B. Palestine as the Source of Supply of Ritual Tekhelet to Babylonian Jewry
The impression created by a careful perusal of Menahot is that it was from Palestine that Babylonian Jewry, at least in the later Amoraic age, procured the Tekhelet they required for the tzitzit.
“Abayi said to Rab. Samuel bar Jehudah, ‘That Tekhelet – how do ye dye it?’ He said to him, etc.. .”1 Rab. Samuel b. Jehudah who emigrated from Palestine about 337 C.E. is chiefly noted for a number of interesting halakhot he brought to Babylonia from the academies in the Holy Land. The language of the question put to him about the process of Tekhelet dyeing implies in all probability that such knowledge is expected from him on account of his Palestinian origin. It is not improbable that he was also known to have actually exercised in the Holy Land the trade of Tekhelet-dyer.
“Mar of Mashkhi brought Tekhelet in the lifetime of Rab. Ahai, etc…”2
The terms of this record too, so it seems to me, point to Palestine as the source of the importation intended for the use of the daughter community in Babylonia.
The impression thus gained from Menahot receives very appreciable support from the historic epistle referred to above.
“A pair came from Reket (Tiberias) and the eagle (Romans) caught them; and they held in their hands things manufactured at Luz (Tekhelet), etc…”
This highly interesting document (c. 353-354) implies, as will be shown later, that the fact of their carrying with them Tekhelet was responsible for the arrest of the two scholars delegated by the Palestinian authorities to convey to the Babylonian community news of the most vital importance for the religious life of the latter. These men, I contend, would hardly have run the great risk, were not Babylonia Jewry absolutely dependent on Palestine for the supply of Tekhelet. It would perhaps be overstepping the limit of legitimate inference to deduce from the present text the prevalence of a regular practice with the emissaries sent from Palestine for the purpose of announcing the fixing of the calendar to carry with them at the same time Tekhelet for the religious use of the communities of the Exile. But that such may have been the case is far from improbable.
The regular visits of these learned messengers from Zion3 whose trustworthiness must have been beyond all doubt, would certainly afford the best facilities for satisfying the law requiring Tekhelet for tzitzit to be procured from none but an absolutely confidential source.