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November 1, 2014 / 8 Heshvan, 5775
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Tekhelet: a Choice or an Imperative?

Tekhelet tying methods on display at the Ptil Tekhelet conference.

Tekhelet tying methods on display at the Ptil Tekhelet conference.

We all make choices. In doing so, we are essentially making judgments about issues. And when we make judgments about issues, it is not always easy to avoid the trap of making judgments about those who choose a different way.

Yet avoid that trap we must, for the sake of Jewish unity. We are commanded to rise above such petty judgments and to judge only ourselves.

So it is for me with tekhelet, the sky blue color that men are commanded by the Torah to wear in their ritual fringes alongside the white. I am speaking of myself here. While many of my neighbors are focused on embracing the wearing of the blue, I find myself conflicted about the energy invested in the practice. And while tekhelet is a biblical commandment, it’s one full of “buts” that bring me up short.

Ptil Tekhelet co-founder Dr. Baruch Sterman (right) welcomes MK Isaac Herzog, Rabbi Dr. Herzog's grandson, to the conference.

Ptil Tekhelet co-founder Dr. Baruch Sterman (right) welcomes MK Isaac Herzog, Rabbi Dr. Herzog’s grandson, to the conference.

Lost Mesora

For instance: Jewish men are commanded to wear tekhelet but, as a people, we lost the mesora, the chain of custody that would empirically tell us which blue is THAT blue. We know that the source of tekhelet was a snail, but we don’t know for sure which snail is the right one.

In my capacity as a writer at Kars4Kids, I went to an all-day conference on the subject, 100 Years to Tekhelet Research, and heard from experts in many related disciplines and learned a great deal, but I came out of the conference feeling much the same as I did going in: the evidence is not absolute and therefore inconclusive.

That said, the search for tekhelet is a fascinating subject and the endeavor is rooted in Torah.

(Left to right) Ptil Tekhelet co-founders Joel Guberman and Dr. Ari Greenspan display a page from Rabbi Dr. Isaac Halevi Herzog's ground-breaking doctoral dissertation, "The Dyeing of Purple in Ancient Israel.”

(Left to right) Ptil Tekhelet co-founders Joel Guberman and Dr. Ari Greenspan display a page from Rabbi Dr. Isaac Halevi Herzog’s ground-breaking doctoral dissertation, “The Dyeing of Purple in Ancient Israel.”

VIPs

As usual, Finn Partners did a bang-up job organizing the event, and there were some mighty important people there: former chancellor of Yeshiva University Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm, Israeli Supreme Court Judge Neal Hendel, and MK Isaac Herzog, whose grandfather, Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi Yitzchak Halevi Herzog (zatzal), wrote a dissertation on the subject of tekhelet in 1913 as a seminal figure in the search for “himmel blau.” I spoke with Dr. Ari Greenspan, my across-the-street neighbor and a founder of Ptil Tekhelet.

V: In his talk, Rav Weinreb of the OU touched a bit on the Haredi reluctance to accept tekhelet. Several people at the conference have told me that Rav Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg (zatzal), who was known to wear many types of tzitzit at once to cover all Halachic bases, wore your tekhelet. Who else from the Haredi community was/is known to wear tekhelet?

Ari Greenspan: There’s Rav Zalman Nechemia Goldberg who has actually served as a posek. There’s Rav Amram Opman who is one of the judges of the Beit Din of the Badatz Eida Haredis and Rav Dichovsky on the Bet Din HaGadol of the Rabbanut. The entire Zilberman clan wears tekhelet. And the truth is, as you begin to go into the Haredi world, you begin to find some of the unique, individual thinkers that are looking for truth, and wearing it. Not a lot, but a significant number of Haredim. In the English world, both Rabbi Herschel Shachter and Rabbi Yisroel Belsky of the OU.

V: Well, but those last two—they aren’t Haredi.

Ari Greenspan: They’re American Haredim. Belsky’s a big name!

V: No one can say for sure if this is really the tekhelet, right?

Ari Greenspan: Here’s what I’ll tell you. There is no doubt that this is the color that our ancestors wore. There is no doubt that this is the source that the Romans used—no other source. And there’s no doubt that it was this snail—that the Romans killed people for wearing the color of this snail. There’s also no doubt that there was no other snail that the Romans used and we know for a fact that what we wore is what the Romans wore.

About the Author: Blogger and mother of 12 Varda Meyers Epstein is a third-generation Pittsburgher who made aliyah at age 18 and never looked back. A proud settler who lives in the biblical Judean heartland, Varda serves as the communications writer for the nonprofit car donation program, Kars for Kids.


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6 Responses to “Tekhelet: a Choice or an Imperative?”

  1. Reuven Prager says:

    You write incorrectly: “We know that the source of tekhelet was a snail”. This is untrue. We “know” that techelet comes from the chilazon, a marine creature. The question revolves around the identity of the chilazon, a mollusk; be it HaRav Herzog’s zt”zl janthina janthina, Radzin’s sepia officianalis, or the P’til’s trunculous murex.

    You write: ”Jewish men are commanded to wear tekhelet”. Women are permitted to fulfill the commandment of tzitzith/techelet and are equally required to include techelet.

    HaRav Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg zt”zl wore Radziner techelet secretly since 1989. I delivered it to him personally, as well as subsequently since.

    Today it is a matter of ratzon. If today you want to fulfill the commandment of tzitzith/techelet – you have who to rely on. If you don’t care, you also have who to rely on, there are plenty of rabbanim who don’t care. But why would you care not to, any more then you would care not to fulfill any other of HaShem’s commandments? What kind of Torah is “I find myself conflicted about the energy invested in the practice”? This is an absurd statement considering the effort you expend cleaning your home for Pesach. What energy is invested, retying your tzitzith? Are you serious?

    The resistance to geulah is passive. You can be the last to wear techelet, but you won’t match those of us working to get techelet into everyone’s tzitzith, hour for hour, to prevent us from getting the work done.

  2. "I delivered it to him personally, as well as subsequently since." Are you writing from outer space??

  3. Reuven Prager says:

    Great come-back, about as intelligent as your article. The last set of techelet I delivered to HaRav Scheinberg zt"zl before he was niftar was on a Beged Ivri tunic especially designed for him.

  4. Reuven Prager, so here's the part I cut from the piece because it was too long. Maybe it will help you better understand my perspective. If not, so be it:

    "I keep thinking: first let’s wear clothes. Then we can worry what color they are.

    In the interest of full disclosure, I am an anomaly. I’m a Haredi woman who lives in a Modern Orthodox community. Very few, if any, women in my town are careful to wear socks, as I do, in the hottest months of the year. I cover my hair. All of it. I cover my collarbone, my elbows, my knees and feet. I wear skirts and dresses, not pants.

    This is an important focus for me as a religiously observant woman—this business of covering up. And so I come up against my own judgmental nature when I see people in my community getting excited about whether or not to wear a blue thread when so many of my female friends wear pants and sleeveless and don’t cover their hair.

    Dressing as I do seems basic to me. As basic as Adam and Eve, the snake and the apple. As basic as losing the right to live in the Garden of Eden and knowing the shame inherent in public nudity: perhaps the earliest example of epistemological particularism in which you know something but you don’t know how you know it.

    The focus on tekhelet then, seems from my particular viewpoint, misplaced."

  5. Techelet says:

    Varda, we know that techelet looks like kla ilan, which is Indigo. So by dyeing wool in Indigo, we can arrive at an idea of what the color of techelet should be. There are different shades possible with Indigo, so I doubt every strand of techelet looked exactly like the next one.

    You can read more at:

    http://www.techelet.info

  6. Varda Epstein 1- Your last statement: Trying to fulfill a Mitzva d'Oraita is misplaced? And you're Chareidi? 2- With any Mitzvah, you can either find a way or find a way out. Each says something about the person. 3- If HaShem meant for us to be naked, He would have created us without clothes. Said another way, HaShem's original intention was to hang out with naked vegetarians in a garden. 3- Time to get out of Golus and even more, get Golus out of your head. Time for Yetziat Mitraim – get out of your narrow places.

  7. Varda Epstein 1- Your last statement: Trying to fulfill a Mitzva d'Oraita is misplaced? And you're Chareidi? 2- With any Mitzvah, you can either find a way or find a way out. Each says something about the person. 3- If HaShem meant for us to be naked, He would have created us without clothes. Said another way, HaShem's original intention was to hang out with naked vegetarians in a garden. 3- Time to get out of Golus and even more, get Golus out of your head. Time for Yetziat Mitraim – get out of your narrow places.

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