Worming Out Of This One!
‘Twisted Scarlet Wool’
The garments of the kohen gadol contained a mixture of beautiful colors, including sheish, techeles, argaman, and tolaas shani. Sheish is flax, as stated in our sugya. What are techeles, argaman, and tolaas shani? Maseches Yevamos 4b states that techeles refers to wool dyed with techeles, which comes from secretions of a certain shellfish. Rashi and Tosefos add that argaman (usually translated as purple) and tolaas shani (usually translated as scarlet) are also shades of dyed wool.
The Color of Techeles
In discussing the color of techeles, the Rishonim offer several opinions. The Rambam (Hilchos Klei Mikdash 8:13) holds that techeles is “wool dyed the color of the clear sky,” namely light blue. Rashi (Shemos 25:4), on the other hand, holds that techeles is green. Some commentaries suggest that it resembles the color black (Ibn Ezra, parshas Terumah; see also Rambam, Hilchos Tzitzis 2:5). Others suggest that it is dark blue (see the introduction of the Tiferes Yisroel to Seder Moed).
Argaman and Tolaas Shani
The Rambam (Hilchos Klei Mikdash, ibid.) writes that argaman and tolaas shani are both shades of red (see also Hilchos Para 3:2; Rashi on Yeshaya 1:18). What is tolaas shani, and how was it used to produce red dye? Although the word tolaas in Hebrew means worm, the Rambam explains that the tolaas shani dye used in the kohen gadol’s garments was not produced from worms. Rather, it was produced from small red seeds, similar in size and shape to those of a carob tree. Inside each seed was a tiny worm; hence the name of the dye. However, the seed itself, not the worm, was used in producing the dye.
It would seem that the Rambam’s insistence that the dye derived from the seed (and not the worm) is due to the rule that only kosher substances can be used in the construction of the Mishkan (see Shabbos 28a). Rabbeinu Bachaye (Shemos, ibid.) writes that the same is true regarding the kohanim’s garments (which is why silk was not used in their clothes).
Many, however, maintain that tolaas shani was indeed made from worms. This opinion seems to be supported by the Yerushalmi (Kilayim 9:1), which clearly states that tolaas shani was made from a living creature. What about the principle that the Mishkan can only be made from kosher materials? Perhaps, this opinion would state that one may in fact eat these worms. R’ Chaim Palagi in fact encouraged eating powdered tolaas shani worm as a treatment for stomach disorders.
Reduced To Dust
During R’ Chaim Palagi’s time, this worm was known as “karmaz” (Refua V’Chaim 12:232, cited in M’Zahav U’Paz p. 130). How was eating this worm permitted? The Maharam Chaviv (cited in Me’am Loez, parshas Terumah p. 938) writes that tolaas shani worms were left to dry in the hot summer sun until they were reduced to dust. They were then used as dyes for coloring clothes and food products. Since they had already turned into dust, eating them was permissible.