat hard, fragrant; the pulp should be dry, and may vary from sweet to strong acid, depending on the variety.

According to Halakha, the etrog used in the mitzvah of the Four Species must be unblemished and of perfect form and shape. Extra special care is needed to cut around the leaves and thorns which may scratch the fruit. Also, the bearing branch should be curved in order to get the fruit growing in a straight downward position. Otherwise, the fruit will be forced to make the curve on its own body when turned downwards because of its increasing weight.

An etrog that still has a pitam at its tip (a pitam is composite of a style called in Hebrew "dad", and the stigma which is called shoshanta, usually falling off during the growing process) is considered especially valuable. However, those varieties that shed off their Pitam during growth just like the other citrus species, are also kosher. Even when the stigma break off post harvest, it could still be considered kosher as long as part of the style is remained attached.

Professor E.E. Goldschmidt once discovered that when the Picloram hormone is sprayed unto the young blossom, the number of persistent styles should increase.

The marketability of the Esrogs is also dependant by the beauty of their form, and about their cleanliness, especially at the topper part of the fruit from were the fruit is starting to narrow up towards the stylar end.

An Esrog grown on a grafted tree is not kosher for the mitzvah. According to some opinions, it shouldn’t be taken even from the cuttings of a grafted tree.

The primary mitzvah of using the Etrog is to take it along with the rest of the Four Species before and during the Hallel prayer. After the holiday, some people boil the peel of the Etrog to make jam, fruit cake, and candied fruit. There is an Ashkenazic tradition to eat the Etrog in the sacred day Tu B'Shevat as for maximizing the variety of fruits eaten on that holiday to praise the Creator of the trees, and to establish a prayer to God to provide for the Jewish fellows, a nice clean non-grafted nor hybridized Esrog for the next Sukkot.
photos courtesy of krazy_kugel and flickr

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