Friday, October 22, 2010

Why I am in favor of murex trunculus techeiles, pt i

Summary: There are good reasons, based on metzius according with various talmudic sources, to believe that murex techelet is the genuine article. I am not going to go deeply into these reasons, as there are already plenty of articles written on this. There are a few popular objections and, while there are existing responses to these objections, those offering their answers are somewhat restricted to traditional methods of interpretation, which leads to what appear to be kvetches. Meanwhile, there are some straightforward answers, which I offer in these two posts. This is part one.

Post: My take on the techelet issue, al regel achat, is basically as follows: we have a masorah on it, akin to the masorah we have on turkeys. How so? We know the color, because Chazal said the kala ilan is identical in color to it, and we found strings with kala ilan {unless it was actual techelet} in (IIRC) the Judean desert from the time of Bar Kochba. And this accords with traditional identification (by e.g. Bartenura) of kala ilan with indigo. So we know that the indigo plant produces this. We also know that murex trunculus eventually produces an identical color (and perhaps chemical composition). That we know murex was used back in the day because of archeological discoveries and that it matches many of the descriptions in the gemara just helps confirm it further.

Now, some would say that certain aspects of aggadic descriptions do not match. People try to fix it up by analyzing these braytot differently. 

But I can do better. Did you know that snakes nowadays are not the same snakes as existed in the time of the gemara? Not only don't we have a masorah, but the details don't match. For instance, our snakes don't have a gestation period of seven years; our snakes, if they bite you, there is no race to the nearest body of water such that whoever wins first survives. Our cows are a different species than their cows, for our cows cannot swallow a needle such that it gets to the liver without tearing up the insides. Do we not have a masorah for bovines anymore? This can have quite the halachic significance. Or rather, not. That certain aggadot are allegorical, or use exaggerated language, or else most likely, relied on false contemporary scientific knowledge, is not evidence that we are not speaking of the same species. I don't believe that *any* species will match all the information in these aggadot. But still, the murex is the best candidate for many reasons, and people are very frumly cheating themselves out of a mitzvah deOrayta.

Next up: Why the Talmudic tests don't work, and how the gemara itself tells us the tests won't work.


E-Man said...

I am really happy you decided to discuss this topic. I did research on it when I was in Shaalvim and found the evidence for it overwhelming.

I believe the main contention against it has to do with reinstituting a mesorah. The Radziner Rebbe, in the 19th century was looking for the chilazon. He sent a letter to the brisker Rav and in it he asked if he could reinstitute the Mesorah of Techeilet if he found the Chilazon. There are two versions of the letter he received. One is the version he had (which makes the most sense to be authentic since HE is the one who received the letter and not the Brisker Ravs family). It basically says that if the Chilazon is found and authenticated then a Mesorah can be reinstituted. However, the Brisker family says they have the mesorah that the letter says that a mesorah can not be reinstituted. This is why Radziner Chassidim wear their version of techeilet and the Briskers say that even if you think you found the Chilazon we have to wait until Moshiach.

The archeological evidence is enough to prove the murex trunculus is the actual chilazon.

I also believe Rav Sheinberg started to wear a pair of techeilet tzitzis as related to me by someone very close to him.

My Rebbe from high school wrote a pamphlet on why we should wear techeilet, but he recognized that many people are going to resist it. I linked to his article in the one post on my blog that talks about techeilet.

Tzurah said...

Wow. Fascinating!!

Basically you're saying that just like chazal reported some inaccurate zoological details of various animals(presumably based on the knowledge of the experts of the day), some of the zoological details regarding the source of techeles may be not 100% right. Therefore, the fact that some zoological details of murex trunculus don't completely match the Talmud isn't a killer kasha, given the strength of the supporting evidence.

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

What a coincidence you are discussing this topic at this time....

joshwaxman said...



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