Friday, February 12, 2016

The Beauty of Blue

If you’ve never heard of a chilazon, the creature from which the ancient techelet dye was extracted, that’s because the exact identity of the creature has been lost due to time and dispersion. While in recent years, some believe that they have rediscovered the chilazon, this discovery is not universally accepted. It is interesting, however, to look at what the Talmud says about the mysterious source of this holy techelet color that is necessary for the strings of the tzitzit (fringe on a four corner garment):

The color produced by the chilazon is compared to what today is called indigo. “Rabbi Meir used to say, Why is blue specified from all the other colors? Because blue resembles the color of the sea, and the sea resembles the color of the sky, and the sky resembles the color of [a sapphire], and a sapphire resembles the color of the Throne of Glory” (Talmud Menachot 43b). The blue dye could be synthesized, but God warned that He would distinguish the dishonest people from the honest ones, including one “who [attaches to his tzitzit (threads) dyed with] vegetable blue and maintains that it is [real] blue” (Talmud Baba Metzia 61b).

The sages provide a few descriptions that can help identify the chilazon creature, including where they can be found:

1) “The chilazon resembles the sea in its color, and in shape it resembles a fish; it appears once in seventy years, and with its blood, one dyes the blue thread, therefore it is so expensive” (Talmud Menachot 44a).

2) “He who captures a purple-fish (chilazon) and crushes it [on Shabbat] is liable to one [sin offering] should be alive so that the dye should be clearer” (Talmud Shabbat 75a). Because the sages describe crushing the fish, there are those who believe that the chilazon is a creature with a hard outer shell.

3) The chilazon was native to the region of Israel that was given to the tribe of Zebulun. When the Tribe of Zebulun worried that their lands were comprised of many lakes and rivers, God responded that the other tribes “will all require you for the chilazon” (Talmud Megillah 6a).

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