The Torah (Levitcus 23:4) commands that on the first day of Sukkot one must take Four Species, including something deemed a pri eitz hadar (translated as “a beautiful fruit of a tree” or “fruit of a beautiful tree”). We understand this term to refer to the citron fruit Citrus medica. Besides pri eitz hadar, other Hebrew and Aramaic terms that refer to this fruit include etrog, etronga, and trunga. In this essay, we will examine these various synonyms for the citron and show how they differ from one another.
The best independent confirmation we have of the citron identification is archeological evidence from the Royal Garden in Ramat Rachel in southern Jerusalem. Analysis of fossilized pollen proved that citron trees already grew in the Holy Land in the time of the Persian rule (that is, during the Babylonian Exile and the early decades of the Second Temple period).
While evidence that citrons grew in the Holy Land before the Persian Period remains to be found, Dr. Zohar Amar of Bar Ilan University does not think that this absence proves that citrons were solely imported then.
According to one Tannaic opinion, the forbidden fruit from the Tree of Knowledge refers to a citron (see Bereishit Rabbah §15:7, Brachot 40a). About that fruit, the Torah says: “the woman saw that the tree was good for eating and enticing for the eyes…” (Genesis 3:6). Rabbi David Kochavi of Estelle (1300s Provencal, France) infers from this passage that the fruit in question only looks like it tastes good but in actuality has very little flesh to it – an apt description of the citron.
Despite all of this, it remains true that the word hadar in Biblical Hebrew literally means “glory/beauty.” So, simply referring to a fruit or fruit tree as hadar is ambiguous and tells us nothing about which fruit is being referenced. How then do we know that the phrase pri eitz hadar refers specifically to the citron?
The rabbis (Talmud Bavli Sukkah 35a, Talmud Yerushalmi Sukkah 3:5, Sifra to Lev. 23:40) offer several avenues for explaining this:
The first explanation uses the textual ambiguity of Leviticus 23:40 to presume that the fruit in question must come from a tree that tastes like the fruit, such that the adjective hadar modifies both the fruit and the tree. Accordingly, since the citron fruit somehow tastes like the citron tree, it must be referring to the citron.
Alternatively, the Talmud interprets hadar as related to the Hebrew word dir (“corral”), which appears several times in the Mishnah (Eruvin 2:3, 4:1, Shekalim 6:1, Bava Kamma 6:1, Eduyot 8:5, Bechorot 1:4, 9:4, 9:7). According to this explanation, just as animals within a corral reflect a certain degree of diversity (because some are big, some are small, some are blemished, and some are unblemished), so do the fruits on the hadar tree reflect such diversity, because small citrons often begin to blossom while large citrons are already on the same tree.
Finally, the Talmud interprets hadar as related to the Greek word hydro (“water”), explaining it as a reference to the citron tree’s need for extra water in order to flourish.
The Midrash (Vayikra Rabbah §30:15, Midrash Tanchuma Emor §20) relates that King Solomon, despite all his superlative wisdom, was unable to explain how pri eitz hadar refers to the citron, without simply appealing to a tradition passed down through the sages.
Indeed, Ibn Ezra (to Leviticus 23:4) explains that the rabbis knew via the tradition of the Oral Torah that the term hadar is a reference to the citron, even if the literal meaning of the word does not necessarily have anything to do with the citron. Moreover, notes Ibn Ezra, it is also true that the citron is the most beautiful fruit, so the appellation pri eitz hadar fits that fruit in particular.
Maimonides echoes both of Ibn Ezra’s points. In the introduction to his commentary to the Mishnah, he writes that the definition of pri eitz hadar as a citron stems from an undisputed Mosaic tradition; and in his Guide for the Perplexed (3:43), he write that the citron is the most beautiful fruit. Both Ibn Ezra and Maimonides also note that all these exegeses aimed at proving that hadar refers to the citron are simply exegetical allusions.
In Modern Hebrew, the term hadar was redefined to refer to the entire citrus genus. This includes all sorts of citrus fruits, like oranges, grapefruits, lemons, limes, tangerines, pomelos, kumquats, mandarins, clementines, and more. The closest fruit to the citron is known as Buddha’s Hand because its shape resembles fingers protruding from an open palm. (Interestingly, Rabbi Avraham Yishaya Karelitz (1878-1953) discusses whether Halacha recognizes all these citrus fruits as related to each other when it comes to the prohibition of intermixing different species.)
A Fruit By Any Other Name
The Hebrew word etrog appears multiple times in the Mishnah (Maasrot 1:4, Bikkurim 2:6, Sukkah 3:4–7, 4:7, 4:9, and Meilah 6:4) and is used by Targum Onkelos (to Leviticus 23:40) in translating the Biblical phrase pri eitz hadar into Aramaic. But in other rabbinic sources, the Aramaic word for the citron is something slightly different: trunga (see Yerushalmi Sukkah 3:10, Gittin 2:3) or trugin (Targum Yonatan and Targum Neofiti to Lev. 23:40).
The Talmud (Kiddushin 70a) relates a humorous anecdote in which the Amoraic sage Rav Nachman once offered his colleague Rav Yehuda a citron, using the word etronga in his speech. Rav Yehuda replied by citing the early Amoraic sage Shmuel who said that anybody who uses the word etronga ought to be suspected of haughtiness, and instead one should use either the word etrog (like the rabbis) or etroga (like the plebs). All of these sources spell the word in question with a tav (hence, the Ashkenazi pronunciation esrog). In contrast, the Peshitta (a translation of the Bible into Syriac, a dialect of Aramaic) spells the word with a tet. This variant spelling suggests that perhaps etrog and its related variants are not native Hebrew words – or that the authors of the Peshitta did not know how to spell.
According to linguist Dr. Michael Sokoloff of Bar Ilan University, all these different variations are actually related to the Modern Persian word turunj/toranj and the Middle Persian word wadrang. These Persian words, in turn, seem to be related to the Sanskrit word narangam (“orange”), although the actual Sanskrit word for citron is matulunga. Interestingly, the Sanskrit narangam begat the Persian/Arabic word naranj, which is the etymon of the Spanish naranja, Portuguese laranja, and the English and French orange. It also seems to be related to the Spanish toronja (“grapefruit”).
Among the later commentators, there are two ways to explain the connection between the Biblical phrase pri eitz hadar and the rabbinic term etrog. One way involves finding semantic commonality between the meaning of hadar and the meaning of etrog, while the other way appeals to the more esoteric notion of gematria.
The first approach goes like this: It is customary for a groom to write in a marriage document that his bride may collect her ketubah from “all the better arag of my property.” Rabbi Eliezer ben Yoel (1140-1225), known as the Raavyah, explains that the word arag is an expression of “desirable,” because Targum Onkelos (to Genesis 2:9, 3:6, Proverbs 21:20) translates the word nechmad (and taavah in Deuteronomy 5:18) as ragig, and arag is a cognate of that term.
Based on this, Nachmanides (1194-1270), who was Raavyah’s younger contemporary, adds that the word etrog is also a cognate ragig and arag, which leads him to explain that etrog can rightfully be translated as “the desirable fruit.” In light of this, Nachmanides argues that the term pri eitz hadar must refer to the etrog, because hadar and nechmad mean essentially the same thing.
Nachmanides even goes as far as to say that hadar is simply the Hebrew word for what is called etrog in Aramaic – making the two terms totally synonymous.
Parts of Nachmanides’ explanation are also cited by Rabbi Aharon HaLevi of Barcelona (1235-1300), Rabbi Yom Tov Ashveli (1260-1330), Rabbi Menachem Meiri (1249-1315), Rabbeinu Bachaya Ibn Chalava (1255-1340), Rabbi Shimon ben Tzemach Duran (1361-1444), and Rabbi Moshe Mintz (1415-1480).
The other way of connecting etrog to the phrase pri eitz hadar involves gematria (Hebrew numerology). The Baal HaTurim (to Leviticus 23:40) notes that the gematria of the Biblical phrase pri eitz hadar (659) equals that of the word etrogim (660). Rabbi Meir Mazuz similarly notes that the word trung (659) also equals that phrase in gematria.