Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Shabbat 75: Keeping the chilazon alive

For today's daf yomi, Shabbat 75a, let us consider the chilazon. Does the gemara's description of it match up with what contemporary scientific sources say about it? In particular, here is Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, Book 9, Chapter 60.

The quote I would like to focus on is this:
"People strive to catch this fish alive, because it discharges it juice with its life; and from the larger purples they get the juice by stripping off the shell, but they crush the smaller ones alive with the shell, as that is the only way to make them discharge the juice."

This matches up with some of the statements in the gemara. My concern is more with statements of named Amoraim. Statements of the setama degemara, which might well be from the Savoraim or later, do not concern me as much, as they never saw a murex snail and were far in time from when the chilazon was available.

A brayta firstly talks about first catching and then being "potzeia" a chilazon:

הַצָּד חִלָּזוֹן וְהַפּוֹצְעוֹ — אֵינוֹ חַיָּיב אֶלָּא אַחַת. רַבִּי יְהוּדָה אוֹמֵר חַיָּיב שְׁתַּיִם. שֶׁהָיָה רַבִּי יְהוּדָה אוֹמֵר: פְּצִיעָה בִּכְלַל דִּישָׁה. אָמְרוּ לוֹ: אֵין פְּצִיעָה בִּכְלַל דִּישָׁה.

The Tanna Kamma says he is liable for two acts, while Rabbi Yehuda says only for one act. That is slightly ambiguous, because perhaps Rabbi Yehuda holds there is no such thing as catching a slow-moving chilazon. The brayta (maybe a later stratum) continues and clarifies that all hold there is a liability for the catching, and the dispute is about potzea - whether this is like disha, threshing.

What is petzia? Rashi writes:  הפוצעו - דוחקו בידיו שיצא דמו: That is, he squeezes / crushes it in his hands so that the blood will come out. Potzea usually means to crush or crack open. See Jastrow.

I am not sure if I am forcing this explanation, but perhaps we can say that the brayta is ambiguous. Is it possible to that petzia is the same as the "stripping off of the shell" of the larger murex, and that there is some cracking open that is possible here, that does not kill it?

Rava says that this is only an issue of whether disha (threshing) applies only to plants.

אָמַר רָבָא: מַאי טַעְמָא דְּרַבָּנַן — קָסָבְרִי אֵין דִּישָׁה אֶלָּא לְגִדּוּלֵי קַרְקַע.

The setama degemara objects that there is the issue of taking a life! This is a prelude to the (earlier) statement of Rabbi Yochanan, that we are dealing with a dead murex:

וְלִיחַיַּיב נָמֵי מִשּׁוּם נְטִילַת נְשָׁמָה! אָמַר רַבִּי יוֹחָנָן: שֶׁפְּצָעוֹ מֵת.

And Rava disagrees and says that it could even apply to a live murex, because that is not his intent.

רָבָא אָמַר: אֲפִילּוּ תֵּימָא שֶׁפְּצָעוֹ חַי, מִתְעַסֵּק הוּא אֵצֶל נְטִילַת נְשָׁמָה.

The setama degemara objects that this is a statement by Rava, and Abaye and Rava agree about pesik reisha velo yamut. And answers that here, it is not in the person's interest that the murex dies, because if extracted while alive, the dye will be clearer.

 וְהָא אַבָּיֵי וְרָבָא דְּאָמְרִי תַּרְוַויְיהוּ: מוֹדֶה רַבִּי שִׁמְעוֹן בִּ״פְסִיק רֵישֵׁיהּ וְלֹא יָמוּת״! שָׁאנֵי הָכָא, דְּכַמָּה דְּאִית בֵּיהּ נְשָׁמָה טְפֵי נִיחָא לֵיהּ, כִּי הֵיכִי דְּלֵיצִיל צִיבְעֵיהּ.

This reason, that its dye will be clearer, is Rashi's explanation, and Rashi's girsa of the gemara. (He says "Hachi Garsinan").

דליציל ציבעיה גרסינן - שתהא מראית צבעו צלולה:

What would be the alternative? Maybe a sense of hatzala, saving its dye. It is like hatzala. The variant manuscript in question is ktav yad Vatikan. Here, from the Hachi Garsinan website, is a comparison of several manuscripts:

And it glosses delitzlei as denitzlach, that it be saved.

Dr. Mendel Singer, a Radziner chassid, in his article about the criteria for the chilazon, in which he tries to show that the murex does not match, writes:
Dye is better while chilazon is alive: We learn in the Gemara that people try not to kill the chilazon when extracting the dye because the dye is better if extracted while the chilazon is alive.[42] From this Gemara we learn that there is a significant difference in the dye when extracted while the chilazon is alive and when it is extracted just moments after its death. Petil followers argue that the murex secretion (mucus) loses its dyeing power a few hours after the snail's death. This doesn't help since the Gemara is speaking not of a few hours, but mere moments after death. Another problem is Pliny's statement that the murex discharges its dye upon death.[43] If so, the reason not to kill the murex when removing the gland containing the dye is because otherwise the precious few drops of dye will be lost!

I personally would not try, like the Petil people, to make the setama's statement accord with contemporary observed reality. In terms of Rabbi Yochanan, he could be dealing with a dead chilazon. In terms of Rava, he could be dealing with a live chilazon. But we see from Pliny that people prefer, at least with the large snails where it is possible, to not crush it with the shell. It is only the smaller snails that they crush with the shell. It could be that this brings in impurities, because you are mixing it with bits of shell and other flesh of the snail. Indeed, the extracted dye will not be tzalil, pure. You would need to filter it. As the setama describes, perhaps.

I am a bit stymied by Dr. Singer's last two sentences, though:
Another problem is Pliny's statement that the murex discharges its dye upon death.[43] If so, the reason not to kill the murex when removing the gland containing the dye is because otherwise the precious few drops of dye will be lost!
I can only surmise that he was exposed to Pliny secondhand, and so did not see the full context. Recall that Pliny wrote:
"People strive to catch this fish alive, because it discharges it juice with its life; and from the larger purples they get the juice by stripping off the shell, but they crush the smaller ones alive with the shell, as that is the only way to make them discharge the juice."
The same Pliny who wrote that it discharges its dye upon death said immediately that they crush the smaller murex alive with its shell, to make them discharge the juice. Obviously Pliny is not saying that when you crush a live murex, killing it, the drops will be lost! That would be nonsensical.

Rather, Pliny seems to mean that, if a murex dies in the water, it discharges the dye into the water, and so you will not have a chance to extract it. But once you catch it alive, you can do with it what you will - strip off the shell for larger murex, crush it alive for smaller murex. And then they will discharge their juice / dye, which you can use.

So Dr. Singer presumably did not see Pliny inside, and kvetches him beyond recognition. However, if Dr. Singer does want to say that the concern of the gemara should be is that precious drops of dye will be lost, he can always use the Vatican manuscript, which interprets the word as hatzala, דנצלח צבעיה, or even interpret our own girsa in like manner.

7 comments: said...

Thanks for the argument.
However, it seems incongruous to view the gemarot as describing a meeting of tekhelet .manufactures,who were involved in dyeing. It may be easier to read as a legal deputation, discussing the halakhic issues, raising hypothetical situations to lead to a final legal conclusion.

Mendel Singer said...

From your quoting me, I know at least one person has read what I’ve written (or at least one part)! My quote from Pliny was strictly in the context of responding to Ptil’s position where they quote half of a sentence. At least at that time, they said that they remove the dye from the gland while the murex is alive because the dye will be better. They support their position by quoting Pliny (or Aristotle) who say that you try to get the dye out while it is alive. My point in quoting Pliny was strictly to show that they should quote the entire sentence – which clearly states that keeping it alive is to preserve the secretion, and not because of improving the dye quality. As to your point about Pliny saying “catch this fish alive”, Pliny is making an error in his copying of Aristotle (he often copies Aristotle). This is a point that I think I saw originally in another work on purple dyeing). Aristotle is clearly talking about the process of getting the dye. Here is Aristotle (Book 5, Part 15):
“Small specimens they break in pieces, shells and all, for it is no easy matter to extract the organ; but in dealing with the larger ones they first strip off the shell and then abstract the bloom. For this purpose the neck and mecon are separated, for the bloom lies in between them, above the so-called stomach; hence the necessity of separating them in abstracting the bloom. Fishermen are anxious always to break the animal in pieces while it is yet alive, for, if it die before the process is completed, it vomits out the bloom; and for this reason the fishermen keep the animals in creels, until they have collected a sufficient number and can attend to them at their leisure.”
The point is simply that Ptil’s attempt to reconcile what they do with the idea that the murex dye is worse if gotten from a dead snail doesn’t work, since the dye is apparently still of good quality for a couple of hours (according to their tests). You are taking another direction in reconciling this sugya.
By the way, do you try to identify people as Modern Orthodox in your blog posts? I ask because you identify me as a Radziner chossid (I wish I could earn that distinction). Is that really relevant? If it is, then identify all the Modern Orthodox as well. I believe that labels are counter-productive in these contexts. In the past, Ptil’s writings dismissed arguments because they were from a Radziner along the lines of “what do you expect him to say” – and then not answer the question. I believe material should be judged on its own merits. Intentional or otherwise, labels allow people to dismiss things that deserve review. Many people refused to review Ptil’s claims at all because they are Modern Orthodox. That was wrong. Labels all too often conjure up stereotypes. About chassidim, some will think of people who close themselves off from the world, and will never look at anything objectively if their Rebbe has a position on it. In the context of Chassidic stereotypes, I don’t fit in terms of culture or weltanschauung. I have no problem with people having a different opinion about the chilazon. I used to help people obtain Ptil techeiles – until I discovered how many untruths and misrepresentations they were perpetuating (not that all murex supporters do this). I welcome discourse that is intellectually honest. I saw my role in the debate as clearing up errors and misperceptions, so that honest discourse is possible and people can make their own decisions without being duped by false claims. I have respect for people who believe that murex trunculus is the chilazon, as long as they are being intellectually honest – I just think they’re wrong :) Of course, they think the same about me! Which is fine.
Kol Tuv!

Mendel Singer said...

Actually, upon further reflection, I can be kinder to Pliny. When he refers to keeping it alive while catching, he probably refers not to the act of actually catching it(it isn't hard to not kill a snail while in the act of catching it), but to the activities associated with catching snails, which includes the actual catching and the storage of those caught while they are still catching others.

rhecht said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rafi Hecht said...

Drawing on Dr. Singer's comment on applying labels to different people, one can say the same thing about Techeiles wearers: oh, he wears Techeiles, don't listen to him. Never mind that the list of those that wear it is now quite lengthy and still growing:

We need to leave our biases aside in terms of sticking labels and apply merits where merits are due. The fact that Dr. Singer has ties to Radzyn (albeit not necessarily a Radzyner chossid) actually gives him an insiders perspective on Radzyner Techeiles that normally gets easily dismissed by the pro-murex crowd. While I'm personally in favor of murex Techeiles, I'm also in favor of honest dialogue in all fronts.

David S. Farkas said...

I know Dr. Singer personally, and though I wear Ptil Techeles myself on both Tallis and tzitizis, and disagree with his conclusions, I can vouch for his wonderful disposition and sterling charachter. Everything he wrote in the second half of his comment above is accurate. He is an איש אמת, and regardless if one accepts his conclusions or not, his arguments must be addressed the same way Ptil’s are. (Which I think R. Waxman did, by the way. He mentioned the Radziner angle, which I think is fair game to at least mention as relevant background, but did not attempt to simply dismiss Dr. Singer’s points on that basis alone.)

Bekitzur - you’re both right!

David Farkas

Joe in Australia said...

This is a very late comment, but Pliny's remarks on natural history are sometimes so astonishingly fantastic that I have very little confidence in his account of dye production. E.g., he seems to think that pearls are luscious and edible when freshly caught.

Of the three major options suggested by modern authorities - sepia, Murex, and Janthina - I think that the first two are very hard to reconcile with Rashi's understanding of the gemora. How exactly is one to crush a murex with one's hand?


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