Understanding the Criteria for the Chilazon

Mendel E. Singer, Ph.D.


This article originally appeared in the Rabbi Jacob Joseph School

sponsored journal, the Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society,

Vol. 40, Sukkot 2001. Reprinted with permission.


BIO: Assistant Professor, School of Medicine, Case Western Reserve

University, Cleveland, Ohio.




The Torah commands us to wear a thread of blue, techeilet, in each corner

of our tzitzit.[1] While tzitzit serve as a visual reminder to do the

mitzvot, the blue thread reminds us of Hashem: "Techeilet resembles

[the color of] the sea, and the sea the sky, and the sky the throne of

glory".[2] The Gemara informs us that the techeilet dye comes from a

bodily fluid (lit: blood)[3] of the chilazon.[4] At some point it became

forgotten which species is the chilazon. Exactly when techeilet ceased

to exist is unknown. Though some have suggested this happened sometime

between 500-700 C.E.[5], there is evidence that techeilet continued to

be dyed in some places for another several hundred years.[6]


In the 1880's, Rabbi Gershon Henoch Leiner, the Radzyner Rebbe zt"l,

set out to identify the chilazon species. Although widely known for his

talmudic expertise (e.g. Sefer Sedrei Taharot), he had studied biology,

chemistry and engineering, and practiced medicine as well.[7] Guided by

the simanim (signs) provided by the Talmud and the Rishonim, he traveled

across Europe, studying at the famed aquarium of Naples. He decided that

the long lost chilazon is sepia officinalis (the common cuttlefish),

believed by some to be the opinion of Rambam.[8] He wrote three books

on techeilet, comprising nearly 500 pages. In the words of one of his

present day dissenters, "These books still stand as the definitive works

on the subject, and form the halachic foundation of any discussion of

the topic".[9] Even today Radzyn produces techeilet from the cuttlefish.


Rabbi Dr. Yitzchak Herzog z"l, a brilliant talmudist, Jewish historian

and the Chief Rabbi of Eretz Israel from 1936-1959, was fluent in

numerous languages and techeilet was the subject of much of his doctoral

dissertation. Rabbi Herzog rejected the Radzyner Rebbe's position, and

concluded that the chilazon was a member of the Janthina species.[10]

However, the dye produced by the Janthina turned brown, and was not

permanent. It appears that Rabbi Herzog did not pursue this matter

further, and no techeilet was ever produced from the Janthina.


In recent years there has been a movement in favor of the murex trunculus

snail as the chilazon. Fueled by the work of Dr. Irving Ziderman, an

academic scientist at the Israel Fiber Institute, followers of this

theory formed an organization, Petil Tekhelet Foundation. Based largely

on archeological and scientific evidence, they have been active in

publishing, lecturing and electronic dissemination.[11] Their work has,

for the most part, gone without critical appraisal. This article will

attempt to elucidate the criteria for identification of the chilazon,

clarify what is required to meet these criteria, and then evaluate

the theory that murex trunculus was the chilazon. The criteria will be

presented in 4 categories. The first section will discuss the primary

criteria, based on statements brought by the Gemara for the purpose of

describing the chilazon. This is followed by an analysis of the Gemara's

chemical tests for techeilet. Secondary criteria will deal with those

characteristics of the chilazon which can be deduced from statements

made for other purposes. Lastly, there is a section for other evidence

which might be brought to lend further credence to, or discredit a claim.




The strongest criteria for identifying the chilazon comes from the Gemara

Menachot, where the subject of techeilet is discussed extensively.[12]

There, the Talmud cites several sources in order to describe the

chilazon. These statements are of the utmost importance because they were

cited for the sole purpose of describing the chilazon. Chazal, knowing

which species was the chilazon, chose these statements to describe it. As

such, in order for a candidate species to satisfy these criteria, it is

not sufficient to meet these criteria in a minimalist sense. It must be

reasonable that Chazal would have chosen these statements to describe

it. In evaluating whether a particular species is the chilazon, a strong

case must be made for all of the primary criteria. The primary criteria

for the chilazon come from the following statements: "Chilazon zehu gufo

domeh l'yam, ubriato domeh l'dag, v'oleh echad l'shiv'im shanah u'bdamo

tzov'in techeilet, l'fichach damav yekarim".[13] This establishes four

primary criteria for the chilazon:


1. the color of its body is like the sea


2. its form is like a fish


3. it comes up once in 70 years, its "blood" is used for techeilet,



4. it is expensive.


As Rabbi Herzog points out, the first requirement uses the lashon gufo,

meaning body or flesh.[14] It does not refer to the shell, which is

usually rendered nartik or klipah. The lashon here, gufo domeh l'yam,

is similar to the statement just a few lines earlier in the Gemara,

techeilet domeh l'yam, where it is understood that the color of techeilet

is similar to the color of the sea. There the comparison is extended

to the sky and the sapphire, indicating that techeilet is blue.[15] If,

just a few lines apart, dealing with the same subject, we find the same

expression, domeh l'yam, it is reasonable to conclude that the meaning

is the same in both cases. If techeilet and the body of the chilazon are

both domeh l'yam, then the color of techeilet and the color of the body

of the chilazon must be similar, i.e. both blue. This is supported by the

lashon of the braita of tzitzit, which states "gufo domeh l'rekiah".[16]

The body of the murex does not resemble the sea. The Petil group argues

that the shell of the murex trunculus is sometimes covered with a sea

fouling. The color of these organisms will vary from place to place,

but is sometimes blue or green.[17] This argument fails on three counts.

First, the requirement is for the body, not the shell. Second, the color

of the sea fouling is only sometimes blue. Since it is usually not blue,

the Gemara certainly would not choose to describe it as blue. Third, it is

implausible that Chazal would choose to identify the murex trunculus by

giving a description of the sea fouling, which is neither a part of the

creature nor distinctive, since it covers everything else in the area,

as well.[18] Some have tried to argue that the Hebrew word yam can also

mean seabed. However, only the shell is colored like the seabed, not

the body. Considering that yam almost always means sea, and is used as

such in regards to the color of techeilet in many places, it is hard to

believe it could be used to mean seabed here. In fact, the requirement

that the color of the body of the chilazon be like the yam is just a

few lines after the Gemara's statement that techeilet is the color of

the yam, which everyone, including the murex supporters, agrees means sea.


As for criterion 2, the statement in the Gemara is "briato domeh l'dag".

Briato means "its form", as explained by Rashi and Rabbeinu Gershom.[19]

Murex trunculus in no way resembles a fish. Supporters of the murex

trunculus theory suggest briato could mean "its creation", since murex

spawn like fish. Aside from relying on an interpretation of briato that

is contrary to the classical mefarshim, there is another difficulty.

Since most mollusks spawn, it is unlikely that Chazal would have chosen

this characteristic to distinguish the chilazon from other species.


Regarding criterion 3, the requirement of once in 70 years, the

Radzyner Rebbe says this means that there are times when the chilazon is

abundant.[20] Likewise, Rabbi Herzog, citing also the braita of tzitzit

that says the chilazon comes up every 7 years, is of the opinion that

there should be some cycle, though not necessarily 7 or 70 years.[21]

Murex trunculus has no known cycle or times of unusual abundance.

Petil followers have tried to argue that the Hebrew sheva shanim in

the braita could also mean seven-fold, and Pliny the Elder mentions

an optimal seven-month cycle for harvesting murex snails.[22] This not

only ignores the Gemara's expression of 70 years, but also assumes that

seven-fold means seven one-month periods. They do not suggest a reason

why the base unit should be one month. Clearly the intention of the

Gemara and the braita is that it is unusual for there to be an abundance,

and every seven months is hardly unusual or noteworthy.


Purple dye from all species of murex, including trunculus, was exceedingly

expensive. This was because each snail possessed so little dye that it

took about 8,000 snails to make one gram of dye![23] In criterion 4, Rashi

explains that the techeilet dye was expensive because of the chilazon's

rare appearance, and not because of the minute dye quantity.[24] This

follows from the language of the Gemara where the statement that the

dye is expensive is introduced with the word lefichach, "therefore",

and the preceding statement was about the once in 70 year appearance

of the chilazon. Rabbi Herzog indicates that this requirement implies

that the quantity of dye in the chilazon was not very small, which is

inconsistent with murex trunculus.[25]


Chemical Tests


In ancient times, there were unscrupulous individuals who would substitute

an imitation techeilet dye known as k'la ilan, for the real techeilet.

K'la ilan is widely understood to be indigo, traditionally derived from

a plant.[26] Indigo was the predominant source of blue dye in ancient

times, and was both readily available and relatively inexpensive. This

counterfeit techeilet was virtually identical to the color of the real

techeilet. Accordingly, the Rabbis proposed chemical tests that could

distinguish between the chemical that made up the authentic techeilet and

the chemical that made up the counterfeit techeilet.[27] These tests are

based on subjecting the dyed wool to a fermentation process[28] and ruling

it k'la ilan if the color worsens. Fermentation processes were used in

the traditional method of dyeing indigo, and causes the blue indigo to

change to a yellow solution. [29] Chazal used this knowledge to design

tests that indigo would fail. The chemical test proposed by Rav Yitzchak

the son of Rav Yehudah describes a fermentation vat typical of what

was used in ancient dyeing of indigo. The main ingredient was fermented

urine, mei raglayim.[30] Though the Gemara's lashon of "ben arba'im yom"

could mean the mei raglayim had to be 40 days old (thereby sufficiently

fermented), or it could mean the mei raglayim had to be from someone 40

days old, as Rashi notes[31], the mei raglayim must be fermented.[32]

Mei raglayim of babies under 6 weeks old consists mostly of water,

making it a poor choice for fermentation. Thus, the Gemara's use of

"ben arba'im yom" could reasonably be understood either way. Regardless,

it is clear that the Gemara's chemical tests were based on the chemical

properties of indigo and were designed so that indigo would fail the test.


The Petil group uses mucus from the murex trunculus snail, and through a

process creates indigo, chemically identical to plant indigo. In other

words, Petil is saying that real techeilet and imitation techeilet are

the same chemical, just made from different sources.[33] This position is

untenable. Obviously, if the Gemara gives chemical tests to distinguish

techeilet from k'la ilan, they cannot be the same chemical! Dr. Allen

Kropf, a retired professor of pigment chemistry familiar with the

Petil dyeing process, writes in a personal communication, "There should

absolutely be no chemical difference between plant and snail indigo.

Thus, any chemical test that posits a difference, is not valid, in my

opinion". Therefore, the Gemara's chemical tests cannot possibly be

testing plant indigo vs. snail indigo. This leaves two possibilities:

plant indigo is not k'la ilan or snail indigo is not techeilet. Given the

wide acceptance of indigo as k'la ilan, and the corroboration afforded

by the Gemara's tests which are clearly based on detecting indigo, the

only conclusion would seem to be that techeilet is not snail indigo.

Nonetheless, Dr. Roald Hoffman, a Nobel-prize winning chemist does reach

a different conclusion. Recognizing the impossibility of distinguishing

plant indigo from snail indigo, he clings to the conclusion that

murex indigo is techeilet. He writes of the Gemara's chemical tests,

"These tests don't work, because the chemical is the same".[34] Since

the Gemara's tests were clearly based on sound scientific knowledge and

the tests were actually used ("Rav Yitzchak the son of Rav Yehudah used

to test it thus..."[35]), it would seem rather presumptuous to doubt the

veracity of the Gemara's tests. It is the scientist's conclusion that

murex indigo is techeilet that needs to be re-examined. Even Dr. Irving

Ziderman himself, the chemist whose work led to the creation of the Petil

group, acknowledges that murex indigo is guaranteed to fail the Gemara's

chemical tests and therefore rejects the theory of murex indigo as genuine

techeilet.[36] Petil writings have suggested that the chemical tests

might be designed to detect impurities that might be found in plant

indigo, but are not found in snail indigo. This logic demonstrates

a lack of understanding of the nature of the chemical tests. It is

clear from the above discussion that the Gemara's tests are based on

the chemical nature of indigo, and not any remaining impurities. Thus,

the murex-indigo used by Petil for techeilet will fail the Gemara's

tests, rendering it invalid. However, a distinction must be made between

evaluating whether a species is the chilazon and assessing whether a

particular dye is techeilet. Even though murex indigo cannot be genuine

techeilet, this does not by itself preclude the possibility that murex

trunculus is the chilazon. There may be an as of yet undiscovered,

alternative process that creates a different blue dye (i.e. not indigo)

from the murex trunculus. Therefore, it is still necessary to evaluate

whether murex trunculus meets the criteria for the chilazon.


An interesting side-note: the process used by Petil to make indigo

from murex trunculus would also work for the other species famous for

their use in ancient purple dyeing, murex brandaris and purpura (thais)

haemastoma.[37] Indeed, none of the arguments presented in Petil writings

appear to uniquely identify murex trunculus.


Secondary Criteria


There are other sources from which additional information about the

chilazon can be deduced. These criteria can lend valuable support to a

theory postulating a particular species as the chilazon. However, care

should be taken in determining the weight placed on these criteria.

These criteria were not brought for the purpose of identifying the

chilazon, as was the case with the primary criteria discussed above.

As such, it may be that a particular statement should not be understood

literally or exactly. Unlike the primary criteria, meeting secondary

criteria should only involve a plausible explanation, and does not have

to bring out the uniqueness of the chilazon, and may be difficult to

understand without already being familiar with the species. There is also

the complication that it is not always clear when the Gemara's use of the

word chilazon is speaking specifically of the chilazon shel techeilet.

In some of these cases the classical mefarshim clarify this, in other

cases it remains ambiguous.


Shell grows with it: The Midrash says about the chilazon, "its shell

(nartiko) grows with it". [38] This would rule out hermit crabs, for

example, since they do not grow shells but rather move into shells

they find. This would also rule out species like the lobster that

when outgrowing their shell, discard it and grow another. Elsewhere,

the Midrash Rabbah says "when it grows, its malvush grows with it".[39]

Malvush, garment, would appear to be some form of growth on the exterior

of the chilazon. The term malvush, garment, seems to imply that it is

not merely attached, but covers the body of the chilazon, or surrounds

it. Murex trunculus has a shell of its own, but doesn't seem to have

anything else that could be termed a malvush. It may be that the Midrash

is using malvush as a synonym for shell. This would make sense in the

context of the Midrash, which discusses the issue of whether the Jews in

the desert outgrew their clothes. The chilazon is brought as an example

to suggest that the clothes grew with the wearer. Referring to the

shell as malvush, garment, would be consistent with the context. Based

on this understanding of malvush, murex trunculus would appear to meet

this criterion.


 Hard shell: The Gemara discusses the case of someone who extracts the

 dye from the chilazon on Shabbat.[40] The verb used by the Gemara in

 describing the action of the person extracting the dye is potzea. Potzea

 is usually understood to mean to crush or crack open.[41] This would

 imply that the chilazon has a hard shell, though this could be an

 external or an internal shell. Rashi says that the person squeezes

 (docheik) the chilazon in his hand to get out the blood (dye secretion).

 From Rashi's comment we can only infer that squeezing the chilazon can

 make the dye come out. Rashi's use of the word "squeeze" is difficult to

 understand since it seems to imply a soft substance, not a hard shell.

 This difficulty in understanding Rashi might be resolved if the chilazon,

 while being held in the hand, has a shell on one side, and flesh on the

 other. Thus, the person squeezes the fleshy side of the chilazon, and in

 the process may crack open, or crush, the hard shell on the other side.

 Murex trunculus has a hard, external shell that is cracked in order

 to get the dye out. The shell almost completely encloses the body.

 This would be consistent with the usual understanding of potzea, but

 not with Rashi's docheik.


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!


Hidden in the sand: The Gemara in Megilah states that the verse in Devarim

33:19, "sefunei temunei chol" ("hidden treasures of the sand"), refers

to the chilazon shel techeilet.[44] It is not clear how restrictive this

criterion is. It might only mean that the chilazon is considered to be a

creature of the sand and that it is hidden. In this case, it would seem

to be sufficient to be hidden by its own shell, and that it would not

be necessary to bury itself in the sand. On the other hand, it might

mean that it is hidden because it is buried in the sand. This is the

understanding of the Radzyner Rebbe, citing the Sefer HaKaneh (Hilchot

Tzitzit) as stating that the chilazon buries itself in sand with its

head sticking out.[45] The murex trunculus lives on the sand, and simply

by virtue of hiding its body in its shell could be considered hidden.

There are times when it buries itself in the seabed, which might satisfy

the general requirement of burying itself in the sand. Given that this

is a secondary criterion, murex trunculus would seem to reasonably meet

this criterion, though not in the manner described by the Sefer HaKaneh.


Color of the blood: Rambam states that the "blood" of the chilazon shel

techeilet is black like ink".[46] Rashi states that the appearance

of the "blood" of the chilazon shel techeilet is like the color of

techeilet.[47] The Radzyner Rebbe reconciles the apparent contradiction

between Rashi and Rambam by explaining that when Rashi says maris damo,

"appearance of its blood", he is referring to the "blood" after it is

prepared for dyeing, while Rambam refers to the original color of the

"blood".[48] Supporters of the murex theory follow the lead of Rabbi

Herzog who, unable to find a source to support Rambam's statement,

speculated that Rambam was basing this on an erroneous statement of

Aristotle, and dismissed this statement of Rambam.[49] However, it is not

clear that the Petil group's techeilet meets the description of Rashi,

either. The murex secretion is essentially clear. Left in the sun it turns

purple-blue. When it is placed in a chemical solution it turns yellow. It

is then exposed to ultraviolet radiation, after which the wool threads

are dipped in the solution. The wool turns blue when it is removed from

the solution and exposed to the air. Thus, the murex trunculus dye is

never blue as a liquid, only turning blue after it is already on the

garment. This might be reconciled by saying that when Rashi refers to the

appearance of the blood of the chilazon, he means the dye as it appears

on the tzitzit after the dyeing is completed. As a secondary criterion,

this would seem to be an acceptable explanation of Rashi, although there

is still the problem of dismissing the Rambam on a matter of science.


Treatment for hemorrhoids: The Gemara also tells us that the

chilazon was used to treat hemorrhoids.[50] Rabbi Herzog states that

modern pharmaceutics knows nothing of the use of a mollusk to treat

hemorrhoids.[51] Rabbi Herzog's comments are a bit puzzling. Given that

this treatment was from the times of the Gemara, it would be likely

that mention of this would be found now only in non-traditional

medical sources, what might be deemed today to be "alternative

medicine". Additionally, the Radzyner Rebbe had already written that

cuttlefish ink has been used as a treatment for hemorrhoids since ancient

times.[52] Indeed, it is still sold today for this purpose.[53] As for

murex trunculus, in ancient times it was considered to be bad for the



Tentacles bent like hooks: The Mishnah describes a chain hanging on

the wall, with something called a chilazon attached to the head of the

chain.[55] The mefarshim say it was called this because it was shaped

like the chilazon shel techeilet[56], and Tiferes Yisroel explicitly

states that this was an iron hook attached at the end which was used to

hang the chain on a wall. The Radzyner Rebbe understands this to mean

the chilazon has long tentacles that are bent like hooks.[57] No part

of a murex snail would fit this description.


Snake-like extensions: The Gemara speaks of red flesh-like warts,

forming a snake-like shape in the eye.[58] This disease is called both

snake and chilazon. The Radzyner Rebbe states that the chilazon must have

snake-like limbs or extensions, and have red warts.[59] This description

does not fit murex trunculus.




Aside from establishing criteria to identify the chilazon, it may

be possible to find evidence to corroborate an opinion regarding the

identity of the chilazon. The following paragraphs discuss this type of

evidence in the context of the murex trunculus theory.


Archeological evidence: There can be little doubt that murex trunculus

was used in ancient dyeing. It has long been accepted that murex

trunculus was used for dyeing purple in ancient times.[60] There is

significant archeological evidence to support this. However, all of the

evidence suggests it was used for purple dyeing. There is absolutely no

evidence to suggest that murex trunculus was used to dye blue. In fact,

as Dr. Ziderman himself points out, it would be absurd to think that

non-Jews would use murex to make indigo blue when they could make the

same thing easier and cheaper using plants, as was done all over the

world.[61] One might argue that murex-indigo was used to make techeilet,

while the identical but inexpensive plant indigo was used for all other

blue dyeing. However, piles of murex trunculus shells have been found

at many ancient dyeing sites, not just in the vicinity of the Jews.

Certainly at those other sites they would only have used murex trunculus

for purple. The notion that murex trunculus was used for making indigo is

both illogical and groundless. Let us examine the archeological evidence.


Mounds of murex trunculus shells (as well as two related species, murex

brandaris and purpura haemastoma) have been found at ancient dye sites

in many locations. These shells were cracked in the exact spot to get

the dye. This is solid proof that murex trunculus was used in ancient

dyeing, but does not imply it was used for dyeing blue. A 13th century

B.C.E. potsherd from Sarepta has a stripe of dye that is believed to be

from the murex trunculus - it is a purple stripe, with no detectable blue

(indigo) content.[62] A vat from a dig at Tel Shikmona has purple murex

dye on it, not blue as previously described in a brochure from the Petil

Tekhelet Foundation (from the picture it is obviously purple, but the

text erroneously said blue). Pliny speaks in great depth about dyeing

with murex; different shades of purple, red and violet, but not blue.

Petil followers point out that at one site the shells of murex brandaris

and purpura haemastoma were together, but the murex trunculus shells were

in a different area. They leap to the conclusion that murex trunculus

must have been used for dyeing blue. They are ignoring Pliny (among

others), who states that the famed Tyrian purple shade was produced

by double-dyeing with murex brandaris and purpura haemastoma.[63]

Thus, it was logical that those two species were found together, and

apart from murex trunculus. How does that suggest murex trunculus

was used for dyeing blue? In fact, it is hard to see how chemical

analysis of archeological finds could ever support the idea that murex

trunculus was used for dyeing blue. If the chemical is purely indigo,

the natural assumption would be that the source was plant indigo, which

was used around the world. If indigo was found with traces of purple,

it might be suggestive of murex trunculus dye. Murex trunculus dye is

naturally a mix of purple and blue, and has to be irradiated to induce

a photochemical reaction from which blue dye results. If this process

were not completed, the dye would be mostly blue with traces of purple.

However, murex trunculus produces dyes with varying mixtures of indigo

and purple (brominated indigo). Some batches of dye may turn out to be

almost all indigo, and other batches might turn out to be all purple.

Thus, even when the intention is to use the natural purple-blue of murex

trunculus, a particular batch could turn out to be almost pure indigo.

Also, mixing of dyes was common. A mix of blue and purple might be

the product of murex trunculus, or it might be the mixture of plant

indigo with purple dye from other murex species. Not only is there no

archeological support for the notion that murex trunculus was used to dye

blue, it may be that it is not even possible for archeological evidence

to accomplish this through chemical analysis alone!


It has been suggested that the image of a murex shell on a Bar Kochba

coin is "apparently irrefutable evidence" that murex trunculus was the

source of techeilet.[64] Why else would a non-kosher species appear

unless it was used for a mitzvah? Murex dyeing was a major industry,

with some regions employing half their population in murex fishing.[65]

Moreover, the murex was a status symbol, associated with wealth and

royalty. Bar Kochba was not original: murex images showed up on coins

from many places, both before and after Bar Kochba's time.[66] It would

appear that Bar Kochba used the murex image either for the same reason

as others did (i.e. status symbol, commercial importance), or, perhaps,

to give his government the appearance of more legitimacy by following

the lead of other governments that printed coins with murex images.


Linguistic Proofs: Petil followers offer some linguistic arguments in

attempting to support their position. The word chilazon is a general term

for snail, not only in modern Hebrew but in some other languages as well.

Aside from not pointing specifically to murex trunculus, it is not clear

which species chilazon referred to at the time of the Gemara. It may have

been a general term for mollusk. Did it only include gastropods, or could

it have included cephalopods such as octopus and squid? This is unclear.


Petil writings also mention the Septuagint's Greek translation of

techeilet as porphyros (word used for purple or murex). Rabbi Herzog

raises this issue and dismisses it rather handily.[67] He points out

that everywhere else (including that same chapter) the Septuagint

uses iakinthos for techeilet and porphyra for argaman, and shows how

the Hebrew text they must have been given could not have matched our

Masoretic tradition, and that the translation was probably given for

argaman, not techeilet.


Some have suggested that Raavya (Berachot 9b Siman 25) equates techeilet

with porphyrin, the Greek word for murex, though they do not supply a

full explanation of this statement by Raavya and do not mention that in

both Greek and Latin the word for murex and the word for purple are the

same. Let us examine the passage in question. Raavya quotes a Yerushalmi

(a part that is no longer extant) explaining the time for reciting the

morning shema: "[from the time when one can distinguish] between techeilet

and karti, between porphyrin and parufinen, which is a coat that is called

in Latin purpura". A logical explanation of this missing Yerushalmi is

that the second comparison bein porphyrin bein parufinen is a color

distinction that would be as hard to tell apart in the dark as blue

(techeilet) and green (karti). Porphyrin is from the Greek word meaning

purple. Parufinen, from the Raavya's description, appears to be from the

Greek parufaino, meaning "a robe with a hem or border of purple",[68]

which is consistent with the hagahot where this color is equated with

argaman. Thus, bein porphyrin bein parufinen might mean to distinguish

between the purple border of a robe and the rest of the garment.


Petil suggests that this Yerushalmi is equating murex with techeilet.

Obviously they cannot mean that techeilet is the murex, but rather the

source of techeilet is the murex. However, this logic would render the

Yerushalmi as "between techeilet and karti, between a murex snail and a

purple coat". Aside from sounding bizarre, it is difficult to see how a

purple coat could be the source of karti. Karti is usually understood

to be green, like a leek.[69] There is a minority view that karti is

not green, but a different color close to techeilet.[70] However, even

if you rely on this view, which is based on a citation from Aruch which

is no longer extant, to explain a Yerushalmi that is no longer extant,

the wording still doesn't work. Additionally, this would require equating

karti with argaman, which does not fit with any opinion. There does not

appear to be a way to interpret Raavya's statement as equating murex

with techeilet.


Proof by Omission: There is a simple logic that argues against murex

trunculus as chilazon. At the times of the Gemara, purple dyeing with

murex snails was pervasive throughout the region. This may explain

why the Gemara does not mention the source of the argaman (red-purple)

dye - everyone knew! Murex snails were famous: Murex dye sold for more

than its weight in gold, its shell appeared on many governments' coins,

royal edicts were issued to monopolize use of the dye, and Pliny wrote

about the murex dyeing process. There was even a well-known term for

the murex that was the same in Greek and Latin (porphyra, purpura).

If this species was the source of techeilet, why didn't the Gemara tell

us this? Why didn't the Gemara say that the chilazon was from the family

of purple-giving snails? Wouldn't this have been simpler and clearer

than the signs provided by the Gemara?[71] It is implausible that the

Gemara would choose to ignore a well known classification term, opting

instead to describe the chilazon through a set of characteristics from

which someone might be able to determine the correct species.




The identity of the chilazon was lost for many centuries. Without a

tradition as to the correct species, and without a sample of ancient

techeilet, it might not be possible to identify the chilazon with

certainty.[72] However, there are minimum requirements that can be

expected to be met in order to seriously entertain the possibility of a

particular species being the chilazon. Chazal, knowing the identity of

the chilazon, chose several distinguishing characteristics to describe it.

For a species to be considered as the chilazon, these criteria would have

to be clearly met in such a way that it would have been reasonable for

Chazal to have chosen these statements to describe this species. The

Gemara also provides chemical tests to distinguish between genuine

techeilet and k'la ilan, imitation techeilet. Any techeilet that would

clearly fail this test could be rejected with certainty. It would also

be reasonable to expect the species under consideration to fit most of

the characteristics of the chilazon that can be deduced from sources

outside of the sugya of techeilet.


        Murex trunculus does not meet any of the primary criteria.

        Arguments brought in favor of the murex trunculus depend

        on new interpretations of the Gemara that contradict the

        classical mefarshim and even the precise language of the Gemara.

        Even with these explanations, it could not be reasonably stated

        that Chazal would have chosen these statements to describe the

        murex trunculus.


        The techeilet dye produced by the Petil Tekhelet Foundation must

        fail the chemical tests provided by the Gemara since it is the

        exact same chemical as k'la ilan. Additionally, the Gemara's

        tests were designed to make indigo fail the test, and Petil's

        techeilet is indigo. Thus, murex-derived indigo as techeilet is

        an utterly untenable position. This is acknowledged even by the

        chemist whose work led to the Petil group's formation.


        Murex trunculus meets few of the secondary criteria, and

        archeological evidence provides no support whatsoever for the

        proposition that murex trunculus was used in the ancient dyeing

        of blue in general, let alone techeilet in particular.


        Since murex snails were famous for their purple dyeing and there

        was a well-known term for murex, it would seem rather odd that the

        Gemara chose not to use this term, instead providing descriptive

        statements that have failed to provide a consensus opinion for

        many centuries.


In summary, the case for murex trunculus as the chilazon has little

merit. Indeed, the evidence against murex trunculus as the chilazon

is overwhelming.




1 Bamidbar 15:38.


2 Menachot 43b.


3 Hebrew: dam. The chilazon has two "bloods", one that is the life

blood, and another that is stored in its own sac. This other "blood"

is the source of the techeilet dye (Rabbeinu Tam, Tosafot, Shabbat 75a)


4 Menachot 44a, Masechtot Ketanot Masechet Tzitzit Ch. 1 Halacha 10,

Tosefta Menachot 9:16.


5 Rabbi Isaac Herzog, "Hebrew Porphyrology", in Ehud Spanier, ed., The

Royal Purple and the Biblical Blue: Argaman and Tekhelet (Jerusalem,

1987), p.112. Baruch Sterman, "The Science of Tekhelet", in Rabbi Alfred

Cohen, ed., Tekhelet: The Renaissance of a Mitzvah (New York, 1996), p.70.


6 The Radzyner Rebbe bases this on the fact that gaonim did not write

about halachot that were no longer applicable, and two of the gaonim

wrote about the laws of tzitzit based on techeilet (Rav Natronei

Gaon, Rav Shmuel bar Chofni). He also notes that Rambam explained in a

responsum the practical application of the laws of techeilet, implying

they were wearing techeilet in Luniel. (Rabbi Gershon Leiner, Sefunei

Temunei Chol. Published in Sifrei HaTecheilet Radzyn (Bnei Brak, 1999),

pp. 5-6. A nearly complete English translation of this sefer can be

found at http://www.begedivri.com/techelet/Sefunei.htm)


7 Chapter on Rabbi Gershon Leiner in Frenkel, Rabbi Isser, Yechidei

Segulah (Tel Aviv, 1967).


8 Ludwig Lewysohn, Zoologie des Talmuds. (Frankfurt, 1858), pp. 283-285.


9 Sterman ibid. p. 73.


10 Herzog ibid.


11 The Petil Tekhelet Foundation maintains an excellent online library on

their web site, http://www.techeilet.co.il . This library was the source

for many of the pro-murex arguments cited here. Their great efforts at

publicizing the neglected mitzvah of techeilet is inspiring.


12 Menachot 41-44.


13 Menachot 44a.


14 Herzog ibid., p. 70.


15 Although Rashi states that techeilet is green (Shemot 25:4), it should

be pointed out that there were few color designations in the Gemara,

and that green represented a color classification that includes blue

(Herzog ibid. p.92). Indeed, elsewhere Rashi states the color of techeilet

resembles the darkened sky at dusk (Bamidbar 15:41).


16 Masechtot Ketanot Masechet Tzitzit Ch. 1 Halacha 10


17 Sterman ibid. p.69.


18 Sterman ibid. p.69.


19 Rashi, Shita Mikubetzet and Rabbeinu Gershom, Menachot 44a; Herzog

ibid. p.65.


20 Leiner ibid. p.4.


21 Herzog ibid. pp. 69,73.


22 R.J. Forbes, Studies in Ancient Technology Vol 4, 2nd edition (Leiden,

1964), p.120.


23 P. Friedlander, "Uber den Farbstoff des antiken Purpurs

aus murex brandaris", Berichte der Deutschen Chemischen

Gesellschaft. 42(1909):765-770.


24 Rashi on Menachot 44a.


25 Herzog ibid. p. 70.


26 Aruch on k'la ilan; Nimukei Yosef Baba Metzia 34a; Herzog ibid,

pp.94-96, Responsa Ridbaz v2, 685.


27 Menachot 42b-43a.


28 Herzog ibid. p.102.


29 Indigo, to be able to penetrate wool, must first be converted (oxygen

removed) into its chemically reduced form, known as "indigo white"

(which is really more of a yellow, or yellow-green). After wool is dipped

into "indigo white", it is removed from the solution and turns blue upon

exposure to the oxygen in the air. The chemical reduction of indigo into

"indigo white" was done by immersion into a fermentation vat. The first

of the two tests in the Gemara describes such a fermentation vat, which

should reduce the indigo, thereby fading the blue color and failing the

test. Descriptions of fermentation vats can be found in: Edmund Knecht,

Christopher Rawson, and Richard Loewenthal, A Manual of Dyeing, Eighth

edition, (London, 1925), and J.N. Liles, The Art and Craft of Natural

Dyeing, (Knoxville, 1990).


30 The ingredients of the test, fermented urine, juice of the fenugreek

plant and alum, seem puzzling at first glance. It would not appear to be

a convenient test if it involves waiting many days for the mei raglayim

to ferment. However, knowing that this is merely describing a typical

fermentation vat used for dyeing indigo the matter becomes clear.

Techeilet dyeing was probably done at or near the dye houses. Anyone

wishing to test techeilet could merely walk over to where indigo was

being dyed and put it in a fermentation vat and check it in the morning.

The second test uses a hard, leavened dough that has fermented as much

as possible (Rabbeinu Gershom, Menachot 43a).


31 Rashi on Menachot 44a.


32 Rambam, Hilchot Tzitzit, Ch. 2, Halacha 5; Tosafot on Menachot 43a;

Tosafot on Nidah 63a.


33 The Petil writings and web site boast (bold print) of how their

techeilet is chemically equivalent to indigo.


34 Hoffman, Roald. "Blue as the Sea". American Scientist, 78 (July/August



35 Menachot 42b.


36 I.I. Ziderman, "On the Identification of the Jewish Tekhelet Dye",

Gloria Manis [Antwerp] 24(4): 77-80.


37 P.E. McGovern, "Ehud Spanier: The Royal Purple and the Biblical Blue

(Argaman and Tekhelet): The Study of Chief Rabbi Dr. Isaac Herzog on the

Dye Industries in Ancient Israel and Recent Scientific Contributions",

Isis 81:308 (September 1990):563.


38 Midrash Shir HaShirim Rabbah 4:11.


39 Midrash Devarim Rabbah 7:11.


40 Shabbat 75a.


41 Leiner, ibid. p.27. Herzog ibid. p.57.


42 Shabbat 75a and Rashi ad loc.


43 Aristotle, Historia Animalium, Book V, Ch. 15; Pliny the Elder,

Naturalis Historia, Book 9, Ch. 60.


44 Megilah 6a and Rashi ad loc. See also Midrash Bamidbar Rabbah 13:16.


45 Leiner, ibid. p.29.


46 Rambam, Hilchot Tzitzit, Ch.2, Halacha 2.


47 Chulin 89a, Rashi.


48 Leiner ibid. pp. 28-9.


49 Herzog ibid. p.77.


50 Avodah Zarah 28b.


51 Herzog ibid. p.59.


52 Rabbi Gershon Leiner, Ein HaTecheilet in Sifrei Techeilet Radzyn,

pp.292-3. That this was known in the times of the Gemara can be confirmed

in three 1st century texts: Pliny the Elder, ibid.Book 32:1; Celsus,

De Medicina, Book 2:29; Dioscorides, De Materia Medica, Book 2:23.


53 Sepia, cuttlefish ink, is sold in tablet form as a treatment

for hemorrhoids. One such store is Vitamin USA of Findlay, OH



54 Celsus ibid. Book 2:30.


55 Keilim, ch. 12, Mishnah 1.


56 Idem, Rav Ovadiah MiBartenura, Meleches Shlomo.


57 Leiner, Sefunei Temunei Chol p.27.


58 Bechorot 38a-b.


59 Leiner ibid. p.27.


60 P.E. McGovern, and R.H. Michel, "Royal Purple Dye: Tracing Chemical

Origins of the Industry"., Analytic Chemistry 57(1985):1514A-1522A.


61 Ziderman ibid.


62 McGovern ibid.


63 Pliny ibid. Book 9, ch. 62.


64 Rabbi Norman Lamm, "New Discoveries and the Halakhah on Tekhelet"

in Rabbi Alfred Cohen, ed.,Tekhelet: The Renaissance of a Mitzvah (New

York, 1996), p.23.


65 Franco Brunello, The Art of Dyeing in the History of Mankind,

translated by Bernard Hickey (Venice, 1973), pp. 91-92.


66 Found on Corinthian and Tyrian coins (Brunello, ibid., p.92;

Sterman ibid., p.64). Also found on a coin from Taras (Taranto), minted

hundreds of years before Bar Kochba (Brunello ibid. p.105) - see coin

at http://www.geocities.com/~dougsmit/feac50tar.html.


67 Herzog ibid. p.78.


68 Liddell-Scott-Jones Lexicon of Classical Greek,



69 See, for example, Targum Onkelos Bamidbar 11:5, Sukkah Ch. 3 Mishnah 6.


70 Rabbeinu Yonah on Berachot 9b.


71 Herzog ibid. p.60.


72 The archeologist Yigael Yadin believed he found techeilet from the

Bar Kochba era (circa 135). The unspun, purple wool that he found was

subjected to chemical analysis and found to be made of indigo and kermes,

a common red dye made from an insect. This combination was a common,

inexpensive substitute for the expensive murex purple. It is puzzling

why Dr. Yadin thought this was techeilet. The wool was just beginning

to be spun. It was not attached to a garment. No white threads were

intermingled. Despite Dr. Yadin's imaginative drawings of how this wool

was actually partially completed tzitzit, any connection between this

wool and tzitzit is pure speculation. See Yigael Yadin, Bar-Kochba: The

rediscovery of the legendary hero of the Second Jewish Revolt against

Rome.(New York, 1971).