Why People Don't Wear Techeles
In light of all the evidence in favor of identifying Murex trunculus as the source of techeles, why do so many Jews (including myself) not wear it?
There are those who claim that there are substantial objections to identifying Murex trunculus as the source of techeles. As I noted in the previous post, these almost always turns out to stem from an anti-rationalist viewpoint. For example, it may indeed be true that the Murex trunculus does not match various descriptions given by certain Rishonim, but that is only relevant if one make the anti-rationalist assumption that the Rishonim knew exactly what it was. And claiming that the real chilazon is some unknown or lost creature that nobody has ever discovered, and that the archeological remains of Murex factories and blue Murex-dyed fabric is a red herring, is not consistent with a rationalist outlook.
But even from the perspective of those who consider such objections valid, they are not the underlying reason why these people do not wear techeles. Even if there were no such objections, these people would still not wear techeles. In the comments to the previous post, one person offered the following explanation of why various groups of people do not wear techeles:
* Haredi rabbis: We don't deviate from the previous generation's mesorah, even if they call left "right" and right "left".
* Haredi layfolk: Because my rav doesn't wear it.
* Modern rabbis: We probably should, but it's not my mission.
* Modern layfolk: Eh, not interested. Plus, the people who wear it tend to be, er... "eccentric" types.
An elaboration of the reason why Haredim do not wear techeles was offered by someone else:
Charedim don't care about techeles because they are particular about halachos that are part of their mesorah. If the techeles was discovered through research it is not a part of their mesorah, and they won't deal with it. It is perfectly consistent with their approach to halacha/mesorah. It is similar to the Chazon Ish's statements on newly discovered texts. It's all interesting academically but he would not use a newly discovered text to overturn centuries of halacha.
This is all essentially correct, and it's similar to what I once heard from a prominent rav in the charedi community. It's also consistent with the patterns that I described in my monographs on The Novelty of Orthodoxy and The Making Of Haredim. Orthodox Judaism, as per its academic definition, came about as a reaction to the challenges posed by modern society. In order for Judaism to survive against the drastic changes that were taking place, it became extremely conservative. Immense resistance developed to change, if that change was perceived as coming out from external sources. Haredi society took this approach to even greater extremes.
I strongly disagree with the person who posted a comment claiming that such reasons are "100% definitely heresy" and based on "sinat chinam." Once you open the door to changing the practice of Judaism based on external sources and academic research, you have opened a Pandora's box. I'm not saying that there is never a place for this - each case must be weighed up separately. But it is certainly understandable that there are those who would rather sacrifice a mitzvah than place the entire edifice of Orthodox Judaism as risk.
There is much merit to this approach. Ironically, it is very similar to the approach of none other than Rav Herzog regarding Chazal and science. Rav Herzog acknowledged that Chazal granted permission to kill lice on Shabbos based on a mistaken belief in spontaneous generation. However, he maintained that it is still permissible, due to the authority of the Gemara. It is similar to the celebrated case of tannur shel Achnai, which teaches us that adhering to the protocols of halachah is more important than the "objective" truth about the halachah. Behind all this is a concept that religion requires authority and stability. (I elaborate on all this at much greater length in my book Sacred Monsters.) The ramifications of this are that in an age when there is so much threat from change, we have to be very cautious with any change.
It's true that wearing techeles is a mitzvah. But Jews have not worn techeles for many centuries. Reintroducing techeles is a significant change - and it comes from people who are (a) academics rather than rabbis, and (b) not from the charedi world. For many Orthodox Jews, and especially for chareidi Jews, techeles is therefore an innovation that comes from outside sources.
In case there is any confusion, I am certainly not saying that nobody should wear techeles. All I am saying is that the charedi opposition to wearing techeles is very understandable, in light of their worldview regarding Judaism.
What about me? My own reasons for not wearing techeles are not too different from those of the charedi community. Aside from my work with Biblical and Talmudic zoology, my public role is of saving rationalist Judaism from extinction. While for many people, rationalist Judaism is a spiritual life-saver, it is certainly destabilizing for many others. And while there is a crucial difference between theology and practice, it is often very difficult to get that point across. When I stress that the Sages based some of their rulings on a mistaken belief in spontaneous generation, there are inevitably going to be some people who see that as calling for a change in halachic practice, no matter how strongly I stress my allegiance to the approach of Rav Herzog and Rav Glasner. Furthermore, some of my work spills over into the realm of practice, such as my essay regarding kezayis. And so I think that I personally have to be extremely cautious regarding changes in practice. (See too my post on Seder Historical Realities Versus Seder Traditions.)
To put it in other words: I already rock the boat quite a lot. It is quite likely that at some point wearing techeles will become mainstream, and then I'll be glad to join the crowd. But in the meanwhile, I think that it is wise for me to be as conservative as possible in the area of practice. I must also add that I have not yet been able to research this topic as thoroughly as I would like to, and so it is possible that I may change my mind!
(Please note that the delay in blog posts is due to a very heavy workload. For this reason, I will probably not be able to respond to all the comments that this post may provoke. Sorry! Also, while I have your attention, if there are any readers in New Jersey or Long Island who are interested in hosting a parlor meeting in their home on January 22nd, please be in touch. Your help is greatly appreciated!)