T’cheles (likely authentic blue) Tzitzis

The Shulchan Aruch includes a disagreement between the Mechaber (R Yosef Karo) and the (Ashkenazi) Ramo. The Mechaber’s view is that the strings should be the same colour as the four cornered garment they are attached to. In that vein someone wearing a Kapote which is black and has four square edges, would need to wear black Tzitzis. That’s my understanding of the Mechaber. The Ramo states that Minhag Ashkenazim is different. Ashkenazim don’t look at the colour of the garment as determinant, rather they always wear white. Undoubtedly this is not a Minhag from the time immemorial. Rather, when the Jews had preserved the tradition of Tcheles from generation to generation it is reasonable to conclude that the strings were not all white. Indeed, we see even amongst Sefardim like the Rambam, and others such as the Ra’avad and Tosfos different ways to utilise and incorporate the Techeles string.

The tradition of Identifying/finding Techeles was lost. There is the famous Radziner Rebbe who thought he identified Tcheles, and the subsequent debunking of the Radziner Techeles by Chief Rabbi Herzog and others. About 15 years ago the murex trunculus (as I recall, I could be mistaken with the exact name) enjoyed very strong halachic and scientific support as being authentic T’cheles.

Rav Soloveitchik opposed attempts to identify and conclude what T’cheles was as he was very much the Masoretic Jew from Beis HoRav (stretching to the Vilna Gaon). As such, where a mesora/tradition was lost, that was the end of the story, and one would need a Novi/Melech HaMoshiach to confirm the source of the T’cheles blue.

According to Kaballah, the Sefer Hachasidim related that he saw in a prophetic image that God wore white Tzitzis on a completely white garment.

The Mishna Brura opines that it is best to wear a pure white garment and white Tzitzis, as in this way one fulfills both the opinion of the Ramoh and the Mechaber.

It is rumoured that the last Lubavitcher Rebbe’s father, Reb Levi Yitzchok הי׳ד who was an accomplished Kabbalist, wore a plain white Tallis and white Tzitzis.

Mori V’Rabbi Rav Hershel Schachter argues that today, based on the Gemora in Menachos 40a, that the Gemora states explicitly that someone who wears Indigo coloured strings as a substitute for Techeles is fulfilling the Torah command of Tzitzis. Therefore since in our day we have something which can be called ספק תכלת, possibly Techeles, there is a cogent argument to no longer follow the Ramoh’s custom, and to wear modern T’cheles, since it’s a ספק דאורייתא, a Torah doubt, for which we normally are careful to be concerned about.

Clearly, Rav Schachter, arguably the most accomplished of the Rav’s Talmidim, doesn’t agree with his Rebbe, Rav Soloveitchik (during which time this T’cheles wasn’t yet (re)discovered.

Rav Schachter opines that Rav Elyashiv’s view that one should continue wearing white, must be based on a reason that Rav Schachter didn’t merit to understand. I seem to recall Rav Schachter meeting with Rav Elyashiv and this was one of their conversations.

I have a set of the first T’cheles of the new type that have been sitting in my cupboard for many years. I haven’t looked into the matter since I read Rav Soloveitchik’s view.

I’m interested in any views which may differ from the rather compelling logic and psak of Rav Schacter. I know that Chassidim (and today’s Litvaks are no different) look to their Master and follow their Rebbe/Daas Torah behaviour and practices.

I’m interested in halachic arguments against Rav Schachter’s logic.

Author: pitputim

I'm a computer science professor in Melbourne, Australia. I skylark as the band leader/singer for the Schnapps band. My high schooling was in Chabad and I continued at Yeshivat Kerem B'Yavneh in Israel.

15 thoughts on “T’cheles (likely authentic blue) Tzitzis”

    1. R’ David, you can see that the author makes many unsupported leaps of logic here. For instance: חלזון זה למה הוא דומה? גופו דומה לרקיע (מסכת ציצית). ת”ר חלזון זהו גופו דומה לים (מנחות מד,א). גופו – מראה גופו (רש”י שם,שם), היינו מראה מיץ שסוחטים מגוף החלזון הוא תכלת.

      What? How does he get from “מראה גופו” to “מראה מיץ שסוחטים מגופו”? That’s precisely contrary to the plain meaning of Rashi!

      Furthermore, as a matter of practical science, the material extracted from the murex shells comes from a gland inside them, which cannot be conveniently extracted without killing the mollusc. And when the material is extracted, it’s yellowish, not blue or purple or anything of that sort; it only turns indigo after exposure to air. This would be the most useless siman in the world, particularly since all the Gemara would have needed to say was “the chilazon – this is the shell that argaman comes from, go ask a fisherman”. And done.

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      1. I am not sure how מסכת ציצית has any relevance to הלכה. These are less important than a ברייתא. If it was a critical thing, it would be quoted in the גמרא. In the absence of any information they can have a place for consideration. Halacha isn’t an academic study. It is is bound by Halachic principles of deduction and importance and measure. There is a hierarchy of importance

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        1. The bit of Rashi he’s commenting on comes from Menachot, and I quoted it as an example of the wishful reading that the pro-Murex camp indulges in.

          But as far as quoting from beraitot and aggadot and so forth, we’re basically forced into it. As a matter of halacha we only know that the mitzva of techelet on tzitzit requires a dye sourced from a creature called a chilazon. We have very very little information on techelet, the chilazon, and its method of manufacture, and if we are not to throw our hands up in the air we are necessarily forced into deductions from the brief and tangential mentions in works that would not generally be considered primary sources of halacha. None the less, if we are to use these sources we must still be intellectually honest and we must not force our readings into compliance with something we have already assumed to be the correct answer.

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          1. We are not forced by מסכת ציצית in the absence of Mesora unless you find the Geonim or Rishonim quoting it (that’s my experience). Acharonim don’t count unless there is a Rishon they base it on (again my understanding of the Halachic process. There are differences of course. The Hakdomo to Yabia Omer is a masterful piece on how Psak works, as is the Hakdomo to Igros Moshe, but you will see they differ to some extent. Then you get Chassidishe Poskim like the Divrei Chaim or Minchas Elozor for whom Kabolo has a place in the absence (or presence) of differing opinions. This is also (I believe) why there are some differences between the Shulchan Aruch HoRav and Psokim in his Siddur. The latter were intended, I believe, for Chassidei Chabad in particular.

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  1. I’ve looked into the matter at length and I don’t think the dye promoted by the P’til Tekhelet association even comes to the level of safek. It is simply an ingenious way of producing an expensive analogue of kala ilan.

    As to why we shouldn’t wear this, even if it is not meakev the tzitzit – surely the example of our ancestors is before us, who (as the late Lubavitcher Rebbe ZTz”Lpointed out) did not exert themselves to procure tekhelet, and they certainly did not wear safek tekhelet on the chance that they had the real thing. In fact when they did find something that purported to be tekhelet they carefully tested it. Why would they do this unless they thought that kala ilan was meakev the tzitzit? From the context, it’s clear that they didn’t have the option of wearing certified tekhelet; why not wear this contender out of safek?

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    1. I invite you to write a guest post if you’ve researched this issue. Regarding your question: I will give you three answers 1. There are those who believe the Mesora is lost transcends pure Halacha especially since they consider themselves lower than their antecedents, 2. There are some who contend that EVEN when the Ramoh says נוהגים he doesn’t mean it’s a MINHAG ONLY, I kid you not, they contend that this is just one of his phrases but it is clean Halacha (even if a source is hard to find) and 3. chodosh ossur min hatorah especially if the finding wasn’t from the Eda Charedis or Litvaks. Remember the Radziner Rebbe was famous for wearing what he thought was Techeles.

      By the way Rav Schachter is consistent. There is no Ashkenazi Mesora for Turkey and he doesn’t eat it. There is no mitzvah to eat Turkey, even if kosher it’s not meat Mideorayso so no Safek comes in

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  2. Joe

    Is this less a siman than: “היה ר”מ אומר: מה נשתנה תכלת מכל מיני צבעונין? מפני שהתכלת
    דומה לים, וים דומה לרקיע, ורקיע דומה לכסא הכבוד,

    אנציקלופדיה תלמודית כרך טו, חלזון

    טור תקלג] יש לחלזון נרתיק, וכל זמן שהוא גדל, נרתיקו גדל עמו19. נחלקו המפרשים אם יוצא מדברי
    הירושלמי שיש לחלזון גידים ועצמות
    ן]

    דם החלזון, כתבו ראשונים שהוא שחור כדיו22, ויש שכתבו שהוא דומה לים23.

    תבנית דיוקנו10 של החלזון דומה לדג11, ומן הראשונים יש שקראו אותו דג12 ויש שקראוהו תולעת13. ויש מי שכתב שכמה מיני חלזונות יש14.

    בדור שלפנינו היה גדול אחד שטרח למצוא את החלזון ולקבוע זהותו וכתב כמה ספרים על כך וחידש צביעת תכלת מדם דג הדיו41, ולדעתו נתפשט הדבר בקרב רבים מישראל42, ולא נתקבלו דבריו ע”י שאר גדולי ישראל ואצל רוב ישראל43. ויש שזיהו החלזון בבריה אחרת44.

    It seems that the rishbnim, the radziner and harav Herzog didn’t think it is a problem.

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  3. R’ Segal, the Radziner’s position wasn’t generally accepted (as רב אנציקלופדיה says), and Harav Herzog didn’t wear any form of techelet himself.

    P’til Tekhelet’s position as I understand it is: false tekhelet is no worse than any other color; it doesn’t invalidate the “white” strings; if we have a contender we should wear it from safek. But if that were the case, why would we be warned about substituting techelet with kala ilan in such serious tones? Why would Amoraim (at a time when tekhelet had almost vanished) be so worried about testing it? Wear it anyway! But that wasn’t what they did.

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  4. Do you mean Ptil Tekhelet or the Amoraim?

    The story about the Amoraim is in Menachos 43a:
    Some blue strings were brought from Eretz Yisroel to Bovel. It was a significant event, which implies that techelet was rare at that time. The Rabbonim weren’t sure how to test it, and you have a discussion about how to test it, do you need both tests, &c. According to the Ptil Tekhelet, why were they concerned? If it was merely kala ilan, it would be no worse than “white”. But in fact they were very troubled, and sent a message back to Eretz Yisroel to confirm the corrrect method for testing it.

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