The Gadol and the Snail
Yesterday I attended a conference marking 100 years since a very unusual doctoral dissertation. Rav Yitzchak Herzog, Chief Rabbi of Israel, wrote his dissertation on the identity of the chilazon, the snail from which the tekhelet dye is derived. The conference, organized by Ptil Tekhelet, featured a very broad range of speakers, from rabbis to archeologists.
Rav Herzog was a truly extraordinary person. He was ordained by Ridvaz, who pronounced him one of the world’s outstanding Talmudists. Rabbi Herzog’s elite group of disciples included Rabbi Yechezkel Abramsky, Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (whose work Ma’adanei Aretz bore the approbation of Rabbi Herzog), Rabbi Shmuel Wosner, and Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv.
At Rav Herzog's funeral, Rabbi Aharon Kotler of the Lakewood Yeshivah eulogized him as a “prince,” and spoke of his extraordinary Torah scholarship. See this link for a fascinating account of regarding Rav Aharon Kotler and Rav Herzog's passing, and see Rav Kotler and others at Rav Herzog's funeral in the picture at right. Rabbi Shalom Gold of Har Nof, who received ordination from Rav Herzog, told me that Rav Herzog was also proficient in numerous languages, and moreover was a wonderfully kind person.
Justice Neal Hendel (himself a fascinating person - an American Orthodox Jew who studied under Rav Soloveitchik and is now a judge on the Israel Supreme Court) spoke about Rav Herzog's approach to halachah. Amongst other things, he mentioned how it is so important, and yet so difficult, for a posek to get the full picture on the cases that he rules upon. Rav Herzog wanted to determine the correct approach to techeles - and so he studied marine biology!
Rav Herzog appears on a few occasions in my books The Challenge Of Creation and Sacred Monsters. He believed that the account of creation did not need to be interpreted literally, and he wrote that Rabbeinu Avraham ben HaRambam's approach to the science of the Talmud - that it was simply the prevalent beliefs of the era and thus fallible - expresses the correct position to take. (As we discussed regarding Rav Hirsch in the previous post, these views are likewise considered heresy by many contemporary Charedi rabbinic authorities, such as by Rabbi Meiselman in his book on this topic.)
Regarding techeles, there's a vast amount of literature on the website of Ptil Tekhelet. I haven't had time to go through more than a fraction of it, but as I once wrote in a post regarding my own chilazon-hunting expedition, it's clear to me that the Murex trunculus is indeed the correct candidate. Those who claim otherwise inevitably turn out to be of an anti-rationalist persuasion. However, I do not myself wear techeles, for reasons that I will discuss on another occasion.
The presentations from the conference will soon be available for download from the Ptil Tekhelet website. And now for something completely different: There are readers of this blog who strenuously object to everything that I write, and I would like to ask them to attempt to employ this policy once again. I am very interested to know if there are any early mentions of the phrase "l'iluy nishmas" or the concept thereof. (I am not referring to the concept of atoning for the departed via charity, but to the concept of elevating the soul, particularly via Torah learning.) My hunch is that it does not appear in the period of the Rishonim at all. Please let me know if I am wrong!