F. Description of the Tekhelet-Hillazon in the Talmud

Lacaze-Duthiers, indeed, states that in the course of his experiments one subspecies of Murex trunculus yielded a blue, but he adds that the same variety gave at another time a violet. He was unable to determine the cause of the variation. Should what 1 might call “the pure-blue theory” fix upon that subspecies as the Tekhelet-mollusc or as we would say in Hebrew the hillazon-shel-Tekhelet,(חלזון של תכלת) the identification would carry with it the corollary that, the ancients being aware, unlike Lacaze-Duthiers, of the cause of the deviation, knew how to make the pigment of the variety of M. trunculus produce a pure blue when they wanted to fabricate Tekhelet with it. Or, again, it might be possible for the pure-blue theory to admit Murex trunculus in general as the Tekhelet species but with the necessary limitation that the dye received certain treatment. This may have consisted in the arresting of the photographic development at the deep-blue stage, or in the admixture of certain drugs having the effect of deadening the red factor.

Professor Friedlaender, however, in one of his letters to me, asserts that with the species with the chemical constitution of whose dye he is acquainted, it is impossible to produce a pure blue. The statement covers Murex trunculus. Professor Raphael Dubois, on the contrary, states in a private communication to me, that it is possible by a certain artifice to produce a pure blue out of the pigment of Murex trunculus. Whether this is possible or not, it is certainly impossible for a non-chemist like me to come to a definite conclusion where authorities differ.

At all events, the Murex trunculus has a strong claim upon our attention in this connection. As the principal centre of Tekhelet production as far as Jews are concerned is located by tradition in the territory of Zebulun which adjoined Sidon, the evidence in favour of Murex trunculus applies as much to the solution of the question with regard to Jewish as to Phoenician Tekhelet though I know of no distinct mention of Tekhelet in particular in connection with Phoenician industry.

The inquirer equipped with a knowledge of the experiments of Lacaze-Duthiers, of the discoveries of Wilde, deSaulcy, and Gaillardot and of the conclusions arrived at by Dr. Dedekind will go to the T almud only for a confirmation of the identification of the Tekhelet-species with Murex trunculus. But there is a surprise in store for him.

ת״ר חלזון זהו גופו דומה לים וברייתו1 דומה לדג עולה אחד2 לשבעים שנה ובדמו צובעין

תכלת לפיכך דמיו יקרין3

“.. .This is the description of the hillazon:

  1. its body (i.e. the colour of its body or shell) is like unto the sea;
  2. its shape (or form) is like unto a fish, and
  3.  it comes up once in seventy years; and with its blood Tekhelet is dyed, wherefore it

is very dear.”4

The baraitha is quoted with very slight variations in the Yalkut Shimoni:

תנו רבנו חלזון זו גופו דומה לים וכו׳ עולה אחת לשבעים שנה

The reading זו would seem to treat חלזון as of feminine gender though it is masculine throughout the rest of the passage as well as in all other texts when חלזון occurs.

It would seem that the original reading of the Yalkut was זהו. A copyist wishing to correct it after the reading of the Talmud placed a ו over the ה. Another scribe taking the ו as a correction of the ה wrote זו. In any case the reading would bear its justification within itself; the noun hillazon comprising all kinds of shell snails. זה (zeh) (thisspecies of hillazon) would be the proper word rather than זהו (zehu) (this hillazon this is its description) which might lead to the misunderstanding of the passage as applying to hillazon in general, and so turn the Talmudic description into a source of error for the ignorant and of amazement for the better informed. Yet the reading זהו may be original. The passage is doubtless an extract from a context dealing with Tekhelet and hillazon-shel-Tekhelet where of course there would be no room for mistake. In the Talmud also the description appears in close proximity to passages dealing with the hillazon-shel-Tekhelet. I would add, however, that the reading זה (zeh) has the support of no less an authority than Samuel b. Hofni (See my edition of the 9th chapter of his כתאב אחכאם שרע אל ציצית in the July number of the Jewish Quarterly Review 1914).

I entertain a strong suspicion that the original text of the description had neither זה nor זהו, but simply read ‘חלזון גופו רוצה ובו in the immediately preceding passage (in the original context) dealing with the dyeing of Tekhelet with the pigment of hillazon; there could have been no occasion for either of these particles. Thus in the Baraitha dtzitzit (ברייתא דציצית) where the description stands after the statement שאין צובעין תכלת אלא בחלזון there is neither זה nor .זהו

דמיו: לפיכך דמיו יקרים in the masculine refers to the hillazon. Here Samuel B. Hofni may have preserved the original reading דמיה in the feminine, referring to Tekhelet.

The description is due of course to a Tanaitic source but it is difficult to fix the date of its formulation.



  1. Lewysohn wrongly renders “seine Entstehung” (op. cit., 1 c). In רש״י and רבנו גרשום and cf.נדה כ״ד ע״ב
  2. Bochart wrongly renders: “unus solum in terram ascendit singulis sept, anni.” אחד often stands for אחת (“one”) in Tanaitic usage. Cf. Yalkut אחת.
  3. Riedel (l.c.) erroneously translates “deshalb ist sein Blut theur.”
  4. Menahot, 44a.