M. G.E. Leiner’s Supposed Rediscovery of the Tekhelet-hillazon in Sepia officinalis.

In 1887 R.G.E. Leiner, of whom much will be said afterwards, fired by the ambition of becoming the restorer of Tekhelet published a pamphlet entitled שפוני טמוני חול in which he gave an exposition of the data relating to the identification, suggesting at last that the Sepia officinalis seemed to be the Tekhelet-species. In a booklet פתיל תכלת published shortly afterwards he tried to fortify his position, adducing arguments which he thought were strong enough to disarm all opposition.

I forbear examining his thesis in detail. Suffice it to say that Leiner started with the wrong assumption that all references to hillazon apply exclusively to the Tekhelet-species.

One argument in particular which Leiner regarded as irrefutable has not indeed a grain of cogency: (a) R. Nachshon Gaon1 in a responsum gives למאסמא (l’masma) as the Arabic equivalent of Tekhelet; (b) in the Hebrew translation of Ibn Sina’s compendium of medicine it is stated that the bone of the hillazon called in Latin למאסיא (l’masia) is used for medicinal purposes; (c) the species so employed is none other than the Sepia officinalis and since l’masia = l’masma = Tekhelet – ergo, the Sepia officinalis is the Tekhelet-species.2

Needles to say למאסיא is not to be transcribed by l’masia but by limacia, plural of limax, snail. למאסמא denotes the colour of the sky, sky-blue.3

Lewysohn states that the Sepia officinalis does not satisfy the condition of similarity of the colour to the sea. Leiner maintains that it does, or in other words, that the colour of the body of Sepia officinalis is essentially blue.4

Dr. Germain may be allowed to decide the question: 


It is impossible to accept that the color of Sepia officinalis L. satisfies the condition of similarity with the color of the sea. Although, thanks to special organs, called chromatophores and spread throughout almost the entire extent of the skin, Sepia officinalis can vary, at its will, the color of its body, it can not obtain a general color similar to that of the sea; it is above all possible for him to mimic the appearance of the bottom on which he swims or to simulate with more or less accuracy the rocks or algae on which he stands in ambush.” “Il est impossible d’admettre que la couleur de Sepia officinalis L. satisfasse à la condition de similarité avec la couleur de la mer. Bien que, grace à des organes speciaux, appelés chromatophores et répandu dans presque toute l’étendue de la peau, le Sepia officinalis puisse faire varier, à sa volonte, la couleur de son corps, il ne peut obtenir une couleur générale semblable à celle de la mer; il lui est surtout possible de mimer l’aspect du fond sur lequel il nage ou de simuler avec plus ou moins d’exactitude les rochers ou les algues sur lesquels il se tient en embuscade.”


The only serious ground for identifying the Maimunistic hillazon with Sepia officinalis is the indication about the ink-like blackness of the dye-secretion. It seems to me, however, highly improbable that Maimonides interpreted the Talmudic description of the hillazon as applying to Sepia. Nor can it be supposed that the great codifier simply followed a tradition recorded in an old source no longer extant. In view of all that has been said, it is clear that Sepia officinalis cannot be the species anciently used for Tekhelet dyeing. Maimondes’ description represents, I think, a combination of the Talmud with Aristotle.

The great codifier would seem to have had no first hand knowledge of the purple-giving species. The indication about the blackness of the dye would seem to be derived from Aristotle.5



  1. עיתור הל, ציצית
  2. 27 ,לינר פתיל תכלת ע
  3. Jepheth the Karaite’s commentary on the Pentateuch, section ש״מ. Ms. copy, Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris: כי תפסיר תכלת קאלקוס אנה איסלון מן מזומן אלצבע והו אלאסממוני
  4. .לינר, שם, מבוא
  5.  Aristotle, ibid.. Bk. V, ch. 15.