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Chapter 11

CITRUS

Despite Israel's prominence as a citrus exporter today, oranges, lemons, tangerines, mandarins and grapefruit were unknown in Biblical Palestine. The "fruit of goodly trees" mentioned in Leviticus 23: 40 refers to the citron, which the Hebrews called etrog.

The citron (citrus medeia ) is probably the common ancestor of all citrus fruit, and is thought to have originated in India. It is an oval, yellow fruit averaging four to eight inches long in size (although it may grow to as much as 20 pounds under favourable circumstances). The citron is less juicy and fleshy that, say, oranges or lemons--and the pith layer under its outer skin may be an inch or more thick, leaving room for little else.

The Jews incorporated citrons ceremonially into the Festival of the Booths (Leviticus 23: 40; Nehemiah 8: 14-15) as well as other harvest festivals. When the Jews were dispersed after Jerusalem's destruction in AD 70, they took citron trees with them to Europe and elsewhere to ensure a supply of fruit for their religious festivals. Thus Judaism played a major role in popularizing citrus fruit agriculture throughout the Roman Empire.


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