What is an etrog, what is a hadas?
“We learned in our Mishnah: ‘One may not shred either fodder or carobs before an animal, whether it is a small [animal] or a large [animal]. R’ Judah permits the shredding of carobs for a small animal’.” (Shabbat 155a)
Come see something amazing. R’ Judah permits shredding carob for small animals. Rav Huna comes along and says that R’ Judah means a large animal! This is what the Gemara says in Shabbat 155a: “Rav Chisda said: What is Rav Huna’s reasoning? He contends that one may exert himself to improve existing food, but one may not make food [i.e., make a non-food item into food on the Sabbath]… Come, learn [a refutation of Rav Huna’s position from the continuation of the Mishnah:] R’ Judah permits [the shredding of] carobs for a small animal, [implying] for a small animal — yes, for a large animal — no… [The Gemara answers:] Do you think [that when R’ Judah says] Dakah he meansdakah [a small animal] literally? [No!] What does he mean by Dakah? A large [animal]. And why does he call [a large animal] a dakah? Because [a large animal] chews [dayka] its food very well. [The Gemara rejoins:] But since we learned the first part of the Mishnah, [the Tanna Kamma’s words, as follows] ‘whether it is a small [animal] or whether it is a large [animal],’ we may conclude that when R’ Judah speaks of a Dakah, he is referring to a dakah literally. [The Gemara concludes:] This is indeed a difficulty!”
This is what it means: R’ Huna supposes that it is forbidden to take the trouble to shred food for animals on the Sabbath if they cannot eat it without it being cut. But if the animals can eat the food without it being cut and shredded, then one may cut and shred the food on the Sabbath to make it better. The Gemara asks: If it is permitted to make food better, why does R’ Judah only permit it for a small animal? He should have also permitted it for a large animal (for whom it is definitely merely making the food better). Therefore the Gemara says that what R’ Judah meant by saying dakah was actually a large animal, and he used that term because the animal is dayka, chews the food in its mouth.
Thus, in the blink of an eye, small becomes large and any reasonable person understands that through this manner of interpretation the significance of the words disappears. Any sentence and any halacha become as clay in the hands of the interpreter. (What is tall? Short! What is left? Right!) This is exactly what our rabbis the Amoraim did here and in many other places.
Here we bring you, wise student, another example of the matter. According to R’ Judah we cover the sukkah only with branches of the four species (etrog, palm, hadas, and willow) and the Gemara asks, in Sukkah 37a: “Did R’ Judah really say that one may cover with the four species and nothing else? It is, after all, taught in the baraita that if he covered the sukkah with planks of erez of four tephachim, according to all opinions it is invalid [for it is as the roof of a house]. If it is not of four tephachim, R’ Meir invalidates it and R’ Judah permits it… What is an erez? A type of hadas. As Rava the son of Rav Huna said, in the study house of Rav they said: There are ten types of erez, as it is written [Isaiah 41:19] In the wilderness I will set cedar, acacia, myrtle, [and pine tree; I will place cypress, fir, and box tree together in a desert]’.”
Thus our rabbis turned, in a twinkle, the myrtle bush into a cedar tree. Of course there will always be apologetes who say that perhaps (recall that “perhaps” and “maybe” are magic words which, like Elijah, can answer any question) at Chazal’s time different kinds of trees were included in the category of “cedar,” as the Maharsha wrote on Bava Batra 80b: “From this verse there is no proof that all [the trees] cited are kinds of cedar. [Rava the son of Rav Huna] merely meant that all the names mentioned in this verse were known to relate to kinds of cedar.” But even this does not settle the issue in any reasonable way, for how is it possible to make planks of 40 cm (which is four tephachim) from the myrtle bush with its thin branches? The wise one will smile and be silent.
Thus wrote the Ibn Ezra in the short commentary on Exodus 25:5: “Some say that the acacia is a cedar and use as testimony: ‘In the wilderness I will set cedar, acacia,’ [Isaiah 41:19]. This is testimony which is not upheld.” From the acacia you can infer the myrtle: the acacia is not a cedar and the myrtle is not a cedar, and the words of the Gemara are not upheld.
Since we are dealing with the myrtle, let us say something about it. Our rabbis identified the Biblical “twigs of a plaited tree” (Leviticus 23:40) as the myrtle. Thus it is written in Sukkah 32b: “Twigs of a plaited tree — a tree whose wood and fruit are equal, that is, the myrtle.”
But in the book of Nehemiah 8:15 it is written, “Go out to the mountain and get [branches with] olive leaves, pine needles, myrtle leaves, palm fronds, andleaves of the plaited tree to make sukkot as is written.” From the Scriptures we see clearly that the myrtle is not the plaited tree! What do our rabbis say about this? Sukkah 12a: “R’ Chisda said: from here [proof should be brought]. It is written ‘Go out to the mountain and get [branches with] olive leaves, pine needles, myrtle leaves, palm fronds, and leaves of the plaited tree’ to make sukkot. [From here you can learn of what a sukkah is made. Since the Scripture wrote this we ask:] But myrtles are the leaves of a plaited tree! R’ Hasda said, [this is how you interpret it: the leaves of] an ‘odd myrtle’ [which is not appropriate for use in fulfilling the commandment of the four species] for a sukkah, [and the leaves of] a plaited tree [which is a regular myrtle, to be used] for the lulav.”
Thus precisely. Our rabbis go and change two different trees into one. We wrote, on the portion of Miketz, about a similar issue — how Chazal combined different people into one; see there. About this Ibn Ezra wrote on Leviticus 23:40: “‘The leaves of a plaited tree’ [Nehemiah 8:15] may give rise to a claim against our predecessors, for the myrtle is not a tall tree. There are two types, tall and short. And everyone traveling from the land of Qeidar to the land of Edom, if he has eyes, will know the secret of this commandment.” Though Ibn Ezra used his typical cryptic style, his intent is clear: the plaited tree which is written about in the Torah cannot be the myrtle, which is a low bush and is not a plaited tree. We have already shown several places where Ibn Ezra hinted at exactly those things we bring in our writings.
See something interesting. It is indeed possible that in the time of the Prophets (though there is no unambiguous proof) hadas was the name of a tree and not the bush we are familiar with. Isaiah 55:13 writes: “In place of a thornbush, a cypress will rise; and in place of the nettle, a hadas will rise.” It seems he is saying that the cypress and the hadas trees will rise in place of the thornbush and the nettle bush. On the other hand, it is possible that this contrast is based upon a pleasant form (cypress and myrtle bush) vs. an ugly form (thornbush and nettle).
And thus in Isaiah 41:19, “In the wilderness I will set cedar, acacia, myrtle, and pine tree; I will place cypress, fir, and box tree together in a desert.” All of these are trees, not bushes.
Do not wonder that Chazal erred in identifying a plant written about in the Torah. They did not investigate matters scientifically, as they testified about themselves, that they were not expert in the identification of birds (as we wrote on the portion of Shemini) in Hulin 63b: “…were it spoken of his rabbi — we may suppose he had learnt the birds’ names, but how can he be expert in the birds themselves?” (A scholar may know the birds’ names, but he does not know how to identify the actual birds.) But they had a received tradition, and it is known that the sorrows of exile can cause changes in tradition.
Let us bring an example of that. The Mishnah in Tractate Tamid chapter 2, mishnah 3: “All wood is suitable for the service [for burning on the altar when bringing sacrifices], aside from olive and grape. But what do they usually use?Branches of fig, nut, and pine.” In the Gemara, Tamid 29b-30a, they gave the reason for forbidding the use of grape vines and olive trees — for these trees are needed to sustain people living in the land. It is asked: if so, why did they use fig branches? About this they answered: “A fig which bears no fruit… [But] is there a fig tree which bears no fruit? There is. As R’ Rechava testified, they would bring wood from white figs and scrub it with palm rope until all the bark came off the fig wood and therefore it would bear no fruit. They would plant these figs in places with water and from this wood they could make planks so strong and heavy that a bridge could not bear three of them.
Not only is there a problem because the Mishnah wrote “But this is what they usually use: branches of fig” (that is, of any fig tree) and our rabbis narrowed this to one specific type of fig, the “white fig,” but the tree of which R’ Rechava spoke does not exist in reality. Prof. Yehuda Felix wrote of this in his bookMishnat Shevi’it, pg. 124, note 4: “The practice and description there are legendary.” All the Amoraim’s interpretations on the matter of the fig branches they usually used as firewood fall into a hole and we find that they made up a legend from their own imaginations.
Moreover, there is a tree, bnot shu’ach, mentioned in the Mishnah in Tractate Shevi’it chapter 5, mishnah 1: “Bnot shu’ach [have] their seventh [year in] the second [year of the cycle; the laws of shemitah apply to these trees only two years after the shemitah year — Prof. Yehuda Felix, Mishnat Shevi’it] because they grow over three years [their fruit ripen fully only after three years — Yehuda Felix].” The Gemara in Berachot 40b identifies bnot shu’ach as a type of fig: “What are bnot shu’ach? Rabbah the son of bar Hanah said in the name of R’ Jochanan: White figs.” About this Yehuda Felix wrote (Mishnat Shevi’it, pg. 124): “Indeed, there is no way of identifying bnot shu’ach with any type of fig, for in reality there is no fig which takes more than nine months to ripen through to picking. It is therefore clear that the Mishnah which speaks of bnot shu’achwhich ripen over three years does not refer to a fig.” (Prof. Felix identifies bnot shu’ach completely differently than does the Gemara: “A type of pine, of which the nuts in the cones are edible.”) See, you who seeks knowledge, how from the time of the Mishnah to the time of the Gemara only 200-300 years passed and even so they completely erred on the identification of a tree. How much more so is there reason to believe they might err on identifying types of trees mentioned in the Prophets, written many centuries earlier.
Another example of the confusion in identifying trees is in Tractate Shabbat 88a: “R’ Chama the son of R’ Chanina said: What is the meaning of that which is written [Song of Songs 2:3], ‘Like an apple [tree] among the trees of the forest…’? Why are the Jewish people compared to an apple tree? [This serves] to tell you [the following lesson]: Just as [in the case of] this apple [tree], its fruit precedes its leaves, so, too, did Israel precede ‘we will do’ to ‘we will hear’.” Rashi explains, s.v. piryo kodem l’alav: “This is its way, different from other trees; its fruits begin to grow before the leaves.” But what can we do if the apple acts just as do other trees, and its leaves precede the fruits’ growth? As the Tosafot asked (Shabbat 88a, s.v. piryo kodem l’alav): “Rabbeynu Tam wondered, for we see that it grows as do the other trees. So he explained that the ‘apple’ is the etrog, as they translate ‘your scent is as apples’ (Song of Songs 7:9) to mean ‘the scent of etrog.’ The etrog’s fruit precedes its leaves, for its fruit remain on the tree from year to year, and at the end of a year that year’s leaves fall and new leaves sprout, so that the last year’s fruit precedes the new year’s leaves…”
We learn two great things from the Tosafot’s words. One is that when Chazal say something, we must check the matter against reality, and this is why the Tosafot said, “we see that it grows as do the other trees” — because they went and checked.
The second thing is that when reality contradicts the words of the Sages, the Tosafot go and change even the meaning of the language and turn an apple into an etrog…
Therefore we find that according to the Tosafot the Scriptural apple is an etrog. A perfect fit. When the prophet Joel says, “The pomegranate tree as well as the date tree and the apple tree — all trees of the field — have dried up” (Joel 1:12), he refers to an etrog. And in Song of Songs, “Under the apple tree I roused you” is under an etrog tree. Therefore, when Chazal say apple, it is also the etrog. But if so, we find ourselves with a new custom about the commandment of haroset on Passover. Pesachim 116a: “R’ Eleazar the son of R’ Zadok says [haroset] is a commandment. Why is it a commandment? R’ Levi says: in memory of the apple.” Rashi explains, s.v. zecher l’tappuach: “For they gave birth to their sons there without pain, so the Egyptians would not notice them, as is written: ‘Under the apple tree I roused you’ [Song of Songs 8:5].” Based on this the Shulchan Aruch ruled in Orach Chaim paragraph 473, section 5: “We make haroset from fruits with which Israel was compared, like apples.” The Mishnah Berurah explains in paragraph 473 subparagraph 49: “Like apples — as is written, ‘under the apple tree I roused you’.” According to the Tosafot the whole public errs in fulfilling the commandment of making haroset, because the haroset should include etrog and not apple. (Then we would not say “like an etrog after Sukkot” but “like an etrog after Passover.”)
Since we are dealing with apples and etrogs, let us say a few words about the etrog. Chazal identified it as the fruit spoken of in the Torah (Leviticus 23:40), “You shall take for yourself on the first day the fruit of a goodly tree.” In Sukkah 35a they say: “Our rabbis taught: ‘the fruit of a goodly tree’ — a tree whose wood and fruit are equally good, that is, the etrog.” The word hadar (goodly) is an adjective describing the fruit and not the fruit’s name itself. The name of this fruit tree is not written in the Torah at all, but Chazal revealed to us that it is the etrog, based on tradition. Thus wrote Ibn Ezra on Leviticus 23:40: “They also wrote that the fruit of a goodly tree is the etrog, and in truth, there is no tree more goodly than it.” Maimonides wrote in the introduction to his commentary on the Mishnah: “But we have seen without a doubt, from Joshua’s time until now, that the etrog is taken each year with the lulav, and there is no controversy about this.” But Nachmanides supposed that hadar is indeed the tree’s name. On Leviticus 23:40 he wrote: “And it seems correct to me that the tree which is called in Aramaic ethrog is called in the Holy Tongue hadar, for the meaning of ethrog is ‘beautiful’, as they translate ‘beautiful to see’ (Genesis 2:9) as margag l’michizi and ‘do not covet’ (lo tachmod, Deuteronomy 5:17) aslo tarog.” (Targum Onkeles gives lo tarog for the words lo titave, while lo tachmod it translates as lo tachmid.)
Here Nachmanides claims, based on his own understanding and consideration, that ethrog is the Aramaic name of the fruit whose Hebrew name is hadar.
Now come, student who seeks knowledge, and see the differences between Biblical commentators and Biblical researchers. In the Encyclopedia Hebraica, entry etrog it is written: “The birthplace of the etrog is India or Southern Arabia. From India it reached Persia (Media)…It is possible that the Jews knew the bush from the Babylonian exile and brought it from there to the Land of Israel…It is not clear whether ‘the fruit of a goodly tree,’ mentioned in the Torah (Leviticus 23:40) and which the Halachic midrash (Sukkah 35a) identifies with the etrog, was originally intended to be that fruit. The name ethrog was developed from the ancient Indian name metlungah, which in Persian becamethrunj and in Arabic uthrunj.” Proof that the word ethrog came from the Arabic is in Tractate Kiddushin 70a: “He said: Would Sir eat an ethronga? He replied: Samuel said, whoever says ethronga has something of a coarse spirit. He should say ethrog, as the Sages do, or ethroga as the common people do.”
Nachmanides, who was not mainly concerned with historical-botanic research nor with linguistics, took the word ethrog, whose root is Indian, and attached it to the Aramaic word margag whose meaning, he stated, is the same as hadarin the Holy Tongue. This hasn’t a leg to stand on. If we follow Nachmanides’s method, two letters out of a whole word are enough to determine its meaning. The letters reish and gimel are found in ethrog as well as in margag, and he decided that they are actually the same word with the same meaning (beautiful, goodly). With this method the word thargima would also mean ethrog! (This word appears in Pesachim 107b, “b’minei thargima” — kinds of fruits or sweets, as Rashi explains, “minei thargima — fruits.”) Look — the letters reish and gimelappear here, too, and here too we speak of fruit.
But thargima is from the Greek and means dessert [M. Jastrow, A Dictionary of the Targumim, the Talmud Bavli and Yerushalmi, and the Midrashic Literature, New York 1950, v. II, p. 1695]. Would Nachmanides say here, too, thatthargima is the same as hadar? (Perhaps he would say that kinuach, dessert, means “beautiful” — and note ki noach hu l’aynayim, “it is beautiful to the eye.”) There is no end to the nonsense.
We would ask Nachmanides: If there really was, in Biblical times, a tree namedhadar, why is there no “hadar tree” mentioned even once in the Pentateuch, nor in the Writings or Prophets (save the commandment in Leviticus 23:40)? This tree is important for a commandment and is also a special, beautiful tree. In general, even according to the opinion of Chazal which identifies the fruit of the goodly tree as the etrog, it is a strange thing that the etrog tree is also never mentioned in the Holy Writ. Many trees which grow in the area of the Land of Israel are mentioned in the Scripture. Fruit trees like the olive, the fig, the pomegranate, the sycamore, and others, and barren trees like the cedar and the tamarisk, through to the cypress are all mentioned. How is it possible that a special tree, as important for the fulfillment of a commandment as the etrog, is not mentioned even once?
This is proof that the etrog was not known in the Land of Israel at all in the First Temple period (when most of the Scriptures were written), but only later was it brought from Babylon (where it arrived from India) at the end of the exile. Therefore, when the Scriptures say “the fruit of a goodly tree” it does not mean the etrog, but another fruit, and he who understands, understands….
We will conclude with an example which clearly shows how our rabbis identify the trees mentioned in the Torah any way they wish. The Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin 70b: “R’ Meir said: the tree from which Adam ate [the tree of knowledge, Genesis 2:17] was a grapevine, for there is nothing that brings [as much sorrow and] wailing upon a person as does wine. R’ Judah says: it was a stalk of wheat, for an infant does not know even how to say ‘father’ or ‘mother’ until it has tasted grain. R’ Nehemiah says: it was a fig tree, for through the very thing which they disgraced themselves they were rectified.”
Do not say that this is mere Aggadah (as we have already stated on the portion of Vayeshev, one should not rely upon Aggadah) — for the Kesef Mishneh (R’ Joseph Karo’s commentary on Maimonides’s Mishneh Torah) made a Halachic ruling based on this saying (though his ruling was not accepted by later Halachic arbiters). In the Laws of Blessings, chapter 4, halacha 6: “It is possible that even one who blessed ‘who creates the fruit of the trees’ [on bread] has fulfilled the obligation [of blessing], for it is said that the tree from which Adam ate was wheat.”
Right before your eyes wheat becomes a tree! If it is written in the Torah “the tree of knowledge” and R’ Judah identifies that as wheat, then wheat is a tree and one may say the blessing for fruit over it. (Take a look: If there is no meaning to the word “tree” and wheat is a tree, then so is a cucumber!)
Thus is written in Sefer Abudarham, The Laws of Passover Prayers, s.v.vha’taam shetzivah: “Some question why it is said (Rosh Hashanah 16a) ‘Bring before Me the two showbreads on the festival so that you will be blessed with fruits of the tree,’ for all the other sacrifices are of the species to be blessed, but the two showbreads are not from a tree [for wheat is not a tree]. This may be explained by what is written [Berachot 40a], that wheat is a kind of tree. It is also written there that the tree of which Adam ate was wheat.”
Again: wheat becomes a tree and therefore, through the merit of the offering of two showbreads the fruit of our trees will be blessed.
And you, student, read our words well and you will see that all who sever the words from their meaning can do anything they like, but nothing of it will help. For in this manner, with no mutual and accepted linguistic base, there can be no discussion or debate between people. One man’s cedar tree is another’s myrtle bush and even “tree” is a tree to one and a sort of grain to the other. We have already, several times, brought the words of Ibn Ezra (on Daniel 1:1)”How is it possible in a human language that a man should speak one word and mean another? One who supposes so would be considered a madman…It is better to say ‘I don’t know’ than to distort the words of the living G-d.”
See further, you who seeks knowledge, that our rabbis’ identification of trees mentioned in the Scriptures was not done through research, investigation, examination, and looking at reality, or by an organized listing and comparison of the different and similar species, but it is all based on what seemed right to them at the moment they uttered their sayings. Little wonder, then, that sometimes their explanations seem plucked from thin air and unacceptable to the reason. (What is a cypress? A myrtle!)
This given, how can we rely upon our rabbis, that the plaited tree is the myrtle and the goodly tree is the etrog? We can do nothing but say that it is the very essence of the Halacha that the believers of a certain generation are obligated by all the rulings accepted by the sages of that generation, even if it is clear as the sun at noon that the sages erred. All, who live in the shadow of the Halacha, follow the words of the arbiters without any connection to whether they are right or realistic. This is the way of the believer, and he will follow his religious leaders even if they tell him the myrtle bush is a cypress tree and that the Lebanese cypress is a myrtle.
Words of True Knowledge