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Festivals 2013 – Etrog Boxes stamps from Israel

Festivals 2013 – Etrog Boxes stamps from Israel
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During the Sukkot festival in Israel prayers worshippers bless the "four species", as instructed in the Book of Leviticus 23:40: "On the first day you shall take the product of citron trees, branches of palm trees, boughs of leafy trees and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God seven days". According to tradition, the unification of the four species – lulav (palm frond), hadas (myrtle), arava (willow) and etrog (citron) – in the worshipper's hands symbolizes the unification of the various groups within the Jewish people.

The lulav is the largest and most prominent of the four species, thus the blessing over all four species is called "to bear the lulav". But it is the etrog, an extremely delicate citrus fruit, which garners the most attention. In order to perform the mitzvah properly the etrog must be selected very carefully, making sure that it is perfectly shaped and examining it well to ensure it has no blemishes or defects, as this would disqualify it for the purposes of fulfilling the mitzvah.

In order to protect the etrog throughout the days of the festival and especially to glorify and exalt the mitzvah, as it is written: "This is my God and I will glorify Him" (Exodus 15:2), it is customary to keep it in a special container which usually has a soft lining to provide even more protection. A plethora of different containers, bowls and boxes is used to protect etrogs. They are made from a wide and varying range of materials, from simple to precious metals, as well as various types of wood, fabric, glass, beads and more. Like other Judaica objects, such as Hanukkah lamps and spice boxes, they are rich and very diverse as far as manufacturing techniques and design.

The three examples selected for the stamp series represent a small fraction of the diversity, wealth of shapes and imagination that have gone into designing and decorating etrog boxes.

Etrog Box, Bezalel Jerusalem, 20th c.: this box was made at the Bezalel School of Arts & Crafts which operated in Jerusalem from 1906-1929. Silver, repoussé, etched, filigree work and semi-precious stones. Dimensions (cms): 12.5H x 9W x 13L. The side panels of the box feature verses from the Torah relating to the festival mitzvah and to the return to Zion. The front panel is ornamented with the figure of a Jewish man plowing his fields, as a symbol of the Zionist concept of bringing the Jewish people back to its country and land. Stored in the Alan and Riva Slifka Collection of the Israel Museum, Jerusalem.

Etrog Box, Austria, 19th c.: Silver, repoussé and punched. Dimensions (cms). 10H x 11W x 20L. The box itself is shaped like an etrog fruit. The top portion of this silver box is a hinged cover which in turn is adorned with an additional small etrog. Stored in the Israel Museum, Jerusalem.

Etrog Box, Iraq, 19th c.: Silver, repoussé and engraved. Dimensions (cms): 10.5H x 7.5W x 11L. The box itself is shaped like a bird, protecting the fruit as if hatching its chicks. The wings and upper portion of the body form the cover. The matching tray is adorned with an image of a small fish. Stored in the Israel Museum, Jerusalem.

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