This site is devoted to information about scientific and Jewish research regarding tekhelet תכלת, the ancient dye that was made in the Mediterranean lands for dyeing wool and silk. It was one of the most prestigious and lucrative i ndustries in Antiquity, as hyacinth-purple. The dye was produced from a marine shellfish species named banded dye-murex (Hexaplex trunculus, ארגמון קהה-קוצים), that is native to Mediterranean Sea shallows.
Renewing Tekhelet in the Jewish People
The information presented here is largely from research papers and articles written by Dr. Israel Irving Ziderman of Shoresh, Israel.
Four exciting breakthroughs in our knowledge of tekhelet have been reported recently:
1. The main dyestuff of tekhelet dye has now been discovered. The main and characteristic ingredient of tekhelet is a hitherto unknown dyestuff named 6-monobromo-indigotin (MBI), in admixture with the two previously-known ingredients, 6,6′-dibromo-indigotin (DBI) and indigotin. The DBI ingredient is also the dyestuff of Tyrian purple (Hebrew argaman, ארגמן), that is the dye produced from all other species of dye-shellfish, except banded dye-murex used for making tekhelet.. Indigotin is a blue, that is also the vegetable dyes woad and indigo (קלא אילן). Currently, we have been investigating the unique chemistry of MBI, which – when heated to 60 degrees C – changes irreversibly from its initial violet colour to blue, without any alteration in its chemical structure and composition.
2. The millennium-old mystery of how tekhelet was dyed has now been unravelled by Edmonds and Boesken-Kanold . It is a unique bacterial fermentation taking a week, that converts the dye to a soluble form, which readily dyes wool to tekhelet. This natural process is spontaneous; and it has been restored to work in practice.
3. Variations in the dye colour obtained with different specimens of banded dye-murex are now attributed to the size (i.e.the age) of the snail. The younger individuals largely give blues, while the older ones mostly give purples. Accordingly, use smaller shellfish to get a tekhelet colour!
4. Excavations of High Priestly residences in Temple-era Old-City Jerusalem , have ucovered intact shells of banded dye-murex .
This finding indicates that the shells were treasured as prestigious objects. Perhaps these shells were prized as revered symbols of the sacred goods made from them.
Renew Our Days as of Old
Since 1984 Dr. Ziderman has headed the Tekhelet Foundation, which he founded in order to promote the perpetuation of Rabbi Herzog’s study. The Foundation has four main goals:
a. Using snails native to Eretz Yisrael, not imported ones, for producing tekhelet – so as to renew our days as of old!
b. Growing the snail and reproducing them in artificial pools – for preservation for future generations and protecting them from extinction due to the pollution of the Mediterranean Sea, and to ensure a continuous supply of shellfish for mass-production of the dyestuff.
c. Production of tekhelet colour in a novel method, without chemicals – according to Dr. Ziderman’s most recent scientific study.
d. Restoring the biotechnological process, as recently discovered, that was used in antiquity to dye the wool tekhelet.
e. Biochemical research to explain the varyability of the colour produced by individual tekhelet-snails, some of which produce blue while others produce violet.
f. Study of the feasability of synthesising the tekhelet-dye by tissue-culture.
g. Establishing industrial plants to breed and to raise tekhelet-shellfish, and to dye wool by our new non-chemical method.
h. Supplying tallitot with tekhelet to all synagogue-worshipers – to ensure that all should benefit from this great mitzvah, as “all Jews are responsible for each other.”
The Tekhelet Foundation has received the approval of leading Rabbis, including Rabbi Tzfanya Drori, Rabbi Dov Lior, Rabbi Re’em HaKohen, Rabbi Hershel Schachter, Rabbi Dr. Yisrael Rozen of blessed memory, and Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, of blessed memory
If you are interested in hearing more about this project, please contact:
Dr. I. Ziderman
Founder and CEO, Tekhelet Foundation