Q. What is the meaning of the “goodly fruit” of Lev. 23:40? Does it really refer to the citron as the rabbis teach? I have friend who is a Horticulture at Southern Florida College, who doubts this association.
“The “etrog” of the Jews, used in the Feast of Tabernacles, is not mentioned in the Bible. It probably did not reach Palestine until after the time of Alexander the Great, and was not used by the Jews in fulfilling the prescriptions as given in Lev. 23:40. One historian, Immanuel Löwe stated that its use had been recorded from the time of Alexander Jannaeus (107-78 BCE).”
So, its use is quite old, but not nearly as old as the passage in Leviticus. Is he correct?
A. Great question. For those who are unfamiliar with the subject, here is the biblical verse in question:
“On the first day you shall take the product of hadar trees, branches of palm trees, boughs of leafy trees, and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God seven days.” (Lev. 23.40)
Your scholarly friend is most likely correct. The association of the “goodly fruit” with the citron (Citrus medica) is of a relatively late origin. The Mishnah, the Talmud and Onkelos, as you know, assumes the citron is was one of four species of plants used in the Feast of Tabernacles. (TB Sukkah 35a) Josephus Ant. xiii.13.5  recorded that infuriated Jews threw citrons at Alexander Janneus while he served at the altar during this feast. A similar tradition is mentioned in the Tosefta of Tractate Sukkot 4:9;. The reference is probably to the Citrus medica var lageriformis Roem., which may have been imported from Babylon by returning exiles. Continue reading “What is the meaning of the “goodly fruit” of Lev. 23:40?”