A Shriveled Etrog, a Little Spark

By Jonathan R. Katz

Published October 07, 2008, issue of October 17, 2008.
  • Print
  • Share Share

In the course of rearranging my office a few years ago, many months after the Sukkot holiday, I opened an etrog case kept on a high shelf. Inside, I was delighted to find an exquisitely shriveled specimen of the fruit.

As a result of forgetting to dispose of the citron, I felt as though I possessed a little treasure. Why? Because the pitom (pistil), the little protuberance on the flowering end, remained fully preserved.

During Sukkot I try especially hard to prevent the pitom from breaking off from the etrog. This can be difficult in a congregational setting, where the holiday staple is often handled by many people. For me, a citron that survives the festival with pitom intact is a sign of good luck. Of course, this goes without saying, since an etrog that loses its pitom after being taken from the tree is considered impaired and therefore no longer fit for use.

If the pitom comes off before the fruit is picked, the etrog remains kosher unless otherwise blemished. Some varieties of etrogs tend to lose their pitoms more than others, and while not halachically required, etrogs with pitoms intact are generally preferred. For this reason, efforts have been made to preserve the pitom as the citron ripens on the tree. A few years ago, to the delight of growers, a professor of horticulture at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem developed a special hormone that enabled more etrog varieties to retain their pitoms.

In certain precincts of Jewish tradition, the pitom held value beyond accentuating the citron’s aesthetic virtue. In a once popular custom, pregnant women would ingest the pitom at the conclusion of Sukkot, believing it had medicinal properties that could ease childbirth. Some commentators have suggested that the famed apple in the Garden of Eden was actually an etrog.

By waiting until the end of Sukkot to eat the pitom, Jewish women were attesting that, unlike Eve, they had resisted temptation until the citron was permitted to them. Recall in the Torah how God says Eve will experience pain in childbirth as a consequence of eating the forbidden fruit (Genesis 3:16).

Looking at the still intact pitom of my desiccated etrog, I see a reminder of dos pintele yid (“the little Jewish point”), a Yiddish expression referring to the Jewish soul’s indestructible, concentrated spark that, while potentially strong, often remains dormant. Even though it may appear hardly to exist among highly assimilated, secularized, or self-professed nonbelieving Jews, dos pintele yid can, under certain circumstances, flare into an abiding passion for Judaism.

Unexpectedly, the religion is viewed in a profoundly different light. Previously overlooked or dismissed aspects of Jewish spirituality assume penetrating new meaning.

One cannot predict what will trigger the transformation of the Jewish spark into the Jewish flame. Sometimes it can happen in the wake of a seemingly incidental event, like attending a bar mitzvah, watching a Purim shpiel or spinning a dreidel.

But no matter what the spur, when the epiphany occurs, Judaism, rather than being regarded as a burden or obstacle, is now valued as a revered source of insight and pride. No longer a mere point of Jewishness, dos pintele yid emerges as a widening circle of spiritual appreciation.

Symbolizing a latent but ever-present possibility of Jewish awakening, this is why a dried-out old etrog with its pitom still intact continues to occupy a prominent place on my shelf.

Jonathan R. Katz is the rabbi at Temple Beth Israel in Longboat Key, Fla.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • What the foolish rabbi of Chelm teaches us about Israel and the Palestinian unity deal:
  • Mazel tov to Idina Menzel on making Variety "Power of Women" cover! http://jd.fo/f3Mms
  • "How much should I expect him and/or ask him to participate? Is it enough to have one parent reciting the prayers and observing the holidays?" What do you think?
  • New York and Montreal have been at odds for far too long. Stop the bagel wars, sign our bagel peace treaty!
  • Really, can you blame them?
  • “How I Stopped Hating Women of the Wall and Started Talking to My Mother.” Will you see it?
  • Taglit-Birthright Israel is redefining who they consider "Jewish" after a 17% drop in registration from 2011-2013. Is the "propaganda tag" keeping young people away?
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • Would you get to know racists on a first-name basis if you thought it might help you prevent them from going on rampages, like the recent shooting in Kansas City?
  • "You wouldn’t send someone for a math test without teaching them math." Why is sex ed still so taboo among religious Jews?
  • Russia's playing the "Jew card"...again.
  • "Israel should deal with this discrimination against Americans on its own merits... not simply as a bargaining chip for easy entry to the U.S." Do you agree?
  • For Moroccan Jews, the end of Passover means Mimouna. Terbhou ou Tse'dou! (good luck) How do you celebrate?
  • Calling all Marx Brothers fans!
  • What's it like to run the Palestine International Marathon as a Jew?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.