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There are many Compelling arguments to support Techelet, although it's not yet universally accepted.

A friend of mine bought P'til Tekhelet Murex techeiles, and went to his rabbi (who I know and respect) to ask for advice on how to tie it, and his rabbi told him "Don't."

While I'm pursuing the answer to the question through other means, what possible reasons are there to say not to wear techeiles? Let's say that Murex is not the chilazon, and we have some strings that have been dyed blue for no reason. What problem could there be in attaching those strings to my tzitzis?

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31

You ask, "let's say that Murex is not the chilazon, and we have some strings that have been dyed blue for no reason. What's the problem with that?" (my emphasis)

If there really is no reason to dye them blue whatsoever, then doing so would be a violation of the Shulchan Aruch (9:5), who says that careful people use strings of the same color as the garment, and we use a white garment, and the Rama there who notes that the custom is to use white (this is pointed out by R. Elyashiv in his collected teshuvos, 1:2). While the Chazon Ish (3:25) and the Radziner Rebbe (Ein HaTecheiles 1:40:1) don't think that this applies to all of the strings, many poskim seem to assume that all four strings should be white, in the absence of techeiles.

This stringency, however, would not be enough of a reason to say not to use techeiles if there's any reason at all to assume that it might be correct.

Let's assume, then, that it's a matter of doubt, and (the assumption is) that one should be stringent as ספק דאורייתא לחומרא. Why not dye them with the new blue?

  1. A halachik reason: Many (including R. Moshe Shternbach, Teshuvos V'Hanhagos 1:26 and 4:5) have written that placing something extra on tzitzis with the intent to possibly perform a mitzvah, even out of doubt, is violating the prohibition of bal tosif. (This is the indication of the Gemara in Zevachim 81a, and though the Ritva Sukkah 31b says otherwise, there were many poskim throughout history on both sides of this question).

  2. A kabbalistic reason: There are apparently kabbalistic reasons to avoid using real techeiles strings nowadays anyway, which was the objection of R. Yisrael Yehoshua Trunk (Shu"t Yeshuos Malko O.C. 1-3). (It's hard for this to be understood literally as Kabbalah can't uproot a biblical obligation. Rav Asher Weiss suggests the intention might be more along the lines of: kabbalah tells us that the true techeiles has been lost and so anyone who thinks they are wearing it nowadays must be donning a spiritually destructive fake.)

  3. A meta-halachik reason: I've been told by a posek that he was worried that if we come to dye them blue from the murex out of doubt, then future generations might mistakenly believe that there's a tradition that this is the proper chilazon. This is problematic because (1) it is a 'ziyuf hatorah', a misrepresentation of the Torah, which the Maharshal (Yam Shel Shelomo B.K. 4:9) thinks is so terrible as to be worth dying for (2) if Eliyahu does come and provides us with a different snail, things could get very awkward and we might not know what to do.

If you are going to wear it in public, then we can add that R. Shternbach (ibid.) prohibits wearing blue tzitzis in public because of the prohbition of 'lo tisgodedu', of making apparent divisions in halakhic practice among different people.

Of course, the assumption above that there is a formal halachik doubt here is debatable as well. R. Shternbach (ibid.) writes that something without a tradition cannot even be considered a safek. Also, R. Soloveitchik (Shiurim L'Zecher Abba Mori, pg 228) as well as several others quote the Beis Halevi (though there is some debate if he actually said this) as saying that something that has been lost to tradition is equivalent to a tradition that something has been lost; meaning, it's as if there's a mesorah not to use anything as blue until Eliyahu or the like can reinstate it from their own mesorah, not just from arguments.

Additionally, it isn't at all true that the evidence is 'compelling' to everyone that the murex trunculus is the correct fish for dying techeiles. There are good answers to this question, both in terms of archaeological evidence and halakhic literature regarding the identity of the chilazon. Rav Asher Weiss and Rav Shlomo Miller, both widely accepted poskim, do not think that there is enough evidence to even raise a doubt, and discourage the use of techeiles (without really providing an answer to this question). For many people, the fact that these poskim are unconvinced is enough of a reason not to view it as a doubt. (The list of poskim that have discouraged it extends far beyond these, though of course it isn't unanimous, and those who do wear techeiles have answers to the above issues. You asked about the potential downsides).

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  • 1
  • I wonder if having stripes on the Tallis (as many ashkenazim do) would be enough to allow for multicolored strings (accd to the rambam). I suspect it would only help if the stripes reached all the way to the corner itself (something I've never seen done, but probably could be arranged without too much complaining from the manufacturers or the 'gedolim').
    – Double AA
    Jan 19 '15 at 17:46
  • @DoubleAA I've asked a Rav before about the stripes, and he said that it only matters which single color is of the majority of the beged. But he didn't have a source and i haven't looked into it Jan 19 '15 at 18:17
  • @DoubleAA also re #3: apparently R. Seriah Deblitzky feels the same way. (Note that he quotes Wikipedia which in turn quotes that very forum... almost an example of this but not quite) May 3 '16 at 2:54
  • 1
    (You may be interested in Maharil (5:2) וסברא הוא דשמא יחזור דבר לקילקולו שיהא תכלת מצוי, כ"ש למאי דכתב סמ"ג דאותו דג חלזון הוא בים המלח וכתב סימנין, בקל היה לעשות תכלת seems no Mesorah is needed (or that Mesorah from written texts is sufficient).)
    – Double AA
    Dec 9 '16 at 3:44
2

Rav Moshe Heinemann says that there is a problem of the curse brought in the Gemara Baba Metzia 61b:

אמר רבא למה לי דכתב רחמנא יציאת מצרים ברבית יציאת מצרים גבי ציצית יציאת מצרים במשקלות אמר הקב"ה אני הוא שהבחנתי במצרים בין טפה של בכור לטפה שאינה של בכור אני הוא שעתיד ליפרע ממי שתולה מעותיו בנכרי ומלוה אותם לישראל ברבית וממי שטומן משקלותיו במלח וממי שתולה קלא אילן בבגדו ואומר תכלת הוא

Rava says: Why do I need the mention of the exodus from Egypt that the Merciful One wrote in the context of the halakhot of the prohibition against interest (see Leviticus 25:37–38), and the mention of the exodus from Egypt with regard to the mitzva to wear ritual fringes (see Numbers 15:39–41), and the mention of the exodus from Egypt in the context of the prohibition concerning weights (see Leviticus 19:35–36)? Rava explains: The Holy One, Blessed be He, said: I am He Who distinguished in Egypt between the drop of seed that became a firstborn and the drop of seed that did not become a firstborn, and I killed only the firstborn. I am also He Who is destined to exact punishment from one who attributes ownership of his money to a gentile and thereby lends it to a Jew with interest. Even if he is successful in deceiving the court, God knows the truth. And I am also He Who is destined to exact punishment from one who buries his weights in salt, as this changes their weight in a manner not visible to the eye. And I am also He Who is destined to exact punishment from one who hangs ritual fringes dyed with indigo [kala ilan] dye on his garment and says it is dyed with the sky-blue dye required in ritual fringes. The allusion to God’s ability to distinguish between two apparently like entities is why the exodus is mentioned in all of these contexts.

Even though the Gemara is clearly saying that this is on one who comes to trick people, Rav Heinemann applies the rule of קללת חכם אפילו על תנאי היא באה, the curse of a Sage, even if it is stated conditionally, it comes (Makkos 11a).

Note that this problem is only if Murex indigo is included in the category of kala ilan. This is arguable. If we take kala ilan to be the name of the indigo plant and not the dye produced from it, we can say definitively that the Murex is not that plant. I think this is the reason no one else has brought up this issue.

I had understood that only actual kala ilan was included in the curse, but in a question and answer session here (1:07-1:09) Rav Heinemann says that even if it is not kala ilan, if it is not certainly techales, the curse applies. (He seems to apply this even to what in fact is techales if one doesn't know that with certainty. I don't know how he includes that in the curse, this not being kala ilan in any sense.)

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  • More likely, the reason no one else said this is that by the same logic, even in the future with Mashiach-given vadai tekhelet the curse will still apply. If the whole point of his argument is literally 'stated limitations do not apply', then there is really no argument from any classical source and it's just him stating his opinion.
    – Double AA
    Aug 3 at 13:02
  • By the same logic too, lending one's money without interest is included in the curse there. So too honestly lending a non-Jew's money out with interest is included in the curse.
    – Double AA
    Aug 3 at 13:10
  • Rav Heinemann is not stupid, and how do you think he would respond to your quips? It says specifically "claims that his money is a non-Jew's and lends it with interest", it does not say explicitly "in order to trick people."
    – Mordechai
    Aug 4 at 22:19
  • I don't think he's stupid! I suspect he'd respond that I'm right but for other reasons, perhaps political, he can't accept murex tekhelet so he's coming up with difficult speculation to justify that given conclusion talmudicly. Well, if we were in private and he thought I wouldn't repeat it over to others, that's what I think he'd say.
    – Double AA
    Aug 4 at 22:39
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    @DoubleAA Rav Heinemann's primary objection, according to what he says first in that recording, is that "none of the gedolim" believe that there is enough evidence to even raise a doubt, otherwise they would wear the blue themselves, and to imply that someone is 'smarter' than "the gedolim" constitutes a chilul Hashem Aug 9 at 12:49
1

To defend the second answer of MichoelR, that a layman should not wear techales when he sees that his Rabbanim do not, this is clearly spelled out in the Mishna Brura (63:6):

כתב ביש"ש פ"ז דב"ק סימן מ"א מי שמחמיר ... ואפילו אם אינו פשוט כ"כ להתיר לא יחמיר נגד דברי רבו אם לא שיש לו ראיה לסתור דבריו עכ"ל:

Someone who is stringent ... even if it is not so clear to permit (or require) the act, one should not be stringent against the word of his Rabbi unless he has a proof to contradict his word.

(My adding the case of some positive act being required is based upon the context where the Mishna Brura brings this.)

This is not like the case of where one's Rabbi does not wear tefilin, brought in the comments on that answer. (I kid you not; that is the case there.) There it should be clear to everyone that every person must wear tefilin. Here it is not clear to people that Murex dye is techales, so one who does not posses the proofs to that effect should not be stringent against the word of his Rabbi.

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    I'm pretty sure the Mishnah Berurah is talking about being stringent on a chumrah, and not fulfilling a mitzvah when no one else is...?
    – robev
    Aug 3 at 12:08
  • 1
    Indeed this answer mistakenly conflates two different "kinds" of "chumra": the kind where some people act strictly in defference to a position we don't rule like, and the kind where when there is a doubt about a biblical mitzva one must act stringently. The former kind is where Yuhara is relevant, not the latter kind. The question of whether or not to wear tekhelet, though, has nothing to do with the former kind.
    – Double AA
    Aug 3 at 13:06
  • I really would have been happy to only bring the second half of the quote, but didn't see a good way to do that. The first half, about a chumra, is patently irrelevant, as stated. But the second half is more relevant. And there yuhara is not part of the equation. One could still argue that in the absence of proof one must follow his Rabbi only on rabbinic requirements and not a biblical commandment, as the source for the Yam shel Shlomo is from muktzah, but that is a shakey argument.
    – Mordechai
    Aug 4 at 21:51
  • Thanks! I see you got downvoted too! :) Welcome to the club.
    – MichoelR
    Aug 5 at 18:34
0

Controversy aside as to what the techeiles dye really is, there is good reason not to reinstate it. Rabbi Cohen writes in Dose of Halacha:

the Beis Halevi (R’ Yosef Ber Soloveitchik, 1820-1892) maintained that as the techeles has been lost from our mesorah, tradition, it should not be reinstated, irrespective of the evidence.

He continues by explaining that there is a precedent for this among other mitzvos, such as Birchas Koahanim.

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    What's the good reason? Jan 18 '15 at 23:31
  • Why can't he wear it without reinstating it?
    – Double AA
    Jan 18 '15 at 23:34
  • 3
    Why doesn't that site cite how it knows what the Beis Halevi thought about that? (Hint: he never actually wrote that anywhere and in fact wrote the opposite. judaism.stackexchange.com/a/8363/759)
    – Double AA
    Jan 18 '15 at 23:42
  • I don't know. I believe the Briskers all believe that side of the story, though think the Radziner Rebbe wrote something else from the Brisker..
    – Zvi
    Jan 18 '15 at 23:43
  • Just saw your comment - thanks for that link! Any idea where it is in his book?
    – Zvi
    Jan 18 '15 at 23:45
0

There is a tshuva from Reb Elyashiv where he says either the tradition of what techeiles is was lost, or it wasn't lost and there was some reason the Rabbis allowed its disuse. He says we should not change as this would qualify as a minhag and al titosh toras imecha.

I have another idea that I've mentioned to some people that they've appreciated. Let's see what the Mi Yodeans think.

The gemara in Bava Metzia 61b reads like this. Rava said why did the Torah mention Yetzias Mitzraim by Ribis by tzitzis and by weights? Hashem said I am the one who recognized in Egypt between the drop who was of a bechor and the drop that was not of a bechor. I am He who will get back at someone who uses a nonjew as a pretext and lends his money to a Jew with ribbis, and from someone who keeps his weights in salt, and someone who hangs Kala Ilan, fake techeiles, on his clothing.

The idea of the first two is that this person is gaining monetarily from his deceit. The case of hanging fake techeiles also can be explained this way, as the Rosh in fact did see there #4 'one who hangs Kala Ilan on his clothing to sell in place of Techeiles'.

However Tosafos seems to understand differently. Tosafos points out 'even though this is a transgression his mitzvah of tzitzis, even still the passuk is needed so that he will be transgressing from when he hangs those strings.' Tosafos is dealing with the actual fulfillment of the mitzvah, not the issue of stealing. The fact that within the parameters of the mitzvah a person will transgress simply by putting fake techeiles on his clothing, even before wearing them, is a good reason not to put techeiles on which might be fake.

One can claim that this passuk is only talking about someone who puts fake techeilas knowingly, which would then have no bearing on today's situation where it is put on out of doubt, but that would be an unprecedented novalle.

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. Jan 20 '15 at 1:53
  • As far as I know he has one responsum on this topic and he doesn't say what you say he says. Can you cite it?
    – robev
    Aug 1 at 17:38
-1

I was thinking, Rashi says at the end of parshas Shelach that the reason the torah mentions yetzias mitzroyim in the parsha of tzitzis is because just like HKBH was mavchin bein tipah shel b'chor l'tipa sheino shel b'chor, so too He knows the difference between one who puts on real techeiles and one who takes dye from a tree and calls it techeiles. It could that that is the risk in wearing sofek techeiles, because apparently there is an issue with wearing something that you are considering techeiles that may not really be true techeiles.

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    "apparently there is an issue" I see no evidence for that. It just says God won't be fooled into thinking you are wearing techeiles, not that he will be angry with your or punish you or that you are doing anything wrong. Moreover, as long as you also think it's a safek there's no way it would be a problem since you wouldn't even be trying to trick anyone.
    – Double AA
    Jun 20 '17 at 14:29
  • Regarding your first point, I think the mashmaus from Rashi is that Hashem is not happy when one does it, because otherwise, what is the point of Rashi's comment? That Hashem knows the difference between real techeiles and fake techeiles? Of course He knows the difference. The point Rashi seems to be making is that one shouldn't do this because it is not right. Your second point is kind of what I was thinking. It could be that, assuming Hashem is not happy about what this person is doing, it would only be a problem if he does it b'meizid, and he uses a dye that he knows is not techeiles
    – anonymous
    Jun 21 '17 at 14:25
  • (continuing my point abouve) But if he uses something that is a sofek (like today's techeiles) it would not fall under this issue
    – anonymous
    Jun 21 '17 at 14:28
  • No, you can say even more that, even if he purposely uses fake Tekhelet with no intention of tricking anyone (because he likes the color or it's all he has or whatever), it's also ok. The key here isn't that it's a safek but that no one is trying to trick anyone
    – Double AA
    Jun 21 '17 at 14:29
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    @DoubleAA I think DoubleAA is right about this; a clear part of the Midrash is the deception involved. Nevertheless, I've heard in the name of Rav Heinemann that he thinks it would apply anyhow, because of the principle of "a curse of a sage happens even if the condition is not fulfilled." I haven't asked him for an explanation, but that was interesting.
    – MichoelR
    Aug 1 at 13:08
-1

I heard a shiur from Rav Kleinman that he heard a rumor that Rav Shmuel Kamenetsky wore techeiles in secret. When he asked him about it, Rav Kamenetsky made a point of pulling out his tzitzis to show they were all white. Rav Kleinman asked why Rav Kamenetsky was so emphatic on the issue, and he answered that it is due to the Aruch HaShulchan, who rejected the Radziner's techeiles completely based on the writings of the students of the Arizal, that the identity of the chilazon is lost until Mashiach comes.

Another point brought up by Rav Elyashiv in his teshuva: Even if we identify the chilazon, it is a machlokes Rashi and Rambam how to prepare it, so we don't know what to do with it.

Another point I heard from a Rav is there is a concern that if people start wearing techeiles, people will try to use it to recreate the Bigdei Kehunah and do the avodah on the Temple Mount. A friend of mine who took a tour in Jerusalem was told by the guide that "Rav Hershel Shachter says this is techeiles, so we can do the avodah." Never mind that Rav Shachter says he only wears it misafeik.

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  • Regarding the last point, the last paragraph of Igrot Moshe O.C. 5:15 may be relevant.
    – Alex
    Aug 2 at 3:35
  • I don't see how. If you are wrong about it being techeiles, then according to many opinions there is a chiyuv kares. That is much worse than Rav Moshe's case.
    – N.T.
    Aug 2 at 4:26
  • That's a different step in the analogy. R. Moshe says that you can be machmir in one case without worrying that it will lead to being meikil in the future. Transposed to techeiles (though, of course, the parallel is not exact) it would mean that you can be machmir by tzitzis without worrying that it will lead to being meikil by avodah.
    – Alex
    Aug 2 at 4:34
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    Making a gezeirah to cancel a mitzvah due to some concern is something that Chazal/Sanhedrin do (e.g. shofar/lulav on Shabbos). For an individual rabbi to make such a gezeirah in the 21st century seems like overreach.
    – Alex
    Aug 2 at 4:45
  • 2
    Your first two paragraphs are irrelevant to the question of the downside to wearing them. Your last paragraph needs a source. We don't make up our own gezeiros, especially to annul a mitzvah doraisa. Also Rav Schachter says it's close to 100% the correct techeiles, so not sure why you say it's a safek for him.
    – robev
    Aug 2 at 11:28
-2

Surely it is obvious that if we knew for sure that this was not the real techeiles, then it would be a very bad thing to use it. It would be like if you can't get an esrog, using a lemon instead. As the gemara in Sukkah 31b says about that case, "It's obvious you shouldn't do that! No, you might say, do it in order that the mitzvah of esrog not be forgotten. The mishnah comes to say, it will lead to more damage, as people will be pulled into using it instead of the correct species." And to me this case seems much more obvious. At least there everyone knows that a lemon is not an esrog; here the confusion is built in.
Since that is so, it just becomes a question of how good is the evidence for and against, which is something that individual poskim will see differently.

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    "Since that is so, it just becomes a question of how good is the evidence for and against" That's not true. As Matt wrote "This stringency, however, would not be enough of a reason to say not to use techeiles if there's any reason at all to assume that it might be correct." In other words, once you're evaluating the worth of the different bits of evidence, this becomes irrelevant. It's only relevant to people who think there is literally no evidence at all (apparently such people exist, to my disbelief)
    – Double AA
    May 23 at 20:36
  • @DoubleAA "This stringency" - Matt meant, we prefer to use white! That is nothing compared to the very serious problems that result from people having a tradition to use the wrong dye. Whole different league.
    – MichoelR
    May 23 at 20:46
  • Severity is not the issue here. Chazal are not gozer on a safek lemon. You can repeat Matt's item 3 as a meta halachic reason, but that's not the formal argument from the Gemara you cite. You admit this is only relavent if "if we knew for sure"
    – Double AA
    May 23 at 20:52
  • 'You admit this is only relevant if "if we knew for sure"' No, I brought a case where the answer is easy. One can use that case to understand nearby cases, such as where we are almost sure.
    – MichoelR
    May 23 at 21:01
  • Let us continue this discussion in chat.
    – MichoelR
    May 23 at 21:16
-2

Slightly different approach than the answer I gave above, speaking as a layman rather than a rabbi. A mini-survey convinces me that (a) every Rav I follow in Baltimore doesn't wear blue, (b) many of them are pretty convinced that it isn't techeiles, and (c) no one around me wears them either. Once a month maybe I see someone in shul with blue tzitzis.
Given that this is so, for me there is an obvious downside to wearing blue tzitzis: It is a dismissal of the clear custom of (at least my part of) the community. It would be much weird-er than, say, suddenly starting to wear a gartel, which would make me uncomfortable as well. Maybe similar to if I stopped wearing a black hat, but more so there also. I note that I do sometimes see people wearing blue tzitzis, no one makes a fuss of any kind and AFAIK no one really thinks anything of it. Perfectly acceptable. But it would be a move away from minhag hamakom.
(Update: and as Alex pointed out with his link in the comment, there is the issue of yuhara if done in public.)

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  • I'm not really seeing the comparison to gartel. One's a custom one's a biblical mitzvah. I guess I second @Alex's comment.
    – robev
    Aug 1 at 17:36
  • 3
    Not sure if you misunderstood Alex's comment but the teshuva cited is quite emphatic that you fulfill the mitzvah even if no one else does.
    – robev
    Aug 1 at 17:37
  • All I meant to take from Alex's comment is that there is an issue there that I left out.
    – MichoelR
    Aug 2 at 21:54
  • @robev That would be in the case (Rav Sherira Gaon's case) where there is a clear mitzvah and a minhag not to do it. Here the custom of Baltimore (seems to be) that its rabbonim do not feel that there is any clear mitzvah at all. Maybe Rabbeinu Tam's tefillin in a non-Chassidic community would be a better fit? Remember, the OP's question was, is there a downside even if you don't know? Not, is there a downside if you're sure Murex Blue = techeiles?
    – MichoelR
    Aug 2 at 22:02

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