Review on Hamodia Inyan on Techeiles/Tekhelet

Courtesy: Wikipedia

I recently read R’ Avraham Heschel’s 2 part series (Part 1, Part 2) on Techeiles in Hamodia’s Inyan magazine. Firstly, R’ Heschel is a tremendous Talmud chochom and a prolific writer. The fact he wrote about Techeiles further spreads awareness that the potential to keep thus mitzvah is now available. That said, while it covered a large portion of techeiles in history and analysis, I found a number of problems with the pieces.

Critical items missing from both parts:

1. That Techeiles and Argaman were both sourced from a chilazon, based on different parts of the Gemara.

Why it’s important: because it leads to the circular argument that “this wasn’t for Techeiles, this only was for argaman.”

2. That nothing had a source/reference. Plus it uses the generic “the researchers at…” which usually asks for trouble.

Why it’s important: it gives the author license to potentially write whatever he wants.

One item that particularly struck me was a 1954 letter to R’ Shraga Heiman stating that the Radzyner Rebbe supposedly knew how to extract blue from the dye. It turns out that such a letter does exist, but the context was left out (see letter). For one thing the letter actually was never sent out in the end. At any rate, if the Rebbe was able to extract the dye independently, then why did he write to the Brisker Rav a recipe which required the iron filings?

Another is Dr. Tzvi Koren and the Pazyryk saddlecloth, which showed the blue threads from plant indigo and the purple/violet to come from a snail. Again, source?

3. That many Rishonim and Acharonim identified chilazon as snail/tolaas, and that in Semitic/regional languages halazun is a snail, meaning that it wasn’t only researchers that came up with this stuff.

Why it’s important: it completely disproves the notion that “goyishe researchers” were the only ones to posit it’s a snail, and that it’s actually backed by huge gedolim of yesteryear.

A. the chilazon necessarily needed to be fast for tzeidah (camouflage and staying deep in the sea also require tzeidah),

B. the identification of what it could have looked like (the murex can fit all details of the description),

C. the melacha of gozeiz (you need many snails to accomplish the task of dying, so focusing on one snail is pointless).

4. Exaggeration and picking of facts to prove a point. Examples:

A. The overwhelming majority of Gedolei Yisrael and leading poskim not accepting it. There are dozens of Gedolim that do wear it and some do it privately. The ones that do so privately or don’t wear it at all have many different reasons. Personally I think it’s so each person individually doesn’t stand out. This is crucial since depending on ones line of work one can lose his job by wearing the “wrong colored strings” and not representing the community he is supposed to. With congregants many won’t do so unless they see their Rabbi do it first. Many won’t for the reason above.

B. It picks a quote from R’ Chaim Kanievsky that Techeiles won’t be revealed until moshiach comes. However, the same R’ Chaim stated in a video that if one believes it to be the true Techeiles then he is obligated to do so.

C. Guessing what the Radzyner Rebbe might have said on the murex had he known about it. In Sefunei Temunei Chol (page 14, Mishor edition), “If after our search we should find the blood of any type of chillazon that might exist, from which we can dye a techeiles color, a dye that is steadfast in its beauty and does not change, we will with absolute certainly and without doubt be able to fulfil the mitzvah of techeiles.”

5. That the method of dying wasn’t the same as back then. My response is that we do many things today that weren’t the same back then. Two items of note are a) thinner Klaf for the Sefer torah and b) the thickness of today’s tefillin now that they are made from gassos. In terms of technological ability back then to dye the same way as today, Ptil Tekhelet has found 7 different ways to dye blue from the murex, and the ancient dyers from 2,500 years ago likely had a better mesorah/method to do so, since it was much more prevalent back then.

In general I felt it was a very negative, one-sided series against Techeiles, and possibly hurriedly put together for Perek haTecheiles in daf yomi due to the lack of sourcing.