י״ב בתשרי ה׳תשע״ט (September 21, 2018)

Menahot 43a-b: The Color of Tekhelet

The Gemara on today’s daf relates a number of Rabbinic statements about the importance of fulfilling the commandments of tzitzit.

One baraita teaches that fulfillment of the mitzva of tzitzit “is equal to all the commandments,” based on the passage in Sefer Bamidbar (15:40). Another baraita teaches that looking at the tzitzit reminds us to perform all of the commandments, based on the previous passage (15:39).

The Gemara concludes with the teaching of Rabbi Meir:

Why is tekhelet specified from all the other colors for this mitzva? Because tekhelet resembles the color of the sea, and the sea resembles the color of the sky, and the sky resembles the color of a sapphire, and a sapphire resembles the color of the Throne of Glory, as it is said, ‘And there was under his feet as it were a paved work of sapphire stone’ (Shemot 24:10, and it is also written, ‘The likeness of a throne as the appearance of a sapphire stone’ (Yeḥezkel 1:26).

It is difficult to precisely identify the color of tekhelet, as there is no clear tradition regarding its hue from , and over the years the words used for the colors themselves took on different meanings. Even the descriptions that we find in Rabbi Meir’s statement are unclear, since the shades of color found in the sea and in the sky change depending on the season and the time of day. Furthermore, there are other places where Rabbinic statements identify tekhelet as the color of grass or leek.

The rishonim offer a number of definitions for tekhelet:

  • The Rambam and Rav Se’adya Gaon say that it is the color of the clear sky.
  • Rashi suggests that it is a greenish color, perhaps turquoise
  • Rabbi Moshe HaDarshan explains that it is the color of the sky approaching evening, which would suggest a purplish hue.

Similar positions are found among the researchers who have gone in different directions in identifying the ḥilazon which is the source of tekhelet. If we look to the kala ilan, the “counterfeit tekhelet” as a way of determining the color, it would be indigo, a very dark blue color (see daf 40).