Tuesday, August 17, 2010

"It must be similar to the color of the sea..."

Yom shlishi, 6 Elul 5770.

The Dearly Beloved and I enjoy living in Israel so much that we don't really need to take vacations.  (Irony: In Chu"l, we needed vacations desperately, but couldn't afford them.)

So when we go out to "spy out the Land," it is really just to find out what else there is to love, outside our own back yard.

Yesterday, we had a wonderful adventure.  It started with our effort to get to our destination without a car.  We took a bus to Jerusalem, another bus to Tel Aviv, a train to Binyamina, another bus to Zichron Yaakov -- and then a taxi to Nachsholim on the Mediterranean Sea.  Our goal: to learn how tekhelet, the blue dye for tzitzit, is made.

We had been instructed to meet Rabbi Mois Navon at Beit Mizgaga, the museum where we would learn about the underwater archeological history of the area, and about the science and history of tekhelet.
The building housing the museum had once been a glass factory, but was abandoned in 1896.  The artifacts displayed in the museum span 4,000 years of history!

I tended to photograph those periods that had some Jewish reference -- good or bad.


Storage jars of the 13th-12th centuries BCE, found near Tafat Island in the south bay of Dor.

After a half-hour of milling around the museum, we were gathered into the viewing hall for a short film.  I strongly recommend the film The Mystery of Tekhelet, which can be viewed at The Ptil Tekhelet Organization (www.tekhelet.com) site.  It clears up some of the historical mystery about the tekhelet controversy, introduces the scientific concepts, and shows the hunt for the little hillazon snails.  (Tiferes Yisroel crowd:  Rabbi Avraham Twerski makes a short instructional cameo appearance.)
The kids were getting all the shpilkes you would expect after an hour indoors on a sunny day by the beach -- so now it was time to don our snorkels and masks, and move on to the hands-on portion of the event.  The Dearly Beloved and I were as excited as the little kids.



To Rabbi Navon's credit, Torah was woven throughout his lectures.  He started by reminding us that everyone needed to wear tee shirts for the sake of modesty.  This added to the family-friendly atmosphere.  Then he explained to us what the snails looked like, what might fool us (hermit crabs; similar snails; algae-covered rocks), and that we would be throwing all of our catch back after our swim.  "If the fact that it's illegal doesn't stop you from taking them, remember that it's tzar balei chayim (giving pain to animals) to take them away from their habitat.  Within half an hour or an hour, they would be dead."  Jews don't do that for no reason.

We felt exactly six years old after this wonderful and fun experience.

Yes, I know.  Too cool to move, right?  They call me The Snorkel Fox, down by the beach.
In spite of the fact that I looked cooler in my gear than did the Dearly Beloved, he still was the more successful hillazon hunter.  (Go figure.)
The Great Snail Hunter
 I had a terrific time finding hermit crabs and chasing fish -- and the Dearly Beloved found the biggest hillazon snail of anyone.  Rabbi Navon pointed out that it seemed reasonable that the biggest guy would find the biggest snail.  "They look for him, Rabbi," I explained.
Sure I'm bragging.  MY man found the biggest snail of the day. 




Rabbi Navon made the scientific explanations interesting to kids -- and old people -- with similar lack of patience for boring stuff that takes too long.  His tee shirt has the chemical formula for the dye that is tekhelet.
Back to the hands-on part, our personal favorite!  It was time to take a pre-packaged version of what would have come from our snails, and mix it with water, and three other "secret ingredients."


We had the coolest table, since all of us happened to come from Gush Etzion.

The Dearly Beloved adding the second ingredient -- a base compound.

Time for Ingredient Number Three.  Don't ask me: I can't remember what it was.

"It's about the science, Lady.  It's not about the photo op."

When we added the fourth ingredient, Rabbi Navon asked why we would be adding an acid, now that we'd added a base.  Young Mr. Gillis (at the Gush Etzion table, natch) had the right answer: acid added to the base neutralizes the compound, so the fabric won't be eaten.  I don't need to understand.  I sit with smart people for a reason.

"High five!  YAY!"
After all of the "bubble, bubble, toil and trouble" part was complete, the best was yet to come.
It was time to dip our wool into the mixture.  But first, Rabbi Navon reminded us that a Jew cannot live thoughtlessly.  If we just dunked the wool in the chemicals, the resulting dyed wool would be just colored wool.  Any tzitzit strings that would be made from it would be pasul (invalid).  A holy object must -- from start to finish -- have Heaven in mind. 
"All together now: '...l'sheim mitzvat tzitit!'  For the sake of fulfilling the mitzvah of tzitzit...


Just chemicals and wool and dunking are not the final step.  The rest is left to sun and clear water.  Incidentally, without exposure to the sun, the wool would come out with another holy mission.  It would be argamon, the Biblical purple mentioned in the construction of the mishkan.
Somehow, preparing tekhelet on an ancient Roman ruin delights me.
While the sun was doing its job, Rabbi Navon gave us more details about where the hillazon snail could be found, and more scientific facts about the tekhelet dye.


And now, the transformation.  Yellow wool... and nothing up my sleeve but this bottle of clear water...
Raptly attentive, the whole crowd waited for the dénouement of our great adventure.

Below is a short film of the miracle taking place, right at our own little Gush Etzion table.  If you can't see it here, you can watch it at YouTube here:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zsDfDR1WxFk



It was a great adventure, something fun for several generations to do at once.  And The Dearly Beloved and I have gotten a little more fuel for our fire for tekhelet.  Because it was the Romans who began the end of our use of this holy color, we feel a national pride in helping to restore it in our days.

"Our" tekhelet.
Glossary:
Chu"l: Chutz la-Aretz, outside the Land of Israel
Tekhelet: blue dye for making ritual threads
Tzitzit: strings attached to garments worn by Orthodox Jewish men - the threads remind him of  The Infinite
Ptil Tekhelet: thread of blue
Shpilkes: "ants in one's pants," antsiness
Mishkan: the movable Temple of the desert generation of the Jewish people

Haveil Havalim #280 is posted by Soccer Dad, the originator of this particular online journal of Jewish blogs.  This is a great way to get to know a sampling of the J-Blogosphere; so if you've always wondered about Jewish blogs and where to start, start here!   BTW, Soccer Dad's bride and I were old friends back in The Old Country...
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