Debit/Credit Payment

Credit/Debit/Bank Transfer

First Techelet Robe in 2,000 years!

May 8, 2006
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

The project was researched and undertaken by skilled artisans over the past three years. It will join the already completed ephod and choshen (breastplate), featuring the 12 precious stones associated with the 12 tribes of Israel.

Master weaver Yehudit Avraham wove the robe using the Navajo “two-sided” weaving technique. The techelet dye used is the most widely accepted of the blue dyes. “This is the first robe woven entirely out of techelet in nearly 2,000 years,” reports Rabbi Chaim Richman of the Temple Institute. Symbolically, tekhelet resembles the ocean, which reflects the sky or heaven, thus connecting it with the divine.

The Loss and Rediscovery of Techelet

Sometime around the 7th century AD, the industry, which produced the blue dye, was destroyed, possibly because of the Arab conquest in 638. According to the Talmud (collection of Jewish traditions and commentaries), techelet––which appears 48 times in the Tanach (Old Testament)––is a specific blue dye produced from a creature referred to as a hillazon (Latin: Murex trunculus). Any other blue dyes are unacceptable (Tosefta).

The advent of the 19th century saw a number of attempts to identify the ancient source of the dye, using relevant Talmudic sources. On the whole, Orthodox Jews have been slow to accept the findings of this research, some claiming that techelet was removed for a divine purpose to be revealed by the Messiah at the time of the ultimate redemption.

In 1864, great mounds of Murex snail shells––100 yards long and yards deep––were found in Sidon, proof that once there had been a dye industry there. In 1887, Rabbi Gershon Henoch Leiner embarked on an extensive research program and found the common cuttlefish to meet many of the criteria. This new techelet quickly caught on among his followers, and within a year, 10,000 wore a blue strand in the tzitzit (fringes) of their tallit (prayer shawl). The vast majority of Orthodox Jewry, however, did not accept the Rebbe’s findings.

In 1913, Rabbi Yitzhak HaLevi Herzog, the first Chief Rabbi of Israel, wrote his doctoral thesis on the subject and named the Murex snail as the most likely candidate for the dye’s source. However, his inability to consistently obtain blue dye from the snail precluded him from proclaiming decisively that the dye source had been found.

In the 1980s, Otto Elsner, a chemist, discovered that if a solution of the dye was exposed to sunlight, blue instead of purple was consistently produced. In 1985, Rabbi Eliyah Tavger determined to apply the former research and became the first person to dye techelet for the ritual purpose of tzitzit. He helped form the P’til Tekhelet Foundation in 1993 for mass production of techelet––for biblical use only––and further research. Today, groups can visit the foundation and even arrange to snorkel and dig for the snail off the Mediterranean shores of Israel between Netanya and Haifa (www.tekhelet.com).

Producing the Dye

The Murex snail burrows in the sand. After digging them up, the shell is broken open much like a nut. All the shells found in the ancient mounds were broken at the same spot. The clear liquid is drawn from the snail’s gland. When mixed with a chemical solution, it turns yellow. Unspun wool is dipped into the solution, and within seconds, it turns a bright green color. Exposed to light, the dye soon turns the wool techelet blue.

It takes 30 snails to dye a pair of tzitzit strings blue, so you can imagine how many it took for a whole robe! The dye is quite permanent, as someone has said, “Three days in strong bleach has no effect.” The color is indistinguishable from indigo, a plant that produces the Murex’s molecular equivalent, but indigo is unacceptable for Jewish ritual use.

By Charleeda Sprinkle

Latest News

Current Issue

View e-Dispatch

PDF Dispatch

Search Dispatch Articles

  • Order