Almost 35 years ago, I was woken up from a dream. I was in my shul (synagogue) on Rosh Hashanah and the guy sitting next to me was wearing a talit with techelet on it. I was unaware that 100 years earlier, Rabbi Gershon Henech Leiner, the Rabbi of Radzin researched the subject from Jewish and scientific points of view. He made multiple trips to the world’s largest aquarium in Naples, Italy and announced that he had rediscovered the chilazon and techelet. My friend filled me in on his research into the topic and I became fascinated with the idea of techelet being rediscovered. Techelet ceased to be used over a thousand years ago and was not rediscovered until the late 1800s. In 1889, wool was dyed with the techelet again, restoring the mitzvah for anyone who accepted it.
The question for me was the same as it was for the Radziner rebbe and every other Jew contemplating adding the blue thread to a talit, was concerning the authenticity of the cuttlefish as the chilazon. I was told that since it was not made from indigo (k’la ilan), which was considered to be fake techelet, it could be worn, even if it turned out to be from a creature that was not the real chilazon. After looking into the matter, I decided that I would also start wearing the Radziner techelet. It was not readily available and after finding a source in Israel, I ordered more than I needed. Over the years, I came into contact with people who saw my techelet and wanted to buy some as well, so I sold them my extra techelet at cost.
I knew someone in the research side of the fabric industry, who would send me clippings about the Murex techelet. I kept abreast of the Ptil Tekhelet research and announcements and examined their sources and evidence to reevaluate my decision to wear the Radziner techelet. It gave me great joy to watch additional people wearing techelet, since they were reawakened to the mitzvah, even though it did not come from the same chilazon that was identified by the Radziner rebbe. There was some things that did not make sense to me about the evidence. I needed to learn more.
I kept reading about the new techelet and listening to the various opinions about it. The argument about the Radziner techelet seemed valid. After all, if you could make the identical techelet using ox blood instead of the cuttlefish, maybe the Baal HaTechelet was mistaken. On the other hand, finding archaeological evidence indicating a place where dying was done did not do it for me. After all, Murex was also used to make purple. At one point I was almost convinced, but I did not want to switch unless I was absolutely sure.
A number of years ago, my wife and I took our children on the tekhelet marine tour that is sponsored by the Ptil Tekhelet foundation. It was held near Zichron Yaakov and involved wading into the water, using goggles and searching the ocean floor for the Murex Trunculus. After finding a bunch of snails (we put them back into the ocean), we were shown how the secretions of the Murex were used to dye wool. The person leading the workshop was Mois Navon, who was very knowledgeable and quite open about the issues around the identification of the Murex Trunculus as the chilazon. These workshops are usually held on Sukot and Pesach and I highly recommend them, especially for children.
Despite what I learned from the workshop, the arguments and counter arguments I read, I was still not convinced. I am not the kind of person who enjoys hearing two sides arguing about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. I have been looking for answers that are clear and straightforward. Too often I hear people stretching the evidence to match the outcome they want to achieve. In some ways, it reminds me about the old joke about the herring:
A. What’s red, hangs on the wall, and whistles?
A. A herring.
B. But a herring isn’t red!
A. So you PAINT it red!
B. But a herring doesn’t hang on the wall!
A. So you HANG it on the wall!
B. But a herring doesn’t whistle!
A. Nu, so it doesn’t whistle.
I have attempted to gather as many resources as possible to enable you to make your own decision on which creature is the authentic chilazon, used to make real techelet. You will read a lot of “red herring” arguments that try and stretch the source to match the particular choice of chilazon candidate. Use your common sense, and hopefully you will get through the source material, commentaries and more commentaries and arrive at an answer.
My journey is not complete, because I know that as the world becomes more of a global shtetl, we might find new evidence that points to the authentic chilazon and real techelet.
I hope that your journey will be as fascinating as the one I am on.