Wednesday, July 20, 2022

Techelet: The Strongest Proof

What is the identity of the chilazon, the creature from which techelet is produced? It's widely acknowledged that it is a snail by the name of Hexaplex trunculus (formerly known as Murex trunculus), pictured here at the Biblical Museum of Natural History. Only a small number of people dispute this - usually due to religio-sociological considerations. Still, it recently occurred to me that the very strongest argument for the trunculus is actually often overlooked.

In Tanach and the Gemara, we find various clues about the identity of the chilazon. First, we learn that it was famously produced outside of the Land of Israel, in the "Islands of Elisha" (Yechezekel 27:7), which are identified as Italy or Cyprus.

Then, we have a list in the Gemara (Menachot 44a) of several aspects of the chilazon. There is debate about how well these clues match the trunculus - arguments can be made in both directions. The Gemara presents the following descriptions:

  • Its body "resembles" the sea. This can be easily argued to match the trunculus, which grows algae over its shell and is virtually indistinguishable from the ocean bed where it resides.
  • Its "formation" (briyato) is "similar" to that of a fish. This can be easily argued to match the trunculus, whose development is only similar to a fish, in that it is an aquatic living creature that reproduces via laying eggs, but is not actually a fish.
  • The techelet dye is obtained from its "blood." This can be easily argued to match the trunculus, since the Hebrew word dam can easily refer to the fluid contained in the gland of the trunculus.
  • It emerges from the sea only once every seventy years. This can easily be understood to be a figure of speech, meaning that it rarely emerges. Additionally, it may mean that it only comes close to shore rarely, and is usually in deeper waters. All this matches the trunculus perfectly.
  • Due to the previous factors, it is very expensive. Trunculus dye was indeed extremely expensive, due to the tiny amount of dye produced by each snail and the difficulty of obtaining them.

Then, elsewhere in the Talmud, we find further clues about the meaning of the word chilazon. It turns out that there are other types of chilazon which do not live in the sea (and are not a source of techelet) - the Talmud says that another type of chilazon is found in the hills, and emerges in great quantities after rainfall (Sanhedrin 91a). Of course, this matches snails perfectly. 

Particularly interestingly, we are told that a regular chilazon is not subject to the laws of trapping creatures on Shabbat (Talmud Yerushalmi cited by Tosafot to Shabbat 75a). Why would it have such an exception? The answer is that there is no prohibition of trapping a creature when it does not require any effort or skill. Such is the case with snails. 

At the same time, although a terrestrial snail requires no effort or skill to catch, the Talmud says that the techelet-producing chilazon was caught with a net (Shabbat 74b). This is perfectly consistent with the trunculus - due to it generally inhabiting deeper waters, and its camouflage, the way they were caught was by baiting nets.

Finally, we are told that techelet made from the plant-based indigo is indistinguishable from that made from the chilazon (Bava Metzia 61b). Indeed, the dye produced from the trunculus is chemically identical to indigo and thus impossible to tell apart.

Now, as discussed, all these clues match the Hexaplex trunculus. Some match it very obviously so, whereas with others, it involves arguments that to my mind are straightforward but which some others dispute. But could it be claimed that perhaps there is some other, unknown creature which matches the clues even better and is the real chilazon

Of course, such arguments strain credulity. Similar to the arguments against those who claim that the arnevet and shafan are unknown species of animal, it's just not reasonable to reject known creatures that match the clues pretty well in favor of unknown and zoologically unlikely creatures for which, if they did exist, there would surely be some kind of evidence.

But there's an even stronger argument.

The most important, basic halacha of techelet is that it is only kosher if it is made from the chilazon; if it is made from something else, it is invalid (Tosefta, Menachot 9:6). Although - and precisely because - indigo is identical to techelet, Chazal stressed that one does not fulfill the mitzvah by wearing indigo (Bava Metzia 61b).  

Now, it is an indisputable fact that in the Biblical and Talmudic periods, there was a famous trade of producing an expensive dye, chemically identical to indigo, and with colors ranging from purple to blue, from the Hexaplex trunculus. There is endless evidence for this, and nobody at all disputes it. 

And so the ultimate argument for techelet being the trunculus is as follows: Chazal clearly wanted to make sure that people were using real techelet and not indistinguishable indigo. Given that, and given that every culture was using dye from the trunculus which looked the same as indigo, how on earth would Chazal have spoken about it being a marine creature and not warned against using the trunculus?!

This is why there is not the slightest doubt that the Hexaplex trunculus is the correct source of tekhelet. (As to whether one should wear it today, that's a different matter.) If you'd like to see a live Hexaplex trunculus in the flesh (and in the shell), we have just opened a new tekhelet exhibit at the Biblical Museum of Natural History, featuring an aquarium with several live Hexaplex trunculus! Book your tour online at our website. We are also running a special workshop for producing tekhelet on Thursday August 4. You can sign up at https://forms.gle/wc9reNmefED1UEhz7 

If you'd like to subscribe to this blog via email, use the form on the right of the page, or send me an email and I will add you. 

105 comments:

  1. "But could it be claimed that perhaps there is some other, unknown creature which matches the clues even better and is the real chilazon? ... it's just not reasonable to reject known creatures that match the clues pretty well in favor of unknown and zoologically unlikely creatures for which, if they did exist, there would surely be some kind of evidence."

    Is it not possible that there was such a species but human activities drove it extinct? That has happened to many other species before... (though perhaps less often with water species)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Are you asking whether it's theoretically possible or whether it's plausible? (I'm guessing you learned in yeshivah, right?)

      Delete
    2. @shlomo, you can always conjure up some ad-hoc scenario that can be a game changer, that doesn't mean we should take it seriously. Possibility ≠ Probability.

      Delete
    3. Whether it's plausible.

      Delete
    4. No, it's not plausible. Among other reasons, while soft tissue disappears, shells don't.

      Delete
    5. Very good essay, thank you, sir

      Delete
    6. Regarding the "real" creature's disappearance, see my comment below. Given that we used the same sea creature that the "malchus" did and that their textile dye techniques are well-documented and that no mention is made there of any sea animal other than murex, the "disappearance" would have had to have been not only from the Sea, but scrubbed from from Mediterranean Ancient History's written record as well.

      Delete
    7. (I'm guessing you learned in yeshivah, right?)

      I find this completely distasteful.

      Delete
    8. Actually shells, although more durable as fossils than soft part anatomy, can also disappear due to pressure or acidic chemical conditions. Also depending on species the rate of extinction for marine animals was as high as terrestrial species.

      Delete
  2. I like this proof. I just have one question - if indigo is CHEMICALLY identical to the techelet, IINM doesn't the gemara give test to distinguish between indigo and techelet?

    ReplyDelete
  3. What puzzles me is that it produces purple (argaman) and blue when exposed to sunlight - yet we do not find any sources discussing the meaning of purple vs. blue, as in dark vs. light, e.g. which Mishkan vessels were covered in blue/purple.

    I'd expect the Medrash to be full of purple vs. blue ideas.

    This omission is somewhat suspicious.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Purple and blue are the exact same color in every ancient language. (See Through the Language Glass by Guy Deutscher for an indepth explanation as to why).

      Thus the omission is as surprising as a lack of discussion of what shade of blue you need, because in the ancient world, blue was just another shade of purple.

      Incidentally, Argaman is now accepted to be crimson by almost all modern scholars.

      Delete
    2. To be more precise, there are *no* words for either color in ancient languages. All languages develop words for color in the same order: First black and white (or dark and light), then red, then yellow or green, then the *other* of yellow or green, and finally- very late- blue and then purple. ("Tekhelet" is not a color; it is wool dyed with a certain dye that *is* a certain color.) The best Homer can describe the color of the sea is "wine-dark." Chaucer describes foxes as "red-brown," not orange. The color orange comes from the fruit, not the other way around.

      So tekehelet and argaman are on a spectrum of blueish-purpleish-reddish.

      Delete
    3. Not disputing as I don’t know. But it seems odd. Like if I was living thousands of years ago I wouldn’t have ever needed to describe the color of the sky? Or what color an orange is?

      Frank

      Delete
    4. Detail on the language development - yellow and green are flips of each other? I remember reading somewhere that some language (possibly Russian?) didn't (at some point?) have any distinction between green and BLUE in terms of names, and therefore the people who spoke that language had some difficulty distinguishing the colors. Did your source discuss this phenomenon? (Not actually arguing as I don't have the source, just asking if that is an anomaly or later development. In any case, it's fascinating that having a word for something creates or at least hones the ability to sense something - at least according to this report - so I'd be curious to see how well known this issue was.)

      Delete
    5. Yosef, Guy Deutchers book was literally written to explain that study.

      Delete
    6. You could say, "the color of the sky," as Chazal did. Or you would make do: "That fox is a sort of very light brown." There are thousands of colors which don't have names in every language, or at least not names in common use. In modern Hebrew, "blue" is "kachol," but light blue is *never* kachol but "tekhelet."

      That leads to the question of how our color perception is shaped by language- do we not see colors we don't have words for, or see colors we do. Russian has many words for blue, and apparently Russian-speakers actually *see* more shades of blue than others, even though of course their eyes and brains are exactly the same.

      Yosef: Maybe they got yellow and then green and blue at the same time. Rashi after all calls tekhelet "yarok" and the Rambam calls it "black." It is neither, of course. They, too, were doing the best they can. (Fun fact: The word "kachol" never occurs in Tanach.)

      Delete
    7. We're actually less certain about Argaman than Techeiles. Argaman according to academics is reddish-purple. Not saying it is but there seems to be an etymological similarity between Argaman and "rouge" in French (keep in mind Arabic entered western Europe in the middle ages with the Golden Age of Spain), and Argaman and "orange" also sound similar, so there's that.

      Delete
    8. Yosef: re: Rashi's Yarok, please see my post here: https://www.mywesternwall.net/2021/12/03/holy-goluboy-the-blue-color-techeilet-and-cultural-references.html

      Delete
    9. rhecht, I'm afraid "rouge" comes from the same Indo-European root as "red" and "ruby." Nothing to do with Semitic. "Orange" comes from the Sanskrit (also Indo-European) word for the tree of the fruit, in that case entering Europe via Arabic but still having nothing to do with Semitic etymologically. The word only came to indicate a color in English.

      Delete
  4. "As to whether one should wear it today, that's a different matter."

    I respectfully disagree. The torah says to wear techeiles. If we have techeiles (and as you point out, we clearly do), then there is an obligation to wear it. A straightforward reading of the gemara in menachos that allows wearing only white is that it is only permissible when techeiles is not available. Well, it's available!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, but... What about the huge expense? It is often noted that "Rav So-and-so and Rav So-and-so haven't started wearing it, so it must not be real, etc" Is it possible that some prominent rabbinic authorities may recognize it as the real thing, but haven't adopted it because if they do it would effectively create a very costly new obligation on their followers?

      Delete
    2. What huge expense? It's a tenth of the price of a good pear of tefillin. And unlike tefillin, you likely wear tzitzis all day every day!

      Delete
    3. It is certainly possible and your observation has been posited before. I guess my counterpoint would be that wearing techeiles is not a "new" obligation. It is a current and ongoing one.

      Maybe a high cost (I don't necessarily concede that either, $25-$50 is more than regular tzitzis, but you only have to buy them once and re-tie on new begaddim) equates to "not having it available" and a person would not be obligated to wear it. Ok. But, don't pretend like it's not really techeiles.

      Delete
    4. would one who is machmir not to use chalav hacompanies be well advised to use chalav hacompanies and use the savings to buy tcheilet?
      She-nir’eh et nehamat Yerushalayim u-binyanah bi-mherah ve-yamenu

      Delete
    5. "As to whether one should wear it today, that's a different matter."

      I suspect that Rav Slifkin was trying to say that the discussion here is about the source of the dye, and not the parallel discussion of halachic obligation to wear it- which is a different topic.

      Delete
    6. Expense? Charedi men all wear black hats which cost much more than a set of tekhelet. (Chassidim wear clothing that costs *much, much* more.) There is no halacha to wear a black hat; there is a mitzvah to wear tekhelet. That should end that question.

      Delete
    7. For the record, the reason my tzitzit "die" is usually because the strings wear out, so I don't think retying is a way of saving money.

      Also I think my last purchase of techelet tzitzit was more than $25-$50 per pair, but yes, this is insignificant compared other costs that most people make without a second thought.

      Delete
    8. Natan Slifkin's reasoning is that, locusts has a direct Mesorah from a group of frum Jews whereas Techeiles doesn't. On the flip side, there's a downside to eating the wrong insects (which the Orach Chaim was critical about, writing that the Mesorah is a mistaken one) whereas there's no downside to wearing colored strings. On the flip flip side, R' Hershel Schachter has been videoed eating one of those bugs, also exhibiting the "5 second rule." So each to their own.

      Delete
    9. As to tkheilet being available, there is a limit to the quantity that is available. That limit is not enough for every person who wears tzitzit.

      Delete
    10. Sar Shalom, if enough people wanted it, it could be farmed or even milked alive.

      Delete
  5. Can you please provide sources for the "indisputable fact" that hexaplex trunculus was commonly used as a dye in Talmudic times?
    Not saying it's not true, I'm genuinely curious.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I am not sure about Talmudic times specifically, but archaeologists have found trunculus shells in lots of ancient human settlements in Israel (for example: https://www.israel365news.com/83660/ancient-snail-shells-used-making-sacred-dye-found-temple-mount-dig/) and it's hard to imagine them using the species for anything other than dye.

      Delete
    2. Clearly, this is the key "given" necessary to support the very compelling argument that "given that every culture was using dye from the trunculus which looked the same as indigo, how on earth would Chazal have spoken about it being a marine creature and not warned against using the trunculus?!"

      I agree with Chaim, some supporting sources on this point would be helpful.

      Delete
    3. https://thelibrary.tekhelet.com/uploads/Chemical-analysis-of-Murex-dyed-textiles-fro_2015_Journal-of-Archaeological-.pdf
      This article details a fabric found in the Cave of Letters dating to the period of Bar Kochba (Rabbi Akiva). It was dyed with blue that incontrovertibly came from a Murex trunculus snail, thus proving a) that the ancients used the dye, b) that this technology was available in Eretz Yisrael, and c) that the ancients knew how to obtain blue from the snails (not only purple). This is not the only evidence...

      Delete
  6. "Its "formation" (briyato) is "similar" to that of a fish. This can be easily argued to match the trunculus, whose development is only similar to a fish, in that it is an aquatic living creature that reproduces via laying eggs, but is not actually a fish."

    I think this explanation is really weak, but it so happens that I saw a much stronger one. Wikipedia on Hexaplex trunculus says "the shell is formed similar to the shape of a fish" and you can see that in the following picture:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hexaplex_trunculus#/media/File:Mu%C5%A1le_(2).jpg

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It says it's like a דג. In biblical and talmudic hebrew/aramaic, a דג is a sea creature. So all the gemara is saying is that the chilazon resembles other sea creatures which it certainly does. Don't have to get any fancier then that.

      Delete
    2. It would be pointless to say that a sea creature resembles a sea creature.

      I think stam "dag" is a fish or similar-shaped creature (like a whale). The Torah, when it prohibits the lobsters and octopus and stuff, does not call them "dag" but rather "sheretz hamayim".

      Delete
  7. On page 11 of the Ptil Tekhelet pamphlet "Topics in Perek HaTecheiles" located at www.tekhelet.com/pdf/PerekHatecheiles-2018.pdf there is a Wavelength / Absorption graph which very interestingly shows that the techeiles dye obtained from the trunculus has an absorption peak at 613nm. Gives new meaning to:
    וּרְאִיתֶ֣ם אֹת֗וֹ וּזְכַרְתֶּם֙ אֶת־כָּל־מִצְוֹ֣ת

    Very cool. But also very upsetting to Americans who measure in inches & feet instead of (nano)meters. At least the Brits still drink pints. Cheers!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I had a look at the paper they reference. The 613 thing is cute, but ultimately narishkeit. Here's why:

      1. The absorption at 613 nm is for only one of three distinct substances they isolated from the M. trunculus dye. The other two substances have other absorption maxima.

      2. The absorption at 613 nm is also measured in a mixture of water, methyl alcohol, and phosphoric acid -- not exactly what one looks at on their tzitzit. When bound to wool, it would absorb differently.

      3. Perhaps most obviously, the length of a metre (and thus of a nanometre) is not a fundamental property of the universe, but rather something that was invented in Revolutionary France in the late 1700s and since refined. I could express the absorption maximum in wavenumbers or electron-volts (also used by scientists) and it wouldn't be 613 anymore.

      It's like saying "his lulav was exactly 61.3 inches long, it's a siman bracha" -- it's only a siman bracha if you also think that the length of a standard inch is a siman bracha.

      Delete
    2. They themselves say it's just a cute point, nothing more.

      Delete
    3. even Americans use nanometers when discussing EM wavelengths. I cannot say that I've ever heard of microinches or any other "natural" measurement (the way an inch is the length of a thumb segment, a foot is a foot, and a yard is an armlength) - could you imagine? "The size is 37 micro-ant thoraxes long, and if we convert to hairwidths, we get the universal constant of 0.00086!"

      Delete
    4. Anonymous / Yosef R / Nachum

      as you all seem to have picked on, I too was looking at it as a "cute" fact. hence my reference to drinking pints.

      Anonymous specifically -
      1. point well taken about additional substances. however, I didn't get to read the article, so I'll just have to take your word for it. all I was able to locate as a free download was the first page of the 4 page article. there was another link, but I was getting some sort of weird unsafe download error message. That being said, I would imagine that the relative concentrations of each of the 3 compounds in the natural Trunculus extract would affect the color and related peak the viewer is mainly seeing.

      2. I don't think the diluents water, methanol, and phosphoric acid would affect the absorptivity in the visual range. firstly, in the HPLC, they would likely be separated in the column, secondly, even if they stayed together, they would just provide additional peaks for those substances (most likely in the non-visible range (UV/IR)) not move the peak from the compund itself.

      3. of course this point that both you and Yosef R (seemingly from the opposite view, possibly as I'm about to say explicitly) noted was precisely why I mentioned inches/feet - I fully agree that there is nothing intrinsically fundamental about the metric system in the universe (at least so far as I have ascertained to date.) However, I will reference a Daf Yomi from earlier this week just to leave the possiblity open (Kesuvos 10b)
      אַלְמָנָה דִּכְתִיבָא בְּאוֹרָיְיתָא, מַאי אִיכָּא לְמֵימַר? דַּעֲתִידִין רַבָּנַן דִּמְתַקְּנִי לַהּ מָנֶה
      Am I to say that the Borei Olam did not know in advance that scientists (even American ones as Yosef R pointed out) would utilize nanometers as a standard unit of measurement of color? that's for someone greater than me to pontificate upon.

      Delete
    5. I came across something similar about Meron. The number associated with it is of course- 33. And indeed that is its latitude. Or according to google, 32.9852° N. But degrees latitude are only a human convention easily divided by 2, 3, 4, 5, .... (See Rambam Kidush Hachodesh 6:2 that the hour is divided into 1080 [= 2·2·2·3·3·3·5] because of the many ways that number can be divided.) (Even till today, time notation doesn't work in decimal but in 12s 24s and 60s.) Hence the number has no significance unless, as Jeffrey noted, דעתידין דמתקני. OTOH that might be limited to רבנן.

      So much for the metric system. For the imperial/traditional system, its measures are based on nature as are Halachic measures, etzba, tefach, [parallels of inch, hand] etc. This would surely have significance according to the mystics. Then we could be דורש ומקבל שכר.

      Delete
    6. yes, that's just as "cute". Thank you!

      In light of the Season - Parshat Maasei being just days away - I thought I'd mention something that I've found humorous for a long time: the coincidence between the number of encampments / journeys in the midbar and what Douglas Adams posits to be the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything. Both being 42.

      Delete
    7. The 42 encampments reflect something much deeper, the 42 letter Divine Name. See Malbim for a fascinating discussion of that. And lehavdil DA likes the number 42 too.

      Delete
    8. @Jeffrey --

      We are getting into the weeds here, but:

      Re point 1 -- yes, there are three substances present, each with its own lambda-max, only one substance has the 613 nm maximum. The others have different maxima. The observer of the "native" dye would see the weighted sum of all three absorbances.

      Re point 2 -- the methanol / water / phosphoric acid mixture is the mobile phase for the HPLC separation. It follows a gradient, as is typical for HPLC. The indigo is dissolved in this mixture as it moves through the HPLC column. Indigo has internal hydrogen bonding, so the lambda-max would be sensitive to the ratio of water / methanol and acid. This is independent of the absorption of that mobile phase, which is cancelled out in the measurement (through blanking) Adsorbed as a solid, especially in pigment form (clusters) the colour would shift.

      Joe Q. (Anonymous of July 21, 2022 at 12:52 AM)

      Delete
    9. Joe Q.
      Regarding the three compounds; I finally was able to open the article - only my cell, not my laptop (must be some security feature). Anyway the
      Thing that really jumped off the screen at me was that the 3 compounds didn’t just have any uv max, they were at 613 (as we already know) and also at 606 and 600.

      We know the significance of 613.
      However 600 is known to discussions of tzitzit (the gematria).
      And 606 is known to discussions of Mitzvot (the number beyond the 7 noachide commandments that are unique to Jews)

      I understand how changing the solvent will likely cause these numbers to shift, but I find it fascinating that the scientists who published article on this just happened to stumble upon this particular magical solvent that shows all compounds at these precise measurements. And then they published that finding.

      Delete
    10. That above comment was by Jeffrey (phone giving me difficulty putting my name in as commenter)

      Delete
  8. "Its "formation" (briyato) is "similar" to that of a fish." This is not like Rashi's explanation of the gemarra.

    "the Talmud says that another type of chilazon is found in the hills" I believe the consensus is that gemarra is referring to the chilazon of techeiles. I believe only the Yad Rama disagrees.

    "Still, it recently occurred to me that the very strongest argument for the trunculus is actually often overlooked." Strange statement to make when your proof is one of the main proofs suggested by pro techeiles people.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. @RefoelZeev:

      " 'Its 'formation' (briyato) is 'similar' to that of a fish.' This is not like Rashi's explanation of the gemarra" Which Rashi are you referring to?

      "pro techeiles people" Who are the anti-techeiles people?

      Delete
    2. 1) The Rashi on that line of the gemarra? What's unclear
      2) I think you know I meant the pro modern day Murex techeiles people :-)

      Delete
    3. 1) I am looking at the Daf right now and don't see any comment by Rashi on that word. am I missing something? that's why I was asking; maybe my version is different from yours? I see a Rashi on Goofo, but not on Briyato (they are 2 separate characteristics mentioned in the Gemara, so they'd be referring to different things). that's my question. which Rashi?

      2) Yes, just thought it was funny. :-)

      Delete
  9. Rav Tukichinsky in עיר הקודש והמקדש, Vol. 5, Chap. 5 Sub Chap. 3 (page מג - 43) "החילזון אם מעכב" - "Is the Hilazon required?" writes that a plausible argument can be made that the Hilazon as the sole source of Techelet is not a Torah requirement. The reason that Chazal were adamant that a Hilazon be the sole source of Techelet was because it was the only known source at the time that could provide a dye with proper color and permanence (fastness). All other sources of the indigo did not take up well into the wool allowing it to be washed out in a few washes. I have read in the Ptil Techelet organization literature that even though the indigo of Kala Ilan and Hilazon are identical, an organic byproduct of the murex secretion, promoted a permanent take up by wool that could not be accomplished by the plant based Kala Ilan. When Chazal strongly spoke against a merchant selling Kala Ilan as Techelet or a person using Kala Ilan to dye his Tzitzit, Chazal's focus was on the fraudulent behavior of someone trying to pass off a cheap imitation that washes out, as genuine. In the context of his essay, Rav Tukichinsky implied that an inexpensive synthetic dye that was both permanent and matched the color produced by the Hilazon would be acceptable for Tzitzit and Bigdei Kehunah according to Biblical law (מדאורייתא).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That happens to also be the Karaite position. They dye their tzitzit with commercial synthetic blue dye.

      Delete
  10. "Only a small number of people dispute this". This is simply inaccurate. The vast majority of Jews do not wear techeles in their tzitzis. The poskim against it are the Aruch Hashulchan, Rav Elyashiv, Rav Shmuel Kamenetzky, Rav Asher Weiss, to name a few.

    The reason Chazal did not have to warn about people using Murex instead of real techeles is that it was expensive, as you note. We have a general principle that people do not sin without a reason. The fact that Murex was widely used is actually a disproof, as the Beis Halevi famously notes. It would not have been lost if it was actually a common dye.

    Finally, there is a third possibility. The chilazon is a fish we are familiar with, but we lost the method used to produce the dye.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Did R' Elyashiv really pasken against it? Or he just didn't recommend it? To me, it's not the same thing. Agree that the "proof" is not such a great proof for the reason you gave. עי' רמב"ם הלכות מאכלות אסורות י"ז כ"ו. As for why it was lost, there are proposed explanations.

      Delete
    2. 1) The Murex was discovered after the Aruch HaShulchan. Although he writes the matter will be settled once Moshiach arrives, if he was convinced the Murex was the chilazon he would have worn it. Either way, he's irrelevant to this discussion
      2) Rav Elyashiv didn't dispute the Murex. He explicitly writes that he doesn't know if the Murex isn't the chilazon. He simply isn't into looking into it, and is skeptical.
      3) "The fact that Murex was widely used is actually a disproof, as the Beis Halevi famously notes." Incorrect. That's not what the Beis Halevi wrote. He wrote that the cuttlefish has been used for generations, without a moment in history where that ceased. That's not true for the Murex, which had a 1500 gap in time where no one used it for dying
      4) Well if the chilazon is a snail which produces a blue dye, there is no creature in existence that has been known to produce a blue dye other than the Murex. So what do you mean a fish we are familiar with? One day we'll discover the goldfish produces a blue dye? Sounds fishy...

      Delete
    3. "The vast majority of Jews do not wear techeles in their tzitzis."

      That's not a proof:

      1. It was only introduced a few decades ago, after well over a thousand years of not being used. Of course it's going to take a while to catch on.

      2. Lots of people don't wear it for political reasons, because it was rediscovered by a bunch of YU graduate Religious Zionists. Sad but true.

      3. Go into any Dati Leumi shul in Israel and you'll see a *lot* of people wearing tekhelet.

      Delete
    4. "Lots of people don't wear it for political reasons"

      That is true, although you can be an Admor on Moetzes Gedolei Hatorah (Erloy), a dayan on BaDaTz Eida Chareidis (Rav Offman), or a senior maggid shiur at Mir, and still wear tekhelet.

      https://bluefringes.com/notable-wearers/

      Delete
    5. Well, the Erloy are unique in a number of ways. And the leadership can be a lot less close-minded than their followers.

      Delete
    6. I did not say it was a proof. I was responding to a line in the article.

      The Aruch HaShulchan's reason for rejecting techeles is based on the Talmidei HaArizal saying it was nignaz. So the specific claim is irrelevant. Rav Shmuel Kamenetzky quoted the Aruch Hashulchan.

      Rav Elyashiv said he does not trust the claim that it is the murex. In addition, he said even if the identity of the chilazon was positively identified, we still would not know how to process it due to conflicting opinions of Rishonim, so it is not relevant.

      You may be right about Beis Halevi. The author's proof is still not valid if the cost of murex was equal to or more than techeles, which seems like a reasonable assumption.

      The chilazon could hypothetically be any fish or sea creature with blue blood. The fact that we don't know how to produce a dye from it nowadays is no disproof. So to say the murex is the only candidate is not accurate; rather, it is the only candidate we are currently aware of. A better one may come along. This is one of Rav Elyashiv's main points.

      Delete
  11. We have plenty of evidence that dye was made from the dye-banded murex. (To use the colloquial name.) Do we have evidence that many made a BLUE dye from it?

    I don't believe the following, I wear tekheiles myself, but...

    Isn't it possible that accidentally overexposing the dye to UV so that it becomes just plain indigo was be considered ruining it?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, and that is the reason why many believe the actual color of techeiles is purple.
      https://www.torahmusings.com/2017/06/tekhelet-color-perception-apprehension/

      Delete
    2. If one believes that techeles IS blue (as most seem to), then this article's assertions that the ancients wouldn't have been able to produce blue from the murex trunculus is an argument against MT being the chilazon.

      In addition, it negates the proof in the blog post. Chazal wouldn't have needed to exclude the MT-dye because no one would advertise it as techeiles...it was the wrong color!

      No?

      Delete
  12. Very funny, I made the exact same point of this post this morning in kollel.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Here is a good book that goes through the proof of techeiles
    https://www.techeiles.org/harav-meir-halevi-hellman-levush-haaron/

    ReplyDelete
  14. To answer some of the questions here:
    1)It is only the color component of Murex dye and indigo dye that is identical. The Murex molecule is dibromide-indigo. Bromide is not found in plant indigo and the test for bromide is how one can distinguish between textiles dyed with murex from those dyed with murex.
    2)For the chilazon to be something other than Murex, with the real chilazon having disappeared or become hidden (as some claim), it would have had to disappear not only from the natural world of the Mediterranean coastline or be hiding there (despite the coastal biology very well-studied), but it would have had to have been erased from all written records as well.
    This is because the ancient dyeing industry was very well-documented, given its importance.
    One would have to therefore posit that another source of natural textile dye from a sea creature existed at that time and when HASHEM decided to make that creature "nignaz," He not only removed it from the sea, but erased all mentions of it from all written records, including those that document ancient dying processes. (Don't forget, the dye used for techeiles was also used by the "malchus" -- and the sources for "malchus" textile dye "malchus" was described by ancient historians. Those books would have therefore had to have been edited so as to remove all references to this mysterious other creature that had been in wide use at that time.
    Additionally, the archaeological record would have had to have been scrubbed as well, as no artifacts have ever been found of dye factories sourcing from sea creatures other than the Murex family.
    In short, this would have been erasure on a grand scale: from the Sea, from the archaeological record, and from all written accounts. And once again, we're not talking about erasure or disappearance of something obscure, but of an important industry that was widely discussed in history.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. To clarify: Bromide is not found in plant indigo. Therefore, testing for bromide is how one can distinguish between textiles dyed with murex from those dyed with plant indigo.

      And regarding the second point, if one were to posit that Murex is not the true chilazon and there's some other sea creature out there that IS the true chilazon or that WAS the chilazon, then we'd also have to say that it is not only hiding somewhere in the Mediterranean Sea, but all memories of it would have had to have been scrubbed from the historical record that documented the "malchut's" textile dyeing industry.
      The writings of those ancient historians who documented the dyeing industry would have had to have been scrubbed, to remove whatever mentions had been recorded. And all artifacts of this "hidden-creature-based" dyeing industry would have had to have disappeared as well.

      Delete
  15. Just a few point, mostly to add some historical context on what has already been mentioned:
    1. In Aramaic (and Assyrian Neo-Aramaic, and other related languages), ܚܠܙܘܢܐ (ḥəlāzōnā) means a snail (as a general term). It would be truly puzzling for Chazal to use this term for an unrelated creature (such as a fish), particularly in the light of the Gemara (Sanhedrin 91a) mentioned above.
    2. In Akkadian and related texts, the word takiltu is used to describe the color of the deep blue stone Lapis lazuli. 
    3. In the Septuagint (and Josephus), the word ὑακίνθος (iakinthos) is consistently used as a translation for Tekhelet. The same word is used in the Byzantine consumption laws as one of the dyes connected to Purpura. Most researchers agree that this was the royal blue depicted on multiple mosaics (and copied as dark blue on later icons). 
    4. Chemical analysis seems to confirm the use of Murex for blue dyes (of various shades) in ancient times:

    https://tekhelet.com/pdf/Sukenik.pdf

    https://edelsteincenter.files.wordpress.com/2013/09/koren-1997-herod-aic.pdf

    And another interesting article by Prof. Zvi Koren:

    https://edelsteincenter.files.wordpress.com/2022/05/zvi-koren-tekhelet-tradition-54.1-2022.pdf

    ReplyDelete
  16. Hare and Hyrax are not Maaleh Gayrah in the simple meaning of the text, so it makes perfect sense to look for alternatives.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Let me ax you, were you hyred to write a comment that doesn't belong hare?

      Delete
  17. I personally really enjoyed this article, but something I have been wondering for some time is why the Chilazon creature is not included in the Sacred Monsters books. I was hoping this, along with perhaps demons, Golems, Dybbuks, and the like, can be introduced from a Jewish perspective in another book.

    ReplyDelete
  18. Thank you for an excellent article and thanks to the many contributors who added additional compelling proof. At the end of the day the only mystery is why intelligent, committed Shomrei Torah u'Mitzvos can possibly justify not wearing Murex Trunculus Tzitzit, given the well known rule that in matters related to biblical imperatives (d'oraisah) we are required to take the more stringent position (le'hachmir) even if there is some uncertainty (safek).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Because personal practice and tradition is hard to modify, especially against renewed modern discoveries. Plus a universal rabbinical ruling binding all Jews is impossible in this age (and probably along all ages). Politics and narcissism of small differences get in the way.

      Delete
    2. Those that oppose the murex have written extensively why that rule doesn't apply here. I don't agree with them, but it's not like they forgot it. Some also say there's zero saffek here, as they're totally convinced it's not legit.

      Delete
    3. Good question. Vast majority of poskim hold that if one has vadai tekhelet available (or believes he does), he has a chiyuv from the Torah to wear it (if he has tzitzit). Those who don't wear tekhelet today either don't believe Murex is the chilazon, or at least hold there is a serious safek.

      I would like to hear RNS elaborate on the shita to believe 100% that this is genuine tekhelet and still not to wear it.

      Delete
    4. You misunderstand what safek means. For example, if you have 2 pieces in front of you and are not sure which is kosher which isn't. Here, the safek is entirely different. Is this xyz animal the chilazon or not. As opposed to having 2 species in front of you in which one of them is certainly the chilazon, which is not the case here.

      Delete
    5. I will offer a personal perspective. Having heard Rav Soloveitchik more than once quote his great-grandfather the Beis Halevi on the impossibility of fulfilling the mitzvah in the absence of a mesorah, emotionally, I can't get past the religious presumption (yuhara) in my doing so. Intellectually, I can accept that it is likely t'cheilet, and even if it isn't one fulfills chutei lavan with it anyway. But I can't bring myself to go against the Torah I heard directly from the Rav.

      Delete
    6. Anonylous 5:29 AM wrote "You misunderstand what safek means. For example, if you have 2 pieces in front of you and are not sure which is kosher which isn't. Here, the safek is entirely different. Is this xyz animal the chilazon or not. As opposed to having 2 species in front of you in which one of them is certainly the chilazon, which is not the case here."

      This is a commonly-stated objection, based on so novel an understanding of safek that even the originator's father (Rav Menachem Zemba) himself rejects it.

      Some objections would be that if a person had not yet put on tefillin and the only tefillin available to him are tefillin that have fallen into water, he is nevertheless obligated to put them on, on the safek they might be kosher. Similarly, if it's Bein haShemashos and one has not yet shaken a lulav, he is obligated to nevertheless do so, even though it is safek. lilah.

      It would appear that the person you're responding (who "did not understand") actually understood quite well.

      Delete
    7. Dovid Honda, could you explain why this is not a valid differentiation in safek? If one had a stick of leaves and he wasn't sure if it was an arava, that doesn't create a safek min Hatorah that requires him to shake it.

      Delete
    8. I have heard a quote from the Chazon Ish who explained why he had no interest in dyeing tzitzis with the Radziner's dye derived from sepia officinalis (cuttle fish). He said that the gedolim of his (that is the Radziner's) generation (the Bais Haleivi and others) were obviously certain that the Radziner was wrong, (and this is the quote I heard)"for if they would have had even a shadow of a doubt that this is the real techeiles, they would have worn it". I am not sure if this can be taken as proof that there would be a chiyuv to do so when there is only a shadow of a doubt, for it might have been a matter of chasidus, but surely this quote can be taken is a recommendation from him to wear the murex trunculus derived techeiles. Only the most obstinate could claim that there is not even a shadow of a doubt that this is the real thing. To my mind, and to the mind of many others, (including RN) there isn't even a shadow of a doubt to the contrary!

      Delete
  19. To better understand how trapping of Murex satisfies the halachic criteria for "trapping," despite its being a slow-moving snail (a common objection raised by those who reject Murex), I refer you to the following article, which describes an experiment to collect murex snails using only the technology available at that time (no diving masks and no aids for breathing underwater).

    Interested readers can skip to page 101, which describes the experiment and collecting methods:

    https://www.academia.edu/373048/Reconstructing_Murex_Royal_Purple_and_Biblical_Blue_in_the_Aegean

    Please note that collecting Murex in the wild, en masse, is entirely different than collecting them from an aquarium.

    Every aspect requires great skill, as the traps have to be placed in the ocean and retrieved from the ocean, several meters down, without the aid of masks or breathing apparatus.

    Preliminary exploration to find a good place is required (all while holding one's breath and without a scuba mask), the trap needs to then be placed there and baited, then weighted down with rocks. Checking the traps was also done by skilled divers who, were they to see sufficient numbers of Murex inside, would have to bring the trap to the surface and remove the Murex, while watching to not get stung or attacked by the snakes. etc that would have also made their way into the traps or be attached to them.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Additional discussion of the trapping and baiting method will be found here, starting on page 154:

      https://www.academia.edu/15575730/FISHING_FOR_PURPLE_SHELLFISH_MURICIDAE_IN_ANCIENT_GREECE_ACQUISITION_TECHNOLOGY_AND_FIRST_STEPS_IN_PURPLE_DYE_PRODUCTION

      Delete
  20. This is solely a comment on terminology describing colour. I recall that during Art studies we were taught that when describing different colour hues, then 'shade' of a colour referred to it having black added whereas 'tint' of a colour meant it had white added.

    ReplyDelete
  21. If you really want to be informed about this topic please read "The Rarest Blue" written by Baruch & Judy Sterman. It is one of the best books I have ever read & will leave you with no doubt as MT being the Chilazon. Baruch makes a modest comment of his own on this blog. Chilazon derives from the Greek "Helix" refering to the the spiral shape of the murex shell. Natan hopefully will take the plunge & begin to fulfill this beautiful Mitzva soon & encourage his readers to do likewise.

    ReplyDelete
  22. Came across a disagreement between Rambam and Ramban which I think fits in nicely with their respective rationalist/mystic bent. Rambam is of the opinion that gimmel chamuros aside, if one gives up one’s life not to transgress other aveiros, it is a mortal sin. Whereas Ramban holds that although there is a heter to transgress, it is considered a middas chassidus to lay down ones life and not be oiver. If Halacha is to enable ones best life, but there’s nothing inherently damaging about aveiros, then the value assigned to human life is inviolate, as one is under duress and ostensibly will not be negatively affected (middos wise or otherwise). In contradistinction, if there’s an antecedent metaphysical reality (eg the soul, supernal worlds etc) which one damages when committing aveiros, which in this conception are ontologically problematic, with vchai bahem an unfortunate albeit necessary concession, as human life ranks higher than the damage caused, then it's understandable why it would be considered meritorious to give up ones life and not commit the sin, oness circumstance notwithstanding.

    ReplyDelete
  23. The murex NEVER comes up from the water, not like dr slifkin states....

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Can strong storms wash them up?

      Delete
    2. I heard from dr sterem that it NEVER ever comes up... rav elya tavger says the murex comes up... ie, the divers bring it up

      Delete
  24. You wrote, "Now, it is an indisputable fact that in the Biblical and Talmudic periods, there was a famous trade of producing an expensive dye, chemically identical to "indigo", and with colors ranging from purple to "blue", from the Hexaplex trunculus. There is endless evidence for this, and nobody at all disputes it."
    Nonsense! and a slight of hand. There is NOT ONE source that the trunculus was used in ancient times for blue! It is not clear that they even knew it can make blue.
    If someone can present ONE proof that it the Trunculus was used for anything but (Tyrian) Purple, by all means PLEASE let me know. I am looking for such a source for 25 years.
    It is these methods of argumentation, that seem to lack integrity, that have turned off some that started off as advocates for the trunculus.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Did you read the comments above? If so, why not add your comment there and address the sources mentioned there?

      Delete
    2. I did not. 90 comments was too daunting. Which comments are address this issue?

      Delete
    3. Fair enough… This one:

      Chemical analysis seems to confirm the use of Murex for blue dyes (of various shades) in ancient times:

      https://tekhelet.com/pdf/Sukenik.pdf

      https://edelsteincenter.files.wordpress.com/2013/09/koren-1997-herod-aic.pdf

      And another interesting article by Prof. Zvi Koren:

      https://edelsteincenter.files.wordpress.com/2022/05/zvi-koren-tekhelet-tradition-54.1-2022.pdf

      Delete
    4. The pdf is talking about murex fo purple, not techeles

      Delete
    5. They are all pdf-s, but you are right, the middle link is a mistake, and indeed deals with argaman. I meant prof. Koren's analysis of a different Masada fabric, mentioned for example here: https://edelsteincenter.files.wordpress.com/2018/09/koren-tekhelet-argaman-and-darius-jar-out-of-the-blue-2018.pdf

      Delete
  25. Everyone agrees the murex is argaman-purple.... the gemora should have said “what is techeles? The argaman fish held in the sun” it didn’t
    The book by teitlebaum claims pliny says purple and blue dye were made from the same fish, but this is not true... quoter by rav Yitchok brand in a drasha on techeles...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Everyone agrees - today, but could you please point us to any places in the Gemara where the Argaman snail is discussed or even mentioned?

      Delete
  26. The gemora says the BLood of the helozon, not a fluid... it meant blood... see the you tube video of rav asher weiss...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I’m also surprised they didn’t use the standard mishnaic terminology for hypobranchial gland secretion of a mollusk.

      Delete
  27. Great, another one sided murex discussion. There has been much authentic scholarship on this issue, including by the esteemed R Yechiel Perr, who approached the issue with an open mind and ultimately concluded that murex cannot be the chilazon.

    ReplyDelete
  28. Dear RNS,
    There is a problem with your proof. The common rule says "לאו תנא רוכלא ליחשיב וליזיל" (the sage is not obliged to list all the cases). Gemara simply brings "kala ilan" as a classic example, it does not mean that other examples did not exist.

    ReplyDelete
  29. It seems like many are invested in murex trunculus NOT being techeiles, and that they actually don't want to know what it is, probably because it they (a) couldn't then theorize endlessly about it anymore (b) have to actually change, which they are of course terrified of.

    ReplyDelete

Comments for this blog are moderated. Please see this post about the comments policy for details. ANONYMOUS COMMENTS WILL NOT BE POSTED - please use either your real name or a pseudonym.

One Hundred Thousand!

I have to say, I'm pretty darn proud of this accomplishment. The Biblical Museum of Natural History recently hosted its 100,000th visi...