Wednesday, 20 February 2013

A Colourful Debate

Question: I see some men walking around with a blue techeles thread on their tzitzis. If we know what techeles is, why don’t we all wear it?
Answer: Wearing techeles was always an integral part of the mitzva of wearing tzitzis. Unfortunately, however, the art of making techeles from the chilazon has been lost for close to 2,000 years. The Midrash (Tanchuma, Shelach) laments that “now we have no techeles, only white, as techeles has been hidden.” While the Tosefta (Bava Metzia 61:) writes that one who doesn’t wear techeles has transgressed the mitzva of tzitzis, we see in the Gemara (Bava Metzia 61b and Menachot 40a, 43a) that wearing the wrong techeles invalidates the tzitzis.
But what is the chilazon? In the 1880’s, the Radzyner Rebbe, R’ Gershon Henoch Leiner, maintained that a particular squid (Sepia officinalis) was the long lost chilazon. He published 3 seforim on the subject, though while many used this dye to make techeles, it was far from blue and white! In 1913, R’ Issac Herzog published his doctoral thesis on techeles, naming a mollusk (Murex trunculus) as the most likely candidate for the source of techeles. The debate continues to this day.
While R’ Herzog’s arguments are most compelling, the Beis Halevi (R’ Yosef Ber Soloveitchik, 1820-1892) maintained that as the techeles has been lost from our mesorah, tradition, it should not be reinstated, irrespective of the evidence.
It is certainly no simple matter to reinstate a ‘lost tradition:’
While Kohanim duchen daily (Birchas Kohanim) in Eretz Yisrael, in chutz la’aretz this mitzva is reserved for Yom Tov. Various reasons have been given for this, including our lack of true simcha in the Diaspora. Nonetheless, many gedolim including both the Vilna Gaon and his student, R’ Chaim of Volozhin unsuccessfully tried to reinstate the daily beracha. The Aruch Hashulchan (OC 128:64) writes that it’s as if there was a voice from heaven calling out against reinstating it.
We eagerly await the day when the true glory of these Mitzvos will be reinstated for all.


  1. R' Chaim,

    There is a machlokes in what the Beis Halevi held between briskers and what was written by the Radziner Rebbe. The Radziner wrote that the beis halevi held that since the fish he thought (a squid) to be the techeiles was always around, and his forefathers did not use it for the mitzva, then it is an issue. However if the source of techeiles was not around, as is the case for Murex Trunculus (what is considered to be the only possible option) which was lost at the end of the gaonic period, even the beis halevi would not have an issue of it lacking a mesorah.
    “After he [the Radziner] has clarified that something had been lost and he
    rediscovered it will we be obligated to listen to him and wear it. However, if we
    say that the fish was in existence, and the [manner of] extracting its dye was
    known during all the time that has passed since tekhelet stopped [being used] in
    Israel, and yet our fathers and our forefathers did not wear it, then it is as if we
    have a tradition and a transmission from our ancestors that this fish and its dye
    are not the hillazon and the tekhelet, despite its having all the signs which our sages
    have designated. Only after it has become clear to us that this fish or the dyeing
    process ceased and was forgotten at any time during all this time, and therefore
    that the transmission was interrupted, only then will the halachic evidence serve as

    Furthermore, there are plenty of achronim who do not hold like the one opinion in the beis halevi, either because they paskened like the Radziner or like R Hertzog, or becuase they wrote lengthy teshuvas or expressed their opinions without mentioning the lack of mesorah being an issue.
    The Maharsham, R' Itzele Ponevezher, R' Chaim Berlin, (according to some claims, R' Chaim Ozer), and R' Akiva Yosef Shlessinger actually wore the Techeiles, while various other gedolim such as R' Shmuel Salant, R' Yehoshua Leib Diskin, and R' Yehuda Leib Eiger provided varying levels of support. The Yeshuos Malko came the closest to outright reject techieles bzman haze in his three teshuvos but he merely didn't support it without bringing a lack of mesorah.
    Furthermore there is an opinion that mesorah can be created (i beleive the malbim), meaning that since there has been a group of jews wearing techeiles since the Radziner, for someone coming today there is a mesorah. Albeit that would have not been the case when the Beis Halevi wrote his Teshuva.

  2. R' Avner,
    thanks for joining the debate - mareh mekomos would be most helpful..
    I'm sure you'll understand why most Poskim don't want to change it - "as if we have a tradition and a transmission" is not the same as having a Mesora - something we don't mess with too quick.
    R' Moshe Sternbuch (Teshuvos Vehanhagos 1:26) writes about it possibly being Lo Sisgodedu. That may not apply to you if many people around you wear it, though it certainly would be a question for me!
    It is also worthwhile reading R' Shlomo Miller's Teshuva on the topic:
    Email me for more Mareh Mekomos..
    All the best,

  3. Rabbi,

    I think you may have misunderstood Avner's comment above when he quoted the Radziner Rebbe who was quoting the Beis Halevi - "...It's as if we have a tradition and a transmision.." This was a challenge against the Radziner Rebbe's Tekheles that the fact that it was in existence all that time and yet it wasn't used is as if there is a mesorah not to use it i.e. a kind of negative mesorah. When you said "as if we have a tradition and a transmission is not the same as having a mesora" you seem to have implied that the "as if" line was an argument for wearing it, when really it was an argument against wearing it. Either way the end of the quote from the Beis Halevi is what is important - "Only after it has become clear to us that this fish or the dyeing process ceased and was forgotten at any time during all this time, and therefore that the transmission was interrupted, only then will the halachic evidence serve as proof" which is exactly the scenario of the teckheles used today.
    2 more points:

    1. None of the Gemara's you quote actually say you miss out on the Mitzvah of Tzitzis with false Tekheles. You might not fulfill the tekheles aspect of the mitzvah but you will still fulfil mitzvah of tzitzis. In fact the gemara in Men.40a - V'lo Yehei Ela Lavan says quite explicitly that even with Kela Ilan you can fulfil the mitzvah of tzitzis even to the extent that it will override the lo sa'seh of Shaatnez. (see

    2. The strongest argument I have seen for wearing the Tekheles (aside from any simanim arguments) is from R' Schachter - (In his sefer Ginas Egoz,and a few of his shiurim online including - who says that the murex is atleast a safek. With the opportunity to fulfil a mitvah d'oraissa, it should be a safek d'oraissa l'chumrah. Rav Schachter also responds to Rabbi Miller's pshat in R'Chaim that SDL wouldn't necessarily apply here because even after you are machmir the safek still exists. He says we clearly don't pasken like that R'Chaim as there are multiple situations in MB where we don't use such a svara.

    Interested in hearing your thoughts on the above