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Etrog (Hebrew: אֶתְרוֹג, plural: etrogim; Ashkenazi Hebrew: esrog, plural: esrogim) is the yellow citron or Citrus medica used by Jews during the week-long holiday of Sukkot as one of the four species. Together with the lulav, hadass, and aravah, the etrog is taken in hand and held or waved during specific portions of the holiday prayers. Special care is often given to selecting an etrog for the performance of the Sukkot holiday rituals. The most renowned etrogim in the world are grown in Calabria, the toe of the Italian boot. Thousands of rabbis gather there every summer to select the best fruits.
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The romanization of the Hebrew word as etrog according to the Sephardic pronunciation is widely used. The Ashkenazi Hebrew pronunciation is esrog or esrig. It has been transliterated as ethrog or ethrogh in scholarly work. The Hebrew word is thought to derive from the Persian name for the fruit, turunj (ترنج), likely borrowed via Aramaic.
In Modern Hebrew, etrog is the name for any variety or form of citron, whether kosher for the ritual or not. In general usage, though, the word is often reserved to refer only to those varieties and specimens used ritually as one of the four species. Some taxonomic experts, like Hodgson and others, have mistakenly treated etrog as one specific variety of citron. The various Jewish rites utilize different varieties, according to their tradition or the decision of their respective posek.
While the biblical phrase peri eitz hadar (פְּרִי עֵץ הָדָר) (translated above as "fruit of majestic trees") may be interpreted or translated in a number of ways, the Talmud derives that the phrase refers to the etrog.
Etrogim were extensively cultivated in the Holy Land at the time of the Second Temple, and images of etrogim are found at many archaeological sites of that era, including mosaics at the Maon Synagogue, Beth Alpha Synagogue, and Hamat Tiberias Synagogue. At all of those sites, the etrog is depicted alongside other important religious symbols, like the shofar or menorah. The etrog is also found on numerous Bar Kokhba coins.
Archaeological evidence for Citrus fruits is limited, as neither seeds nor pollen are likely to be routinely recovered in archaeology. The earliest evidence of etrogim in Israel is the 2012 discovery of citron pollen from the second century BCE in excavations at the Ramat Rachel site.
After the fall of Jerusalem in 70 CE, exiled Jews planted citron orchards wherever the climate allowed: in Southern Europe (Spain, Greece, and Italy) as well as in North Africa and Asia Minor. Jews who settled north of the warmer citron-growing areas depended on imported etrogim, which caused much anxiety given the dangers and uncertainties of sea travel. By the seventeenth century, some of the most popular sources for etrogim were the islands of Corsica and Corfu.
Since the late 1850s, the Fruit of the Goodly Tree Association in Mandatory Palestine represented etrog farmers who marketed their crops to Jews in Europe. Some Jewish communities still preferred citrons from Italy, Greece, Morocco, or Yemen, but many Jews seeking citrons turned back to Eretz Yisrael, the land of Israel.
American Jews continue to import the majority of their holiday etrogim from Israel, except during shmita when there are halachic complications in exporting the produce of Israel. The only commercial grower of etrogs in the United States is John Kirkpatrick, the former chairman of the Citrus Research Board, on a ranch in the town of Exeter in the San Joaquin Valley of California. Kirkpatrick, who is not Jewish, began growing etrogs in 1980 following a phone call with Yisroel Weisberger, an employee at a Judaica store in Brooklyn. In 1995, Weisberger's brother, Yaakov Shlomo Rothberg, became involved in the operation and has since become Kirkpatrick's business partner. As of 2010[update], Kirkpatrick has 250 etrog trees and produces 3,000 suitable etrogs per year, with 9,000 that do not qualify due to halakhic requirements. While there are other growers in California, such as Inga Dorosz and David Sleeth in the town of Gorda near Big Sur, these are not rabbinically supervised and are therefore not kosher.
A pitam or pitom (Hebrew: פיטום; plural pitamim) is composed of a style (Hebrew: "דַד" dad), and a stigma (Hebrew: "שׁוֹשַׁנְתָּא" shoshanta), and usually falls off during the growing process. An etrog with an intact pitam is considered especially valuable, but varieties that naturally shed their pitam during growth are also considered kosher. When only the stigma breaks off, even post-harvest, the citron can 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 in their entirety, the etrog is not kosher for ritual use.
Many more pitamim are preserved today due to an auxin discovered by Eliezer E. Goldschmidt, emeritus professor of horticulture at the Hebrew University. While working with the picloram hormone in a citrus orchard, he unexpectedly discovered that some of the Valencia oranges found nearby had perfectly preserved pitamim. Citrus fruits, other than an etrog or citron hybrid like the bergamot, usually do not preserve their pitam. On the occasions that they do, their pitamim tend to be dry, sunken and very fragile. In Goldschmidt's observation, the pitamim were all fresh and solid like those of the Moroccan or Greek citron varieties.
In addition to the above, there are rabbinical indicators used to distinguish pure etrogim from possible hybrids. These traditional indicators have been preserved by continuous selection performed by professional farmers.
The most accepted indicators are: 1) a pure etrog has a thick rind, contrasting with its sparing pulp segments which are also almost dry, 2) the outer surface of an etrog is ribbed and warted, and 3) the etro