Etrog Goes Back to the Torah

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When I read Rabbi Moster’s thesis stating that the Jews originally used any fruit they had harvested for the pri etz hadar, such as a pomegranate, and it was only during the Second Temple period that the Rabbis decided that the pri etz hadar was to be an etrog, I was flabbergasted (“How a Chinese Fruit Became a Sukkot Symbol,” JT online). There are many sources for the pri etz hadar being an etrog from the time of our great leader Moses.

For example, it is called “hadar” since it “dwells” on the tree for more than a year if not picked off. This is not true of pomegranates. Targum Onkelos, of whom it is said wrote down his translation of the Torah from a tradition by his rabbis that goes all the way back to Mount Sinai, translates pri etz hadar as etrog. Torat Kohanim (Sifra) also translates pri etz hadar as etrog. The Rambam in his introduction to his explanation of the Mishnayos, Seder Zerayimm, states that since the time of Joshua bringing the Jews into the Land of Israel, seder Zerayimm has always been identified as an etrog. He further states that there never has been a dispute where one person says it is a pomegranate and another says it is a quince.

A more recent source, the Baal Hatanya, states that during the 40 years the Jews wandered in the desert they would send emissaries to Italy to bring back etrogim to use for the holiday. The rabbis of the Second Temple certainly used etrogim, but they did not initiate the practice that comes from the Torah.

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