The Citron’s Journey from China to Israel, Where It Became an Integral Part of the Sukkot Holiday

Sept. 21 2018

The book of Leviticus commands that the fall festival of Sukkot, which begins Sunday night, should be celebrated by taking palm, myrtle, and willow branches along with a pri ets hadar—usually translated as the “fruit of goodly trees”—and “rejoicing before the Lord.” By the 1st century CE, most Jews seem to have accepted that the fourth, ambiguous item was a citron (an etrog in Hebrew), which is used in the Sukkot ritual to this day. Rachel Scheinerman presents a brief history of this fruit, which was the first in the citrus family to make the journey from eastern to western Asia:

The etrog is indigenous not to the Land of Israel but to China. Several millennia ago it grew most abundantly in Yunnan, a southwestern Chinese province, where it is still used, to this day, in traditional Chinese medicine. . . . From there, it traveled to northeastern India and westward across the subcontinent, . . . and became a component of traditional Ayurvedic medicines used to treat everything from stomach complaints to hemorrhoids to infertility. One of the Buddhist gods, Jambhala (the etrog was sometimes called jambhila), was often depicted holding an etrog as a symbol of fertility because of its high density of seeds. (One is reminded of the medieval Ashkenazi custom for a pregnant woman to bite off the tip of the etrog at the end of the holiday.)

When Darius I conquered India in 518 BCE, the fruit spread to Persia. Now it was called wādrang, which seems to be the linguistic precursor to the Aramaic word etrog (and also the English word orange). . . . [T]he etrog was regarded in Persia as a prized exotic species and carried from province to province. Throughout their vast empire, [which included the Land of Israel], the Persians built royal outposts bedizened with generously irrigated ornamental gardens called pairidaeza or “paradises.” . . .

One of these paradises was constructed after the Babylonian exile and before the conquests of Alexander the Great—that is, sometime between 538 BCE and 332 BCE—in Ramat Raḥel, which sits on the outskirts of present-day Jerusalem and is today home to a kibbutz. Archaeologists have recently positively identified (based on an analysis of fossilized pollen trapped in the plaster of one of its pools) the presence of eleven native and foreign species in that paradise, including the etrog. . . .

Once Leviticus 23:40 was understood by Jews as a description . . . of three bound boughs, known collectively as a lulav, and an etrog, this combination became an important Jewish symbol—alongside other symbols of Temple ritual like the menorah, shofar, firepan, and ark—found on synagogue walls, coins, and tombstones. In fact, the presence of a lulav-and-etrog icon signals to archaeologists that an ancient synagogue is Jewish rather than Samaritan, [since] the Samaritans [interpret the verse differently] and therefore have not incorporated this symbol.

You have 2 free articles left this month

Sign up now for unlimited access

Subscribe Now

Already have an account? Log in now

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Ancient Persia, China, Etrog, History & Ideas, Leviticus, Religion & Holidays

Nikki Haley Succeeded at the UN Because She Saw It for What It Is

Oct. 15 2018

Last week, Nikki Haley announced that she will be stepping down as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations at the end of the year. When President Trump appointed her to the position, she had behind her a successful tenure as governor of South Carolina, but no prior experience in foreign policy. This, writes Seth Lispky, turned out to have been her greatest asset:

What a contrast [Haley provided] to the string of ambassadors who fell on their faces in the swamp of Turtle Bay. That’s particularly true of the two envoys under President Barack Obama. [The] “experienced” hands who came before her proceeded to fail. Their key misconception was the notion that the United Nations is part of the solution to the world’s thorniest problems. Its charter was a vast treaty designed by diplomats to achieve “peace,” “security,” and “harmony.”

What hogwash.

Haley, by contrast, may have come in without experience—but that meant she also lacked for illusions. What a difference when someone knows that they’re in a viper pit—that the UN is itself the problem. And has the gumption to say so.

This became apparent the instant Haley opened her first press conference, [in which she said of the UN’s obsessive fixation on condemning the Jewish state]: “I am here to say the United States will not turn a blind eye to this anymore. I am here to underscore the ironclad support of the United States for Israel. . . . I am here to emphasize that the United States is determined to stand up to the UN’s anti-Israel bias.”

You have 1 free article left this month

Sign up now for unlimited access

Subscribe Now

Already have an account? Log in now

Read more at New York Post

More about: Nikki Haley, U.S. Foreign policy, United Nations, US-Israel relations