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    Etrog compote

    etrogNone of the arba’ah minim, the four species of plants used on Sukkot, is named in the Torah, except for the aravah, the willow.

    The lulav is called “branches of palm trees”, the hadas (myrtle) is identified as “boughs of thick trees”, and the etrog is termed “fruit of a goodly tree”.

    The rabbis worked out what trees the Torah had in mind, and Maimonides sees the age-old use of the etrog as evidence for the unbroken oral tradition in Jewish law.

    The etrog is still expensive, especially outside of Israel. But even in Israel, etrogim are far from two-a-penny. The care that goes into purchasing the etrog is a colourful feature of Israeli life at this season.

    In olden days, the etrog was a major symbol of Judaism; in Second Temple times it was used on coins and burial places and in symbols as a symbol rivaling the menorah.

    It even became a weapon of war; on one occasion, the priest-king Alexander Yannai scandalised the congregation by pouring the water of libation not on the altar but on the ground, and the people pelted him with their etrogim!

    In folklore, a person who dreamed of an etrog was thought to be precious to God. A pregnant woman who bit into the pitom of an etrog was sure of an easy birth.

    All this is quaint, but it shows how much store we set on symbols in Judaism. A way of life without symbols lacks poetry, colour and inspiration.

    Fortunately, today’s Jewish world has rediscovered symbolism as a powerful means of religious and ethnic expression.

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