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Why can’t I use a lemon instead of an etrog?

Why can’t I use a lemon instead of an etrog?



How do we know that we must take an etrog as the fruit in the Four Kinds, and that I cannot just use a lemon or an orange?


The Torah1 describes the fruit which we must take as פרי עץ הדר—pri etz hadar, which translates loosely as the “fruit of a tree which is hadar.” What is hadar?

Since the days of Moses, we have known this to be an etrog. There was never a time when the identity of the fruit needed was in doubt. Rather, each generation told the next generation which fruit was needed to complete the Four Kinds.2 Nevertheless, various propositions were made to demonstrate that this can also be understood from the text.

The common meaning of הדר hadar is “beautiful.” Ibn Ezra3 writes that the etrog is known as the most beautiful of all fruits, and when the Torah tells us to take a beautiful fruit, the only possible candidate is the etrog.

Alternatively, Nachmanides4 writes that hadar is actually the ancient Hebrew name for the etrog, the latter being its Aramaic name. Hence the verse is simply telling us to take the fruit of the etrog tree.

The sages of the Talmud,5 knowing that this term referred to the etrog, found a number of creative ways of seeing the etrog’s distinct properties in the above-mentioned verse:

  1. Focusing on the first two words of the description, “fruit of a tree,” the Talmud understands this to refer to a tree which tastes similar to to its fruit. The wood of the etrog tree is similar in taste to its fruit.
  2. Rabbi Judah the Prince points out that the word הדר hadar can also be rendered as הדיר hadir—a sheep pen. Just as a pen has both old and young animals, so does the tree in question have old and young fruit at the same time. This refers to the etrog tree, whose fruit continues to grow through all seasons, allowing for a single etrog tree to simultaneously hold fruits in multiple stages of growth.
  3. Rabbi Abahu suggests that hadar can also mean “the resident.” This means that this is the fruit which is a resident on its tree—referring to the etrog’s prodigally long growth period.
  4. Ben Azzai said that hadar is etymologically related to the Greek hydor (water)—from which the English word “hydration” is derived. This is a reference to the fact that the etrog tree needs a lot more water than other trees.

As I wrote, all of these suggestions are purely academic, since we have known since the Giving of the Torah that the fruit which we needed to take is the etrog.

Please let me know if this helps.

Yours truly,
Rabbi Menachem Posner


Maimonides, Commentary to the Mishnah, Introduction to Seder Zeraim.


Ibn Ezra, commentary to Leviticus ibid.


Nachmanides, commentary to Leviticus ibid.


Talmud, Sukkah 35a.

Rabbi Menachem Posner serves as staff editor for
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Menachem Posner September 10, 2015

Four Personalities A good place to begin you reading is It Takes All Kinds Reply

Lawrence Arizona September 10, 2015

Can Rabbi elaborate on the 4 personalities and the spiritual intent? Reply

Anonymous October 7, 2014

etrog I have a hard time understanding why an etrog is consider beautiful, I'm sorry to say.
Since the Torah only says "the fruit of trees", makes me assume that could be taken of different trees, and to me a beautiful fruit and full of meaning is, for example, a pomegranate.
I don't want to be disrespectful, but most of the reasons for the etrog to be chosen, seems to me to be a bit of a stretch of what's written in the Torah.

Shoshana GA August 23, 2017
in response to Anonymous:

Agree, etrogs are decidedly ugly. Pomegranates are prettier and tastier. Didn't etrogs come from India anyhow? So why would Moses use them instead of local fruits? What about grapes? Reply

Anonymous Prescott, AR October 30, 2011

sukkah I had not noticed the Nehemiah passage before , where we see there actually HAD been a long period where the festival had not been practiced. So the line was not exactly "unbroken." Reply

Sam C aventura, fl October 12, 2011

Lemons BH,

Pehaps I overlooked the answer to the original question being adressed, but i havent seen the question of why not can a lemon be used. Lemon lime are also in the citrus family.

Nevertheless, I would like to point out that all of the sources for the cotton, that the Rabbi has so eloquently elaborated, correlate into an interesting fact about the citron.

From Wikipedia:

Despite the variation among the cultivars, authorities agree the citron is an old and original species. There is molecular evidence that all other cultivated citrus species arose by hybridization among the ancestral types, which are the citron, pomelo, mandarin and papeda.

The citron is believed to be the purest of them all, since it is usually fertilized by self-pollination, and is therefore generally considered to be a male parent of any citrus hybrid. Reply

Mels NYC, USA September 27, 2010

Do we have a closet Ayn Randian in our Midst? The Ego is the most beautiful fruit of all fruit?? Reply

Anonymous September 25, 2010

Etrog fruit This article is excellent advice, to know that the Ego is the most beautiful fruit of all fruit,and to complete the four kinds. Thank you for posting. Reply

shula October 1, 2009

it helps i didn't know any of the reasons, besides the masoret (accepted definition handed down from generation to generation) of "pri etz hadar"
i am so happy to know the reason behind the mitzva Reply

Theodore Rhinebeck Kingston, NY October 10, 2008

This is from Nehemiah, Chapter 8
13. The heads of the fathers' houses of all the people, the priests, and the Levites, gathered to Ezra, and to understand the words of the Torah.
14. And they found written in the Torah that the Lord had commanded Moses that Israel dwell in booths on the festival in the seventh month.
15. And that they should announce in all their cities and, saying, "Go out to the mountain and bring olive leaves and leaves of oil trees, to make booths, as it is written."
16. And the people went forth and brought [them] and made booths for themselves, each one on his roof and in their courts and in the courts of the House of God,
17. And all the congregation of the returnees from the captivity made booths and dwelt in the booths, for they had not done so from the days of Joshua the son of Nun until that day, and there was exceedingly great joy.

The text doesn't mention the Four Kinds. But they certainly had forgotten about how to build a sukkah. Reply

Erich Helfrich Round Rock, TX October 5, 2008

"...each generation told the next generation which fruit was needed to complete the four kinds." really comforting. It's good to know that so many aspects of our service to G-d is the continuation of an unbroken line of obedience to His Torah. Reply

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