Today is the last day of Sukkot, the day known as Hoshannah Rabah. This day might be my favorite holiday, even granting that it is not technically a holiday (in the no-work, Yom Tov sense). Beating one’s willow twigs against a hard surface is quite fun and satisfying, actually. It has deep mystical origins.
Moreover, our forecast calls for rain tomorrow. Sometimes the rain really arrives on time.
Hoshannah Rabah, in Jewish tradition, is the day the world is judged for rain. And tomorrow, Shmini Atzeret, is the day we insert the prayer for rain every morning (till Pesach/Passover in spring).
We had some rain the day before Sukkot began, but it was just a tease. Fortunately it’s been great weather all week for dwelling in the sukkah, though it’s been quite chilly in the mornings! But a shift towards a wet pattern in the coming first post-Sukkot week week appears quite certain now.
[Aside: If you are one of my liberal and/or rationalist oriented readers, the idea of a ritual and prayers about rain probably strike you as… weird. So, let me ask: Do you recognize that our collective acts can have impact on the climate? So do I! And so have the scribes and teachers of the Jewish religion. So much so that one of the central statements of this idea appears in the Torah, at Deuteronomy 11: 13-17, and has been part of daily Jewish prayer services for generation upon generation. it is also “inscribed on the doorposts” via our homes’ mezuzot. These passages about climate consequences are in the second person plural in the Hebrew for a reason. The link at the end of the first paragraph above concludes with a personal postscript by the author about how this day’s service at one time did not sit well with his rational instincts, but has become a favorite, as it has for me.]
Of course, Sukkot is a seven-day festival. I am doing this blog post from our sukkah, enjoying the light patterns and rustling from wind in the trees.
In addition to the willow and myrtle twigs and palm-frond spine that make up the lulav, the festival is closely associated with the etrog (citron). Jewish tradition demands the finest examples of this unusual but beautiful citrus for use during Sukkot.
I never knew that there was some chance that the Christmas fruitcake tradition had some connection to the etrog before reading a fascinating post on Hard Core Mesorah.
I do want to correct one thing in the post, however, which is based on a common misconception about fruit hybridization.
[The etrog is] a fruit that must be grown intentionally, with careful planning involved. It is not incidental at all. This is because the etrog is a pure species of citrus fruit. It is one of the only three pure species of citrus fruit, the fruits that are only indigenous to Asia; they are the Mandarin, the Pomelo and the Etrog (citron). All other species of citrus fruits from our navel oranges to our tangerines are just crosses of these species. Citrus fruit so easily cross pollinate that there are a myriad of varieties of citrus fruit. Those of you who have citrus trees in your backyard know this, if you have various kinds they often mix and your tree comes out covered with mutations of orange and lemons for example.
Mostly fine, except that last point. If you have backyard citrus, you may indeed have seen a tree that produces both whatever you expected (an orange, a mandarin, a grapefruit, etc.) and some ugly hard-skinned lemon-like fruit. But that is not because of cross-pollination from another nearby type of citrus. If this happens, it is probably because the variety was grafted on a rootstock of ‘rough lemon’ (which is very commonly used, especially in older plantings). If the rootstock sends up a sucker from below the graft union, any resulting limb will produce a fruit that lives up to the name, rough lemon. (Cut these suckers off before they get that mature!)
Cross-pollination does not change the nature of the current generation of fruit that a tree produces (unless we are talking about something like pollination-variant persimmons, but we are not). The hybrid that might result from cross-pollination can be seen only when the fruit of the tree that grows from the seed of the current tree appears.
So it is not correct that “Pollination from afar can take hold and mutate the fruit until it not at all distinguishable, and surely not fit for proper use as food or in ritual.” There are many reasons an etrog might be unfit for ritual use. It might grow too close to another fruit or branch and be deformed. It might get attacked by insects as it is developing. Most authorities would not permit an etrog from a grafted tree (which implies one indeed must take care to avoid cross-pollination with a different citrus if one is propagating trees for future generations of etrogim.)
OK, that is this year’s fruit and Jewish ritual post. (I used to do a lot of these; may I be inspired to do more in the new year.)