Techeiles is a Mitzvah in the Torah that has been lost for 1,300 years. Upon its revival, it naturally has received its healthy dose of skepticism for various reasons. This is my “top 10” list of common objections to wearing Techeiles today that I’ve attempted to address.
1. Vague Terminologies
One reason is because everyone back then “knew” about the process without explanation required, another was to write in code to hide from the Romans. One tangent is “once in 70 years.” The explanations for that is 70 years refers to a long time and may refer to one of the following:
- Swarms of shellfish may come up once in a very long time. The Radvaz states that this mass surfacing was a miraculous event that only occurred in the times of the Beis Hamikdash. After the Galus began, the Chilazon could only be obtained in its natural habitat – deep in the ocean.
- The Romans had an event that occurred once every 70 years. R’ Benzion Halberstam in his video “Glimpse into the Mind of a Posek” adds that when the Romans had a certain event where a healthy Roman was riding on the shoulders of a crippled Jew (representing Yaakov who limped), this Jew needed to walk carrying the Roman around. It was meant to symbolize that the Romans were “on top” and the Jews were forever crippled. such that Esav was on top of Yaakov and the Romans were considered “Edom” like Esav was called. This event was meant to be a once-in-a-lifetime event. Once-in-a-lifetime may refer to 70 years because 70 years historically was used to describe the length of ones life. At this event the Chilazon surfaced in much greater numbers in order so that people could more readily sell the blue cloth to others at this event. This is just one tip of the iceberg. For more explanations on vague terminologies, I strongly advise reading:“Levush HaAron” by R’ Meir Hellman which contains 75 questions and answers in concise form, and
“Threads of Reason” by R’ Mois Navon which has essays covering most of the fundamental topics.
2. Lack of Mesorah
R’ Hershel Schachter addresses his Mesorah issue as follows. Among the Gedolim, there was an epic correspondence between a letter from a friend of the Beis Halevi, R’ Yosef Dov Soloveitchik (Skutzk/Brisker Rav in the 1800’s) and R’ Gershon Henoch Leiner, of which the former roundly rejected the Radzyn Techeiles attempt based on the cuttlefish Chilazon found. There are two versions.
The Soloveitchik version is that one must have a Mesorah and you can’t reinstate things by archeological evidence or by visiting an aquarium and try to figure based on Simanim. He gave an example of Orez versus Dochen and which one has the bracha of Mezonos versus HaAdama. While Orez/Arroz is defined as rice in Arabic as well as Spanish, his retort was that one couldn’t rely on a “lexicon” (dictionary) for the definition, but one needed a Mesorah.
The Radzyn version was more nuanced: R’ Soloveitchik replied that our parents and grandparents knew about this squidfish that spits out the black dye, since it was commonly used for ink at the time. If they knew about this Chilazon and chose not to use it for Techeiles, then it actually counts as a negative Mesorah. However, if one can show him a new fish not known to our parents and grandparents, and a good reason for the disuse of this creature for Techeiles and why now is different, he would be the first one on board.
R’ Feivel Cohen spent a year with R’ Yosef Shalom Elyashiv to get shimush by him. After he returned to New York they corresponded frequently, and in one of the letters, he asked R’ Elyashiv which one of the two versions made sense. R’ Elyashiv’s response was that the Soloveitchik version made no sense, and that one can use Archeological evidence to reconstruct Mesorah. R’ Cohen then asked what he thought of the new Techeiles, and the response was “let me get back to you.” (He never did.)
R’ Schachter also points out that one person asked R’ Yosef Dov Soloveitchik about Mesorah based on the story of Rabba Bar Bar Chana, who went in the Midbar with a Taya (Arab tour guide) to see the Meisei Hamidbar. He returned to the Beis Medrash where there was a Machlokes between Beis Shammai and Beis Hillel on how many strings should go through each corner. He told them of his trip and they asked him, did you see how many strings the Meisei Midbar had? To which he replied that it didn’t occur to him to do so, at which point they called him an idiot for not doing so. That’s another example of using archeological evidence to reconstruct Mesorah.
Other examples of reconstructing Mesorah include:
- R’ Eliezer seeing the golden Tzitz in Rome to see if it’s one or two lines (Shabbos 63b). The Rambam in response writes that the Tzitz can have one or two lines and both types were made.
- the Ramban changing his opinion of the weight of a Shekel from the Rif to Rashi after Samaritans showed him a Shekel in Israel upon making Aliyah (see Ramban Shemos 30:13 and Ramban al HaChumash HaArah Be’Inyan HaShekel). Rashi’s weight is 1/6th lighter than the Rif’s opinion, which has potential implications on matters like Pidyon HaBen if the Rif was correct and Rashi was wrong.
- Turkey consumption. Birds traditionally need a Mesorah, but the question is whether the 14 birds listed in the Gemara were the Ikkar or that they simply weren’t birds of prey. In practice turkey became a kosher bird even though we only knew about it relatively recently.
- Teruma and Maaser after not being in Eretz Yisrael for a long time
- And more. One last point: R’ Belsky told R’ Eliyahu Ferrel of the OU that with solid Rayos, it’s “K’Ilu there is a Mesorah.”
3. How is Chilazon a Snail? It’s a Fish!
R’ Gershon Henoch Leiner was of the opinion that it literally had to be a type of fish that swam, and was preceded by German Rabbi Ludwig Lewysohn, who in 1858 published his take in Talmudic Zoology (Die Zoologie Des Talmuds: Eine Umfassende Darstellung Der Rabbinischen Zoologie, Unter Steter Vergleichung Der Forschungen Älterer Und Neuerer Schriftsteller) that, based on his understanding of the Rambam’s simanim, the Chilazon was a squid called cuttlefish. The Maharsham, Rav Yehoshua Kutner (Ein Hatecheiles, p. 221), the Beis HaLevi (Ein Hatecheiles, p. 13) and the Chofetz Chaim discussed the Radzyner techeiles and therefore may have accepted the cuttlefish as a possible Chilazon. The most that can be hypothesized is that they were open to the chilazon being other marine creatures aside for a snail. The reason this is mentioned is that the purpura snail “Mesorah” has been passed down by lots of sources, including: Chavas Yair, Shiltei Giborim, R’ Yaakov Emden, Radal, Toafos Re’em, R’ Shamshon Refael Hirsch (Purpurschnecke), and others.
Linguistically speaking, in some places Rashi translates chilazon as limace, which is Old French for snail (Avodah Zarah 28b). While in modern French it translates as “slug” (as escargot has become the word for snail), Limace translated into Hebrew becomes Shablul, which strictly speaking is “snail.” As an aside, in Italian the word for snail is “lumaca.” In other places Rashi describes its body as that of a worm (Sanhedrin 91a); a snail is basically a worm, albeit with a shell.
When we go to the near-eastern languages it’s more explicit. Halzun in Arabic means “snail” with the creature inside the snail. In modern-Aramaic it’s Halzono. In Farsi it’s halazun.
One last one: Dr. Israel Ziderman holds that Techeiles’ main color is hyacinth. This is best supported when Chazal translated Techeiles into the Greek septuagint as “yakinthos.” Yakinthos and hyacinth linguistically sound very similar, and may be one of the strongest indicators in terms of what color Techeiles should be.
Where are the Gedolim/Poskim supporting Murex Techeiles? R’ Herschel Schachter, R’ Yisroel Belsky ZT”L, R’ Bentzion Halberstam, R’ Gershon Meltzer, R’ Zalman Nechemia Goldberg, R’ Moshe Mordechai Karp, R’ Shlomo Gissinger ZT”L, and R’ Shlomo Machpud are for starters. And more Gedolim are coming aboard. See here for a comprehensive list.
5. Knowing Better than Our Parents and Rabbonim
There’s a concern that we might know better than our parents. I would like to relate three cases on the following Rabbis: R’ Eli Mansour, Tzvi Hirsch Weinreb, R’ Yechezkel Toporovitz.
- R’ Eli Mansour quoted Hacham Ben Tzion Abba Shaul who stated (iTorah.com, search for “Sisit: The Number of Wrappings; Wearing a String of Techelet“):
“Some people include in their Sisit a string colored with a bluish dye, which they identify as the original Techelet dye with which the Torah requires dyeing one of the Sisit strings. Hacham Ben Sion writes (listen to audio recording for precise citation) that a person whose father and grandfather did not wear a dyed Sisit string should not follow this practice. Doing so gives the appearance of belittling one’s forebears, and claiming to know more about Misva observance than previous generations. This is particularly so in light of the fact that the Torah leaders of today do not wear Techelet strings. It is unclear altogether whether the dye worn by some people today is indeed the original Techelet dye, as this issue is subject to controversy. In any event, it is disrespectful to today’s Torah sages to wear this dye and give the appearance of thinking that one knows more than them. There are some Hassidic sects, specifically the followers of the Radzhiner Rebbe, who have a tradition dating back several generations to wear a certain kind of dye. But while for them it is legitimate to follow their predecessors’ custom, for the rest of us it would be inappropriate to wear Sisit in a way that our fathers and grandfathers never did. God willing, Mashiah will soon arrive and show us the authentic Techelet, so that we can all perform the Misva in the most preferred manner.” Rabbi Mois Navon addressed this in a letter regarding three points: tradition, respect, and D’Oraita:
You wrote that a person who does not have a tradition for wearing tekhelet should not do so. This would seem reasonable enough, as there is an accepted general principle that one should follow the traditions of his forebears. This principle, however, breaks down when the “tradition” is not one accepted upon our forbears but forced upon them due to negative circumstance. For example, no one would say that all the Russians who were prevented for generations from performing brit mila now have a tradition to not have brit mila. As such, tekhelet, which was quit by force of exile, must surely be reinstated at the first opportunity.
You emphasized that wearing tekhelet portends of arrogance toward our forbears as well as towards today’s Torah leadership. Regarding our forbears, as mentioned, their “tradition” was one borne of duress, forced upon them due to the exigencies of exile. Consequently, our wearing it now does not a serve to “belittle” our forbears but rather serves to extol them by virtue of our fulfilling the mitzvah they transmitted to us in part, but now in its complete form. Regarding the Torah leaders today, as you mentioned, “the issue is the subject of controversy.” This means that there are two sides to the issue, and in a mahloket l’shem shamayim no one side can claim the other is acting in “disrespect” to the other. And it is important to note that there are a great many Torah leaders who have come out openly saying that one should wear tekhelet, not to speak of the Torah leaders who wear tekhelet but choose not to make public their decision.
You concluded: “God willing, Mashiah will soon arrive and show us the authentic Techelet, so that we can all perform the Misva in the most preferred manner.” Though we all pray for the Mashiach’s arrival, there is no mitzvah in the Torah that is dependant on his arrival. In fact the opposite is true – we are obligated to do our utmost to perform every mitzvah as best we can in the hopes that our perfecting the world will bring his advent.Also, it is important to note here that we are not talking about a “hiddur” which could be understood in your words: “the most preferred manner.” Rather, the element of tekhelet is an integral part of the mitzvah d’oraita. Rambam explains that the one mitzvah of tzitzit is composed of “shtei tziviot” – two “commandments” (white and blue). Rashi explains that one who performs the mitzvah of tzitzit without tekhelet has not performed a complete mitzvah (“aino mitzvah sheleimah”). And the Ramban explains that the whole “remembrance” that the tzitzit are to effect are in the tekhelet string.
It is my hope that you find this response of sufficient interest that it inspires you to reconsider your position on this important mitzvah which we believe has been returned to our people after 1300 years.
- Another: R’ Tzvi Hirsch Weinreb, executive director emeritus of the Orthodox Union (also a Techeiles wearer), while himself not a Lubavitcher Chassid, when living in Maryland once consulted R’ Menachem Mendel Schneerson with regards to where he should go regarding his career, questions of faith, etc. To which R’ Schneerson replied, “Tell him that there is a Jew who lives in Maryland that he can speak to. Der yid hayst Veinreb—his name is Weinreb.” His retort was, “But my name is Weinreb!” To which he “heard the Rebbe say, “Oib azoi, zol er visen zayn az amol darf men reden tzu zich.” (“If that’s the case, then he should know that, sometimes, one needs to speak to himself.”)” https://www.chabad.org/therebbe/article_cdo/aid/2235925/jewish/Talk-to-Yourself.htm .
- R’ Yechezkel Toporovitz produces a brand of murex trunculus Techeiles, and has worn it for years. His father R’ Amichai spoke with R’ Chaim Kanievsky, who told him that, if he believes that the murex is the right Chilazon and this is the correct Techeiles, he is now Mechuyav to wear it! The response back was “this is a big Zechus!” As an aside, I personally was at R’ Amichai Toporovitz’s Shtiebel a year ago and noticed that every one out of four people davening there was wearing Techeiles!
Yes there’s a lot to say about following Daas Torah; at the same time there’s also to be said about using one’s Seichel after going through a topic in depth. Also keep in mind that the Gedolim that do wear Techeiles didn’t refer to that their own Gedolim didn’t wear Techeiles.
6. Financial Expense
Expense: Techeiles was historically expensive and difficult to get. In fact, one of the laws in the “Codex Justinian”, mentions that if a person would be found wearing blue or Tyrian purple, he would “lose his property… and his head.” We actually have echoes of such a gezaira from the gemara in Sanhedrin 12a. The Gemara states that a message was sent to Rava saying, “Zug Ba MeRakas” “a pair of scholars came from Rakkas (Teveria)” and was caught by a “Nesher”, a troop of soldiers. In their hands, they carried “things manufactured in Luz (Techeiles). In the Zechus of Hashem and their Zechus , they came out in peace.“
In addition, the sea creature coming “once every seventy years appears moreso to justify financial expense than anything else. Also, both the Ohr Chaim and Rabbeinu Bachya state that Techeiles is akin to a gold seal.
To quote R’ Mois Navon:
“It is not ideal, but it is not hypocritical. R. Dov Lior (Chief Rabbi of Kiryat Arba / Hevron) was asked by a student, “If I only have money for one set what should I do?” The Rav responded, “Buy one set, and go and work till you have enough money to buy more.” R. Shachter (of YU) counsels to put it on your talit katan before your talit gadol since you will have the mitzvah all day as opposed to only during tefila.”
7. Sticking Out Socially
Lo Sisgodedu – historically it was to cut oneself, but the general idea is to not “stand out” so that it seems like there are multiple Torahs (see the topic all over Yevamos). The Radzyner Rebbe and others though felt that this only applies when changing a Minhag from the rest of the Kehilla. One example is Tefillin on Chol HaMoed. While today, it appears that most people do whatever their family minhag is, purists that do wear Tefillin on Chol Hamoed would wear Tefillin privately However, it does not apply when trying to fulfill a Safek MiDeorayssa.
The above stated, this is one reason why certain Rabbonim like R’ Yisroel Belsky ZT”L, as well as R’ Gershon Meltzer Shlit”a, would only wear Techeiles on their Tallis Kottons and not on the Tallis Godol, since that way one can fulfill the mitzvah of wearing Techeiles and not stand out. However, they also felt this way as they were public figures, and leMaaseh many of their students (that aren’t as public as them) that do wear Techeiles today do so publicly. Another Posek, R’ Moshe Mordechai Karp Shlit”a, approached his Rebbe, R’ Yosef Sholom Elyashiv, about Techeiles, to which the latter replied to do so, but betzina (wear it inside) since the world hasn’t accepted Techeiles yet. R’ Karp today (for the last few years) now wears it on all his Talleisim. This a lengthy topic that has been fully addressed in Mareh Harakia.
On the topic of Tefillin, the Torah Mitzvah is to have an “os” (sign) on your hand and a “Totafos” between your eyes, and to those that don’t wear on Chol HaMoed, the “os” and “Totafos” is the Yom Tov, of which the line of reasoning is similar to why Tefillin isn’t worn on Shabbos (since Shabbos is “os” in itself).
Another item is perceived social stigma. That’s admittedly a personal matter that in time will fade the longer one wears Techeiles.
Rashi says Yarok like grass. The Rambam in turn states that the color is dark blue. R’ Shamshon Rephael Hirsch writes it’s “sky blue” (himmelblau). The Romans have put the blue color in the family of purple. The fact is, colors are all relative, and what one culture might refer to a shade of a color as one thing, another would refer to it as another. In the case of blue, both dark and light, the color spectrum actually places it right in between purple and green.
I can address that in one of the following possibilities:
- Since Techeiles is an experiential mitzva – a more obvious answer to the question is, what is the color of the sky? Blue!
- Different cultures perceived colors differently. That’s how in the color spectrum blue is in between purple and green. Rashi might have seen blue as a shade of green.
- Another idea is that the Braisa of R’ Meir compares Techeiles to the sea, then to the trees, then to the lawn. In other versions R’ Meir compares it to the sun, then the moon. So he’s therefore referring to concepts as opposed to colors. According to R’ Mois Navon, he’s comparing one thing with another, each thing being larger than that which preceded it – until we reach that which the mind can simply not grasp, as it is infinite. To quote:
Based on this analysis, we can understand the midrashic variations on the original statement of R. Meir, which insert various objects (asavim, trees, clouds, rainbow and nogah) in the progression to the throne of glory, as providing various “rungs on the ladder” as one reaches from the Sublime to the infinite. Asavim, translated as “grasses,” might refer to blue plants or flowers (R. Herzog, “Hebrew Porphyrology,” “The Royal Purple and Biblical Blue,” p. 93). Trees, accordingly, are larger elements in nature that too must have some blue aspect. As such, the asavim and trees are objects in nature which might be used in the procession toward the infinite. Clouds, rainbow and nogah are described by Ezekiel (1:28) as providing a likeness of God’s glory and are employed as an alternate reference to “the throne of glory” (see Mid. Tehillim 90:18). These objects are not to be taken as part of the procession to the infinite, but rather as metaphors for the transcendent goal.
- Rashi stating that the color is Yarok might be read differently as “Yaruk” which means “excreted,” but that’s admittedly not a convincing argument.
Nignaz literally means put away in concealment, and it doesn’t necessarily mean forever or until Moshiach (though some like the Aruch Hashulchan have stated this). To quote R’ Mois Navon from Threads of Reason:
“The Arizal, mentions the time of this “storing away” in connection with the destruction of the Second Temple (70 CE): “For the truth is that at this time, after the destruction of the Temple, we do not have the power to wear tekhelet.” However, by all accounts tekhelet was still in use following the destruction of the Temple, the earliest date given for its loss being 474 CE. Commenting on this conflict, R. (Yechiel Michel) Tuckachinsky (Ir HaKodesh VeHamikdash) explains, “Therefore, it is understood that only during the time of the Temple was it found in abundance, following which it was nignaz, not that it was stored away completely, but that it was found less frequently.”In a similar vein the Radvaz explains that “it is possible that the hillazon exists but we do not recognize it or how to trap it.”
In addition, the Maharil, Olas Tamid, Malbim, the Levush, Kli Chemda, Yaavetz, and Chemdas Shlomo, among others, didn’t feel that Nignaz meant that we were prevented from ever finding Techeiles again.
10. Safek Mideoraissa LeChumra Doesn’t Apply Here
R’ Herschel Schachter talks about R’ Menachem Ziemba, who wrote Gur Aryeh Yehuda in memory of his son who was killed by the Nazis, wrote the example of shaking a Lulav at Bein Hashmashos (safek yom safek laila). And the mitzvah can only be done by day, and he states we hold like the Ran on the Rif in Maseches Sukkah, that Safek Mideoraissa LeChumra even after shaking the Lulav you’ll be in doubt as to whether the Mitzvah was performed at all. So with Techeiles, even if there’s a safek, we should still be obligated to put on the new Techeiles.
There has also been extreme opposition by some Gedolim that this snail and the Techeiles doesn’t count as it’s not even a Safek that this isn’t it. Moreover, one is being mevazeh his Tzitzis with the blood of an impure animal! These issues have already been addressed at length. But there are other Gedolim like R’ Yisroel Belsky and R’ Chaim Twerski, both of whom publicly came out and stated they held it was Vadai.
Techeiles is special in that not only does the color resemble the sea, skies and Kiseh HaKavod, but this special wool was used to cover the holiest objects in the Mishkan. I hope this has helped address many of the items on Techeiles you might have been curious about and would allow one to begin fulfilling the Mitzvah in a “holy” manner. It goes without say that when in doubt, first consult your Rav.
P.S. Some consider Techeiles to be too “Modern Orthodox” and “not Yeshivish.” Someone asked R’ Hershel Schachter why he felt people were saying that Techeiles wasn’t Yeshivish, his reply: “because we (the Modern Orthodox) found it!” Techeiles should be a unifying force and not a dividing one, in hopes that it will help bring about the ultimate Geulah.