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Techeiles Trek

Libi Astaire

According to the Ramban, techeiles is supposed to take us on an inner journey from the sea to the sky to the throne of Hashem. That journey was aborted some 1,300 years ago, when the knowledge of how to produce techeiles was lost. But thanks to a few people on a mission, techeiles is back — and if you look closely, you may discover that sky-blue thread hanging from a pair of tzitzis near you.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

It’s rare, ancient, and sky-blue — and according to Israel Antiquities Authority researcher Dr. Na’ama Sukenik, a fragment of cloth recently found in the Dead Sea region and dating back to the Bar Kochva revolt proves conclusively, at least to the scientific community, that Jews living in Eretz Yisrael wore techeiles

The late-December discovery thrilled scientists and historians, who said the tiny piece of cloth was the first tangible proof that Eretz Yisrael hosted a techeiles-producing industry in ancient times.

Of course, Torah-observant Jews don’t need archeological proof, since the Torah itself tells us that a techeiles-hued dye was once used in the clothing of the Kohein Gadol, the tapestries of the Mishkan, and the tzitzis of every Jewish male.

The only mystery was how our ancestors produced their techeiles. But according to the founders of Ptil Tekhelet, the nonprofit organization that sponsored the conference where Dr. Sukenik displayed her find, that puzzle has been solved. In fact, they would like to invite you to see the solution to the centuries-old mystery with your own eyes.  

 

Dive In

Though it’s possible to see the Hand of Hashem at any time and place, scuba diving probably wouldn’t be at the top of most people’s lists. Yet it was this deep-sea sport that reconnected three high school friends and sent them on a voyage to solve one of the great mysteries of the post-Talmudic Jewish world: the secret of techeiles.

“I learned scuba diving after I moved to Israel,” explains Ari Greenspan, who is familiar to Mishpacha readers as one half of the world-traveling Ari-and-Ari duo. “My father, who was very concerned, said, ‘You’re married now. You have kids. What do you want to learn scuba diving for? It’s dangerous.’ I didn’t listen to my father’s suggestion — and I often think back to that discussion and how the Hand of Hashem guided me.”

Ari would go scuba diving for fun with a fellow former NCSYer who had made aliyah, Baruch Sterman. But their diving turned serious when they were approached by yet another NCSY acquaintance, Joel Guberman.

Joel’s brother had passed away and he wanted to do something meaningful in his brother’s memory. He decided to learn about the mitzvah of tzitzis in depth, which also meant learning about techeiles. He contacted Rabbi Eliyahu Tavger, who had made aliyah from the former Soviet Union and had written a seminal work on the topic, Klil Tekhelet. Rabbi Tavgar had also made a batch of techeiles dye, based upon the research that had been done in the early 1900s by Rav Yitzchak Herzog, a former chief rabbi of Israel who had written his doctorate on techeiles.

As a first step to putting his learning into practice, Joel needed to find the right snails, which are called chilazon in the Gemara. According to Rav Herzog, chilazon are snails from the Murex trunculus family. Joel contacted Ari, who contacted Baruch, and soon the trio was on their way toIsrael’s northern coast.

 “We first went to Achziv, which is a place that the Gemara mentions as having the snails, but the waves were too big,” Ari recalls. “So we went a bit south to Acco. This was probably the first time that anyone had dived to find snails to make techeiles for tzitzis in at least 1,300 years. We came out of the water with these snails, and when we started to break them open, these Arab kids started calling out, ‘Chilazon! Chilazon!’ I got the chills when I heard that.”

 

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