The Modern Attempts to Restore the Mitzvah of Techeiles

The Search for the Mysterious Chilazon: Has it Finally Been Discovered?

Please Note: This article was written in 2007 by my father, Rabbi Eli Teitelbaum Z”L, after Camp Sdei Chemed was given a private tour of the Ptil Tekhelet Association and the boys were able to search for the Chilozon in the Mediterranean Sea. For more recent developments I would suggest reading this new book,The Rarest Blue: The Remarkable Story of an Ancient Color Lost to History and Rediscovered.

Here is a link to the camp video of the tour where we search for the chilozon and learn how to make Ticheilet for Tzitzit. Sdei Chemed Boys – Tekhelet Expedition

I decided to post this article now as it’s in this weeks Parsha, Parshat Terumah where we learn about the tekhelet for the first time.

Dovid Teitelbaum

The Search for the Mysterious Chilazon; Has it Finally Been Discovered?
By Rabbi Eli Teitelbaum

Styles of tying with tekhelet
Styles of tying with tekhelet (Photo credit: RahelSharon)

The mitzvah of Tzitzis is equal to all the other mitzvos in the Torah says the gemara, yet for more than a thousand years the blue thread that the Torah tells us to put onto the corners of the garment has been missing. That’s because the thread must be colored with a blue dye coming from a sea creature called a chilazon whose identity we don’t seem to know. This sea creature was obviously very well known in ancient times but was probably forgotten when the Jews went into exile to Bavel. This dye was very important in ancient times since it was used by kings and princes to dye their robes. It seemed to have been a very expensive dye literally worth its weight in gold. The Torah in Parsas Zos Ha’bracha) tells us that the tribe of  Yisachar and Z’vulon were given the ocean which contained “treasures buried in the sand,” which the gemara in Mesechta Megillah (6a) says  refers to the chilazon and other treasures found in the ocean. The gemarah (Menachos 44a) also says that they would “come up”  only once in seventy years.

While it was well known that the Mediterranean coast was the center of the dyeing industry in ancient times, the source of this dye has remained a great mystery. It seems to be that with the Arab conquest of Eretz Yisroel in 639 CE, the secret  of tekhelet was lost and forgotten.

Luckily, the gemara tells us that the blue thread is actually a separate mitzvah and therefore we still get the mitzvah of tzitzis even though we are missing the blue thread. However, we unfortunately do miss out on the very great mitzvah of having the blue thread.

Rabbi Meir says (Sifri, Shelach 15,39) that “whoever observes the mitzvah of tsitsis, is considered as if he greeted the Shchina, for the techeles resembles the sea, and the sea resembles the sky, and the sky resembles Hashem’s Holy Throne.” (See Minochos 43b)

We first find techeles used in the making of the Mishkan. Rashi tells us in Parshas Terumah that it came from the blood of a chilazon and its color is (yarok) green. This seems rather strange, since it is generally accepted that techeles is blue and not green?

From the gemorah’s description in Mesechta Shabbos (85a) it seems that the chilazon has a hard shell and one is not permitted to break it open on Shabbos. This would seem to indicate that it’s some kind of snail and not a fish. The medrash (Psiktah  d’Rav Kahana 11:21) also describes it as a creature who’s nartek (meaning shell or housing) grows along with it, which is of course a snail. The gemorah (Bava Metzia 61b) also tells us that one had to be very wary due to those who tried to cheat you and use an artificial coloring called Kalai ilon, which looked identical in  color to techeles. In fact the color was such a perfect match that there was no way anyone could tell them apart. And since as we all know, when there is some money to be made there are always plenty of cheats and frauds, people had to be very careful to make sure that the blue dye came from the chilazon and not from kala ilon.  Kala ilan has been identified as indigo which is a blue dye of vegetable origin. (See the Aruch  and the Radvaz Responsa 2:685). The gemorra also tells us that this blue dye would hold fast and not fade away by washing etc.  And so while the search for the mysterious chilazon probably went on for many years, its identity remained unknown. It would have to fit all the above requirements in order for us to make a positive identification.

Murex trunculus
Murex trunculus (Photo credit: RahelSharon)

It was first in 1887 that the great gaon Rabbi Gershon Henoch Leiner, also known as the Radziner Rebbe began an intensive search for the lost chilazon. He in fact went to visit an aquarium in Italy to study the many species of fish in order to see if any of them fit the description. He finally came up with a fish called a cuttlefish (Sepia officinalis, a type of squid). An Italian  chemist showed him that by adding  some iron filings to its blood and heating it, it would make a blue color. His conclusion however was met with great skepticism as many refuted his findings. In fact, by using his method, virtually all organic substances would also make a blue dye. Another problem was that cuttlefish are quite common, cannot exist in sand, and the ink is certainly not expensive to produce. Furthermore, a cuttlefish does not have an external shell but only an internal shell which does not have to be broken in order to get to the ink. Obviously the Rebbe had been misled by an unscrupulous chemist. The pros and cons can be found in the many seforim on this subject.

In 1913 the Chief Rabbi of Ireland, Rabbi Isaac Herzog who later became the Chief Rabbi of Israel  did much research on the subject and in fact wrote his doctoral thesis on this subject.  His findings seemed to suggest that it is a type of snail called Murex trunculus which is indeed found in the Mediterranean. While his findings seemed to be correct, he ruled it out for a number of reasons. Firstly, the dye of the trunculus is purplish-blue and not pure blue. Secondly, the dye is not really permanent and thirdly, its body color did not look like the sea but rather light brown.  Little did he realize that he may actually have discovered the mysterious chilozon but was unfortunately missing some very important facts and details. His first problem was that he didn’t know how to make the dye properly. It had to be made in the sunlight. At first the dye looks green just like Rashi describes it.  It’s only when  its held up to sunlight that it turns into a beautiful blue. I’ve done it many times and in fact have video taped the process. It’s absolutely remarkable to see how the green changes to a beautiful sky blue when held in sunlight!  This important fact was actually discovered by Professor Otto Elsner of the Shenkar College of Fibers who had noticed that on cloudy days the dye seemed to turn purple while on sunny days it turned into a brilliant blue. His second objection that the dye doesn’t hold up well is incorrect. If properly prepared with chemicals used to treat wool to absorb the dye, it is extraordinarily fast. When tested in a strong bleach solution for more than three days it remained just as before. Perhaps he had tested the dye in a cotton fabric that does not absorb the dye very well. His third problem which was with the snail’s color has a simple answer. The snail that Rav Herzog had in his possession  probably came from some local museum and its outer shell had been cleaned off. Had he taken it out of the water and seen it in its natural habitat, he would have realized at once that it looked just like the sea. In fact, this is why they are  so difficult to find. I’ve taken my Camp S’dei Chemed campers chilozon hunting on the beaches of the Mediterranean many a time and they have learned that they are not easy to find. They hide in the sand and look the very same color as the sea.  Perhaps the reason it was so expensive is that it takes about 30 of these murex trunculus snails to make enough dye for the four threads needed to make one pair of tzitzis.


English: Some wool dipped in techelet solution...
English: Some wool dipped in techelet solution, turning blue in the sunlight outside P’til Techelet in Israel. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It is interesting to note that in 1858 the French zoologist Henri de Lacaze-Duthiers discovered  three mollusks  in the Mediterranean  which produced  purple-blue dyes and which he believed must have been the source of the ancient royal blue color. Interestingly enough, thousands of the Murex trunculas shells  as well as the remains of a dye factory have been found near Sidon.  The shells of these snails all have been cracked  open on the very spot from which one takes out the (hypobranchial) gland from which one makes the dye. This is a sure sign that they were once used in the dye process.

The strongest evidence of all, is that the chemical structure of this dye is identical  to that of k’la ilan or indigo. This is why the gemarah says that one can easily be fooled by it. The one mystery that still puzzles us is the gemarah that says that it comes up once in seventy years. This may simply mean that they are washed ashore once every seventy years. We’ll just have to wait and see if this phenomenon holds true or perhaps there is some other solution

Continue reading

From Camp Sdei Chemed, here.

Was Rabbi Moshe Feinstein Libertarian Leaning?

Rav Moshe Feinstein on Government

This post is in reaction to Jak Black’s over at Mishmar. It is a translation of Darash Moshe Derush 10 (page 415) in the standard edition:

“Remember that which Amalek did to you etc., do not forget”. It is seemingly not understood what purpose there is in remembering the action of Amalek orally and in our hearts. What can we do about it?

However, the Passuk in Parshas Tetzaveh answers this, in that it seems difficult, that here (Parshas Tetzaveh) is not the place where Bnei Yisrael are commanded (about lighting the Menorah with pure olive oil), rather Hashem is only saying now that He will eventually command them, as Rashi explains in Parshas Emor (24:2), and, if so, what purpose does it serve now? This is not done by the other Mitzvos!

We also must understand the reason that the Torah commands that it be pure-pressed oil, that never had any sediment, since it will burn with sediment as well.

The reason is that the Torah is telling us a great thing. Every empty belief in the world, and every vapid value system in the world, declares that it illuminates the world, and portrays some nice things to mislead the eyes and to ensnare souls. But since many people are not interested in it, they force their opinions upon anyone they can with swords and spears, that they should accept their beliefs and value system, as is known in every period and era, whether in beliefs or value systems, whether in the past or present, and even more strongly so (now) such as with (Communist) Russia and Germany and the like. This is the sediment in their light, and in the end all that is left is only the evil and not the system that they portrayed, which they no longer have any use for since they have a sword and a spear. And it turns out that since there was sediment mixed into their light, which is the waste of the sword and the spear, there was room to err ansd think that the sediment provides light, until, finally, all that is left is the sword and spear alone, and the light is completely extinguished, as we saw with our own eyes with Russia and Germany on both extremes.

And we derive from this that no government, which is the authority, has the right to accept one particular belief or value system, because in the end all that will remain is force, devoid of values, and there will be destruction in the world, as we see with our own eyes.

If so, there is a difficulty, since the path of the Torah is also that the Jewish government supervises the law of the Torah as well, and this is represented by the Mikdash which is the foundation of our Nation, and if so, how can we have a claim against the Kings of the Nations that they supervise their beliefs and values?

The answer to this is that it is true that the Jews can hand over the implementation of the Torah to their government as well, because in the end He will command them to light in the Menorah only pure-pressed oil that was never with sediment, meaning that only with the light of the Torah will it be illuminated, in that it is a wise and understanding Nation, to influence the entire world, as it was in the days of David and Shlomo that all the Nations streamed to them, and many converted, out of a pure love for Hashem and the Torah, because it is forbidden for the Jews to force other Nations to convert, and we do not coerce any nation or country to do so, and on the contrary, we do not accept converts if there is even a doubt whether they want to convert because of some fear or other mundane matter, and therefore there is no need to be concerned about this – rather the righteous king will see, through the might of the wisdom of the Torah, to influence the entire world.

And even those among the Jews who are liable for the death penalty – it is so difficult to have an individual be liable for the death penalty! For only righteousness and justice is our our light, with no addition of sediment. And therefore Hashem hurried to inform us, in the middle of the commandment to erect the Mishkan, to answer that which Hashem gave over the Torah to the leadership of the monarchy, that they need to use pure olive oil, although here is not the place for that commandment.

Now, Amalek, who came to fight against the Jews, also had a value system. They wanted to show, erroneously, that there was nothing miraculous about the Jews and there is nothing to fear about them, and if so they should have initially argued with words and to show that they were right if they could, or to admit that they were wrong if they could not. But they did not do so. They came immediately to fight. They showed that the primary part is the sediment. So we must remember, orally and in our hearts, so that we know that any belief or value that uses its authority and force, and is not satisfied with its light alone, is full of vapidity and lies and they are merely fooling the public, and that is the benefit of remembering Amalek for us as well.

We conclude from all this that any kingdom from the Nations of the world is not allowed to espouse one particular belief system. It must only do its job, which is to make sure that noone wrongs his fellow by stealing or murdering, for without the fear of government each man would swallow his fellow alive, but regarding value systems and beliefs and other things everyone must be free to do as he wishes.

And if so, the government of the United States, which already 150 years ago set as a law for its government that they will not espouse one particular belief or system, rather each man can do as he pleases, and the government will only ensure that one man does not swallow his fellow, they are doing the Will of G-d, and therefore they were successful and they became great during that period. And we are obligated to pray for them that Hashem grant them success in all that they endeavor.

And soon may Yehudah and Yisrael be redeemed, Amen.

Government Education Is Unsatisfactory – Surprise!

Most Israeli Parents Dissatisfied with Schools

(Wednesday, June 6th, 2012 07:00 PM)

A study conducted by the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute shows most Israeli parents are not satisfied with the level of the nation’s schools. 69% of parents feel the schools are simply not doing their jobs as they should and 64% feel the teachers are not as dedicated to their profession as they should be.

Dr. Anat Dofen conducted the study during the last two months; questioning 800 parents (470 families) who children attend state public and public religious schools. 60% of the parents feel the principal at their children’s school is not fulfilling his job as he should, 59% dissatisfied with the level of studies, and 58% displeased with the social atmosphere in the school.

Overall, the level of satisfaction is higher among fathers than mothers, in all the areas probed. For example, 45% of dads are pleased with the social atmosphere in school as compared to 40% among moms.

Regarding their opinion of the school’s principal, fathers rated his performance grade as 33% as opposed to mothers, who gave an even lower grade, 29%.

Regarding teachers, 60% feel their child’s teacher is doing a good job relating to their child, 55% approving of methodology, 54% feel the teacher genuinely cares, 50% with the teachers ability to teach, and the overall rating for teachers is 62%, not very impressive.

(YWN – Israel Desk, Jerusalem)

From Yeshiva World, here.

Socialism Doesn’t Pay

Venezuela’s Magnificent, Well-Deserved Economic Collapse

Gary North – June 23, 2016

A majority of the voters of Venezuela are thieves. They have tried to vote themselves prosperity through the welfare state.

This preference for theft by the ballot box has now blown up in their faces.


To imagine that theft produces any other result is to imagine that (1) dishonesty is the best policy, (2) thieves win in the long run, and (3) private property is theft.

Venezuelans elected and re-elected the long-winded socialist Hugo [OOgowe] Chavez. Chavez was a tin-horn dictator whose role model — rhetorically and ideologically — was Fidel Castro. He loved to give three-hour speeches. He loved to hear himself talk.

After Chavez died of cancer, Venezuelans voted for his hand-picked successor, a former bus driver. Maduro carries on Chavez’s policies.

Chavez’s state took oil income and created massive bureaucracies, where his political cronies prospered. He let some of this money trickle down to the voters, who re-elected him four times.

Venezuela was Cuba with oil income. But now oil revenues are down. The free market is crippled. Maduro has now doubled down on welfare state tyranny. The government confiscates vital resources, such as food. Food shortages are universal. The government rations it.

The worse the economy gets, the more Maduro’s government tightens the screws. It’s the grab-bag of welfare state policies: price controls, food rationing, calls for citizens to cut back on consumption, and tirades against unnamed enemies.

So horrendous is the disaster that the New York Times ran this editorial:

As the effort to oust President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela by referendum gains support, his government is ratcheting up repression. On Friday, Mr. Maduro declared a 60-day state of emergency, saying it was necessary to quash what he described as a “coup” and confront “all the international and national threats our nation is facing.”The threats Venezuelans face today are not the result of foreign or domestic conspiracies, but Mr. Maduro’s disastrous leadership. On his watch, the country’s health care system has atrophied so severely that scores of Venezuelans are dying every week because of chronic shortages of medicine and ill-equipped hospitals.

Violence has soared as armed gangs loyal to the government roam the streets. During the first three months of this year, 4,696 people were murdered in Venezuela, according to the government, and in 2015 more than 17,700 were killed. The three-month death toll is higher than the 3,545 civilians killed last year in Afghanistan, a record number.

Shortages of food and basic goods are likely to worsen as Venezuela’s economy continues to contract this year. Political prisoners, meanwhile, have languished behind bars for years, victims of a corrupt and broken justice system.

This crisis has exposed the hollow promise of the socialist policies Mr. Maduro and his predecessor, Hugo Chávez, have peddled since the late 1990s. While many Venezuelans got a taste of prosperity in better housing, subsidized food and higher wages when oil prices were high — oil accounts for roughly 96 percent of Venezuela’s exports — the government failed to build anything resembling a sustainable economy. It also failed to save when money was flowing in, which would have softened the impact of the recession that began in 2014.

All this is true, and much, much more.

In principle, nothing has changed since Chavez was first elected President in 1998. He was the head of the United Socialist Party. The voters knew exactly what he stood for: theft by ballot box.

Now the results are in. Gee, it’s poverty! Who would have imagined?

So, the theft has escalated. Food riots are daily events. So is looting.

Venezuela is the only country in the Western hemisphere that could profitably imitate Haiti.

It is a failed state.

It is a socialist state. Of course it failed. Socialism works until other people’s money runs out.

The money ran out.

H. L. Mencken said it best. “Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.”

So, what is our responsibility? To the government of Venezuela, none.

If you know of a charity that really can get food to families in Venezuela, consider making a donation. But if the government confiscates it, don’t. Ask for evidence that the recipients are actually receiving the food or other supplies.

I feel sorry for the impoverished voters who voted against Chavez and Maduro. But those who elected them are now learning that bad ideas have bad consequences. There is ethical cause and effect in history. This is a cause of rejoicing.

When you hear the words “failed state,” you may have noticed that the phrase is never applied to a capitalist society. There are good reasons for this.

From Gary North, here.