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    The etrog surcharge

    Compared to the Diaspora, Israel sells etrogim quite cheaply. Historically, the Diaspora found acquiring etrogim one of its biggest challenges.

    In the Western Synagogue in London, from 1809 there was a sixpence in the pound (5%) surcharge on seat rentals as Etrog-money. This tax enabled congregants to possess etrogim – not one etrog per member, but four for the whole congregation.

    Each etrog cost two guineas – two pounds two shillings – a huge sum in those days.

    Anglo-Jewry found a cheaper source of supply within a few years since the town of Penzance budgeted for one guinea per etrog plus transport costs.

    Growing your own etrogim was a real challenge if the climate and the season were wrong. Very few people succeeded.

    I recall that someone in Portsmouth in England claimed to have produced the fruit in time for Sukkot. In distant Melbourne, Australia, I believe that Dr Samuel Billigheimer and Rabbi Isaac Jacob Super succeeded.

    In most countries the festival citron had to be imported. The right to deal in etrogim was a treasured monopoly; some rulers such as the Empress Maria Theresa of Bohemia taxed the Jews for the right to import lulavim and etrogim.

    In the late Second Temple era King Alexander Yannai – a Sadducee supporter – contemptuously poured the water libation on the ground and the populace pelted him with their etrogim, leading to a civil (or uncivil) war.

    Rabbi Akiva claimed to have a large etrog which he could hardly lift!

    A Jewish delegation Jews were on a ship to Rome during Sukkot and they built a sukkah on deck and though they had only one set of Four Species, each rabbi presented it to the other so that everyone could fulfil the mitzvah with their own property.

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