The Legacy of the Etrog, from Sukkot to Havdalah

6 min read

The Etrog, also known as the Citron fruit, is one of the four species used during the Jewish festival of Sukkot. Recognized for its fragrant aroma and unique appearance, the Etrog symbolizes the heart and embodies both knowledge and observance of the commandments. But once the week-long festival concludes, how can one continue to honor and derive benefit from this sacred fruit? The answer lies in various deeply-rooted Jewish customs and traditions.

The Etrog’s Post-Sukkot Journey

1. Etrog Jam
A time-honored Sephardic tradition is transforming the etrog into a delightful jam. This sweet concoction, often enjoyed on bread or pastries, allows one to experience the etrog in a new form. In Kabbalistic thought, as expounded upon by Rabbi Isaac Luria and Rabbi Moshe Cordovero, there’s an understanding that our actions with physical entities can elevate spiritual sparks. Therefore, enjoying an etrog jam can be seen as an extension of this divine connection.

2. Etrog Besamin
For many, the Etrog finds its post-Sukkot purpose in the Havdalah ceremony, marking the end of the Shabbat. The dried Etrog, combined with other aromatic spices, is used as besamim, evoking the sanctity of Shabbat and infusing the forthcoming week with its holiness. This practice underlines the concept of intertwining our actions in service to HaShem and serves as a weekly reminder of the spiritual delights of Shabbat.

The Deeper Significance

These customs, whether making jam or using the Etrog as besamim, highlight the continuous cycle of sanctity in Jewish life. Just as the Etrog is a central element of Sukkot, its post-festival uses serve as potent reminders of the interconnectedness of Jewish rituals and the omnipresence of HaShem.

It’s through these traditions that the Etrog’s significance is amplified, moving beyond Sukkot and permeating various facets of Jewish observance. As one delves deeper into the ocean of rabbinic Jewish literature, from the Talmud to the Zohar, it becomes clear that every ritual, every custom, and every mitzvah is an avenue to forge a closer bond with the Divine.

By embracing these practices, we not only honor the Etrog but also affirm our commitment to a life anchored in Torah, mitzvot, and the constant pursuit of spiritual elevation.

Traditional Sephardic Etrog Jam Recipe

Required Ingredients

1. One Etrog
An Etrog is also known as a Citron fruit. They are grown in Israel and can be purchased online and imported.

2. Raw Sugar
Use approximately an equal amount as the weight of the prepared Etrog.

3. Spring Water
It’s preferable to use spring water, but any filtered or bottled water is fine.

Step by Step Instructions

1. Cleaning the Etrog
Begin by washing the Etrog thoroughly. If you’ve used a non-organic Etrog, it may have been coated with pesticides or wax. Soak it in warm water with a few drops of dish soap for about 10 minutes, then scrub gently with a brush and rinse.

2. Preparation
Slice the Etrog thinly and remove the seeds. The entire Etrog, including the white pith, is used as it contains pectin which will help the jam set.

3. Boiling
Place the sliced Etrog in a pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil and then simmer for about 20 minutes.

4. Draining
After simmering, drain the water from the Etrog slices.

5. Adding Sugar
Weigh your boiled Etrog slices. Add an equal amount of sugar to the pot. If you don’t have a scale, a general guideline is to add the sugar until it just covers the Etrog slices.

6. Simmering
Stir the mixture on a low flame until the sugar is fully dissolved. Then, bring the mixture to a boil. Lower the heat and let it simmer for about an hour, stirring occasionally.

7. Testing the Jam
To test if the jam is ready, place a spoonful on a cold plate. If it gels and wrinkles slightly when you push it with your finger, it’s done. If not, continue simmering and test again after a few minutes.

8. Storage
Once done, let the jam cool slightly. Then transfer it to sterilized jars. Seal the jars when the jam is completely cool.

This jam has a unique, citrusy flavor and can be enjoyed on bread, pastries, or as a filling for various desserts. Remember, the Etrog is a mitzvah fruit, and this jam allows us to continue to benefit from it, echoing the Kabbalistic principle of elevating the sparks of holiness in the physical world.

Making Etrog Besamim (Spices) for Havdalah

Step by Step Instructions

1. Drying the Etrog
– Clean the Etrog thoroughly as previously mentioned.
– Slice the Etrog thinly or cut it into small pieces.
– Lay the slices or pieces on a tray or wire rack.
– Allow the Etrog to dry in a warm, airy location for several days. It should not be exposed to direct sunlight.

2. Aromatic Boost
– While the Etrog itself has a pleasant aroma, you can enhance it by adding other spices such as cloves, cinnamon sticks, or star anise. Embed cloves into the drying Etrog slices, or later mix the dried Etrog pieces with other aromatic spices in a sachet or container.

3. Storing
– Once the Etrog has dried completely, transfer it to a breathable bag or container. This can be a cloth sachet, a perforated box, or a small jar with holes in the lid.

4. Using in Havdalah
– When reciting the blessing for the besamim during the Havdalah ceremony, use the dried Etrog as you would any other aromatic spice. Inhale its fragrance deeply, reflecting on the joy and sanctity of the Shabbat that has passed, and drawing its holiness into the coming week.

By transforming the Etrog into besamim, you are extending the mitzvah’s influence from Sukkot into the weekly ritual of Havdalah, encapsulating the concept that all our actions can be connected in service to HaShem. The fragrance serves as a reminder of the spiritual delights of Shabbat, as discussed in various rabbinic texts like the Talmud (Bavli, Berachot 43b) and the writings of luminaries such as Rabbi Isaac Luria and Rabbi Moshe Cordovero in their elucidations of the deeper aspects of Jewish rituals.


In the tapestry of Jewish observance, seemingly simple acts take on profound significance. The Etrog’s journey from Sukkot to the Havdalah table is emblematic of the eternal cycle of sanctity in Jewish life, reinforcing the belief that every action can be an avenue to connect with the Divine. Through understanding and embracing the deeper layers of our customs, we can elevate our daily lives, ensuring that the echoes of our festivals and rituals resonate beyond their appointed times, drawing us ever closer to HaShem and the timeless wisdom of the Torah. May every Jew find inspiration in these practices and continually seek ways to intertwine the mundane with the sacred, revealing the unity of HaShem’s world.

May all our readers be inspired to find deeper meaning in their observances, and in doing so, draw nearer to HaShem.

Sources: Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 664:11; Traditional Sephardic recipes; Teachings of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai in the Zohar; Bavli, Berachot 43b; Writings of Rabbi Isaac Luria and Rabbi Moshe Cordovero.

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