September 27, 2007
The secret life of etrogs
(Page 2 - Previous Page)Today, most etrogs used for Sukkot are grown in Israel, but the controversy hasn't gone away.
The Chabad Lubavitcher Chasidim believe the etrogs from Calabria, Italy, are the purest around and have the cleanest lineage. Citrons have been growing there for hundreds of years, in Santa Maria del Cedro, a town whose name translates to Saint Mary of the Citrons. Zivotofsky visited there, and he said the Italian growers speak a passable Yiddish.
When Yemenite Jews first arrived in Israel, they imported etrogs from Yemen. Growing to be as large as a watermelon in some cases, the Yemenite etrog has a thick skin and nearly the entire fruit is made up of the white pith that lines the inside of the rind. Deep inside the sweet, dry flesh -- eaten widely in Yemen by Jews and non-Jews -- seeds rattle around pulpless and juiceless would-be citrus segments.
The long and slender variety of etrog that Greenspan found in the Atlas Mountains is one that Moroccans, and various Chasidic sects, prefer, while other Chasidim favor the etrog that is slightly cinched in the middle as if with a "gartle," or belt, that Chasidim wear over their black coats.
The common Yanover etrog gets its name from Genoa -- which was never an etrog- growing region, but rather a shipping port.
The Buddha's Hand citron, which Karp says looks like a "cross between a lemon and a squid," does not meet the halachic qualification of being a beautiful fruit. Iraqi Jews tell of one year when only the Buddha's Hand was available to them, and the rabbis still prohibited it, and in Shanghai, after World War II, rabbis ruled the Buddha's Hand citron could be shaken with a lulav, but not with the accompanying bracha, Zivotofsky found out.
Most people stick with the etrog that looks something like a bumpy lemon, its fragrant rind filling the aisles of synagogues across the country.
Greenspan grows his own etrogs (he also has a matzah bakery, dyes his own tzitzit and is a mohel, a scribe and ritual slaughterer), and barters with neighbors near his Efrat home outside of Jerusalem for things like home-harvested honey and raw rams horns to be carved into shofars. The latest addition to his etrog collection, a gift from a botanist, is a Yemenite tree with a Buddha's Hand grafted on. It'll be a few years before it produces any fruit.
This year, Greenspan is heading to Ethiopia to visit his friend Dr. Rick Hodes, who runs a medical compound in Addis Ababa. Because there is no kosher meat in Addis, Greenspan is bringing his knife for ritual slaughter, and, just in case, his circumcision knife. He's packing a lulav, a shofar and, of course, two etrogs. He's bringing the Yemenite variety -- each is about the size of a football and dense, weighing in at nearly five pounds each. And to the Jews in Ethiopia this Sukkot, those just might be the perfect etrogs.
For more information on UC Riverside's Citrus Variety Collection, visit jewishjournal.com.
1 | 2