What is the Color of the Tsitsit

“Speak to the children of Israel, and bid them make fringes in the corners of their garments throughout their generations, putting upon the fringe of each corner a thread of blue. And it shall be unto you for a fringe, that you may look upon it and remember all the commandments of the Lord, and do them.”

(Numbers 15, 38-39)

Orthodox Jews, use Talit – prayer shawl – in their prayer, that has fringes – tsitsit.

They also wear Talit Katan – small prayer shawl below their shirts. this Talit Katan also has four fringes – tsitsit.

Those two customs are taken from the law as appears in Numbers 15, 38-39. See above.

In the English translation we read that there is supposed to be a thread of blue in the tsitsit. Is this right?

ancient-tekhelet

 

The color blue in the bible

The translation of the word blue comes from the Hebrew word “Tekhelet” (תְכֵלֶת). This word appears in the bible 48 times. Most of the times in the description of the tabernacle as given by Moses.

In 26 of those cases we see three colors mentioned together: blue, purple and scarletIn Hebrew: Tekhelet, Argaman and Tola’at-Shani (וּתְכֵלֶת וְאַרְגָּמָן וְתוֹלַעַת שָׁנִי)

“Moreover thou shalt make the tabernacle with ten curtains of fine twined linen, and blue, and purple, and scarlet: with cherubims of cunning work shalt thou make them”

(Exodus 26,1)

In other 6 occasions, only blue and purple without scarlet:

“Silver spread into plates is brought from Tarshish, and gold from Uphaz, the work of the workman, and of the hands of the founder: blue and purple is their clothing: they are all the work of cunning men.”

(Jeremiah 10, 9)

But according to bible scholars, those blue, purple and scarlet are not colors, but rather materials.

In fact, the words blue, purple and scarlet never appear in the bible as a colors, but always as a materials that are used in cloths.

Because blue and purple appear so many times together, we may get to the conclusion that they are in fact the same material or two variants of one material.

But what is this material and what was its color? And why do we translate it to what we know today as blue, purple and scarlet?

Some more light on our question

As mentioned above, the bible does not give a hint to what the color of the material “Tekhelet” is.

In the Talmud, that was written between the third and fifth centuries AD, we read that there are white and blue (Tekhelet) threads in the tsitsit. It tells us that the “Tekhelet is like the sea, and the sea is like the skies, and the skies are like the Throne” (Masekhet Minkhot 43, Beit)

We can conclude then, that the color is really blue.

Can we? not really…

In another place in the Talmud it is written that the “Tekhelet is like the sea, and the sea is like the grass, and the grass is like the Throne”. (Berakhot 7, Beit)

So according to this quote, the Tekhelet is green!

Fortunately, we got another quote from the Talmud that teaches us some more facts about the Tekhelet:

“This snale, its body is like the ocean …. and with its blood the Tekelet is dyed, and therefore its blood is very expensive” (Menakhot 44, Alef)

So the Tekhelet is a pigment that was created from a snail!

And indeed, we know that the Phoenicians had an industry of manufacturing dye color from marine snails. Evidences for that industry were found in some of the antique Phoenician cities in Israel.

There are two species of marine snails from which the dye was produced:

Hexaplex trunculus hexaplex_trunculus_l

Murex brandaristyrianpurpleimages

The colors produced from those snails were dark blue or scarlet.

The knowledge of how to produce the color from snails disappeared in the seventh century after the Muslim conquest of the Middle East.

What is used today as Tekhelet?

It is written in the Talmud:

“Tekhelet is not Kosher unless from the snail. If not from the snail it is disallowed” (Menakhot, 89)

Therefore, until today, Haredi orthodox Jews do not use the Tekhelet in the tsitsit but only white threads.

bs-tzitzit-tallit

However, in Israel today, the production of Tekhelet from the marine snails was renewed and you can get real “Kosher” Tekhelet threads. Many religious Jews these days are starting to wear Talit with Tsitsit that has blue threads in it.

More information about the production of the Tekhelet in this site.

d797d799d7a0d795d79a1-768x164

 

 

The narrative of a mountain

In October 2016, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) voted in a resolution that denies Jewish heritage and history to the Temple Mount. The resolution refer to the place only by its Muslim name, “Al-Haram al-Sharif”, and not mentioning its original name, “Temple Mount”.

5651e676e33b95cd4792c805fdbd2c5146761eaa.jpg

Visitors that come to the Temple mount, often wonder how come the Israelis, that got this place in the 6-days war (June 1967) still let the Muslims control over the place.

Only Muslims are allowed to pray in Temple Mount

In today’s status-quo, Only Muslims are allowed to Pray in the Temple Mount.

Anyone that is not a Muslim: either Jew or Christian, can go up to the Temple Mount but not into the mosques. This can be done only in certain hours, not in weekends, and one is not allowed to pray in the place, and not to bring any Bible, cross or Star of David with him.

Moreover, until last year, Israeli tour guides could not even guide groups in the site, as groups of praying Muslim women would start to shout every time someone spoke in the place.

This rude behavior was stopped by the Israeli police and it is much easier to tour in the place today.

Why did Israel let the Muslims to control the place?

Temple Mount is the most holly place for the Jews, although for centuries they were not allowed to enter or pray in it.

In June 1967, after Israel got east Jerusalem, there was an historical opportunity to set a Jewish rule over the Temple mount.

Moshe Dayan, who was the Minister of Defense in 1967, returned the keys to the Temple Mount to the Muslim Waqf (the religious Muslim property) and took the Israeli flag from Temple Mount immediately after the war ended.

What was the reason he did that? Such an action was not taken in any other part that was taken in 6-days war.

Some people say that Dayan understood the sensitivity of the place and prepared for a peace process in which lands will be returned back to the Kingdom of Jordan. But this does not make a lot of sense as most people in Israel believed that Jerusalem will remain united forever.

A Religious Jewish issue

The reason is different and comes from a religious Jewish consideration that some people do not always understand.

When you enter the Temple Mount, you may notice the following sign before the gate:

Hebrew_domeEntrance_sign.jpg

This sign is only an announcement and warning. But why is it there?

Let’s open our Bible

Now the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, “This is the ordinance of the law which the Lord has commanded, saying: ‘Speak to the children of Israel, that they bring you a red heifer without blemish, in which there is no defect and on which a yoke has never come. You shall give it to Eleazar the priest, that he may take it outside the camp, and it shall be slaughtered before him; and Eleazar the priest shall take some of its blood with his finger, and sprinkle some of its blood seven times directly in front of the tabernacle of meeting. Then the heifer shall be burned in his sight: its hide, its flesh, its blood, and its offal shall be burned. And the priest shall take cedar wood and hyssop and scarlet, and cast them into the midst of the fire burning the heifer. Then the priest shall wash his clothes, he shall bathe in water, and afterward he shall come into the camp; the priest shall be unclean until evening. And the one who burns it shall wash his clothes in water, bathe in water, and shall be unclean until evening. Then a man who is clean shall gather up the ashes of the heifer, and store them outside the camp in a clean place; and they shall be kept for the congregation of the children of Israel for the water of purification; it is for purifying from sin. 10 And the one who gathers the ashes of the heifer shall wash his clothes, and be unclean until evening. It shall be a statute forever to the children of Israel and to the stranger who dwells among them. (Numbers 19 1-10)

In not so many places in the Torah we get such a detailed explanation of the law and what needs to be done. The issue of the red heifer is very serious because this is the key for purifying people that are unclean. Who is the unclean? People that touched dead bodies.

Since the destruction of the second temple, the breed of red heifers was lost, and all the detailed procedure to prepare water of purification cannot be performed.

The meaning is that almost anyone is unclean and hence, should not enter the holy place of the Temple Mount!

The Chief Rabbinate of Israel warn anyone, in particular Jews, to avoid from entering Temple mount until the Third Temple is built!

Political Wisdom

Moshe Dayan, understood that this place is explosive.

On the one hand, The Muslims ruled the place for centuries and claim that this is the third most holy place for them.

On the other hand, the Jewish Rabbinate do not want Jews to enter the place.

He made a quick decision to keep the status-quo that was before the 6-days war and not to create a new reason for another war.

And he was very right!

The heart of the conflict

The Temple Mount, or Al-Haram al-Sharif as it is called by the Muslims, is being the heart of the religious conflict between Muslims and Jews for 100 years.

The first riots were in 1920, while the British still ruled the place. The Muslims claimed that the Jews want to take over Al-Haram al-Sharif and started murdering Jews.

This happened again and again until in the year 2000, The Muslims started extensive riots that they literally called: “AlAqsa Intifada” (Al-Aqsa is the name of the most holy mosque) .

And today, nothing has changed: you can hear in Muslim media again and again that Israel is aiming to take over Al-Aqsa and all Muslims are called to unite against Israel.

Rose or Lily?

“I am the rose of Sharon, And the lily of the valleys” (Song of Solomon 2, 1)

In a previous post we brought the problem of identifying species that appear in the Bible. In this post I’d like to discuss the rose and the lily from Song of Solomon. From taking several English translations, we can see that we have a problem…

“I am the rose of Sharon, [And] the lily of the valleys”  (KJV/NASB/NIV)

“I am a narcissus of Sharon, A lily of the valleys” (DARBY)

I’m a flower from Sharon, a lily of the valleys (ISV)

“I am the lily of the field and the rose of the valleys” (JUB)

I am a meadow flower from Sharon, a lily from the valleys” (NET Bible)

Two flowers or one?

Most translations point to two flowers, most of them suggest rose and lily. But there are some more suggestions.

Can we tell for sure what are really the flowers?

In the Hebrew, the first flower is called Havatzelet of the Sharon. The second is called Shoshana of the valleys. In Biblical poetry, this is called Parallelism as a rhetorical device. The sentence is built of two parts where both parts emphasize each other. There are several types of parallelism styles in the Bible. The most common is what we call “Synonymous parallelism” in which the same or similar thoughts are repeated. In our case we have Synonymous parallelism. It means that the word “Sharon” is the same as “Valleys” and the two flowers are in fact one, or two that have similar attributes.

Havatzelet (a  rose?)

The first flower – Havatzelet in Hebrew – was translated by many to “rose”. It appears only once more in the Bible in Isaiah:

The wilderness and the wasteland shall be glad for them,
And the desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose (Isaiah 35, 1)

There are good reasons to believe that Solomon and Isaiah did not mean rose…

complicata_close-up__1

We are looking for a magnificent flower that grows in the Sharon. Roses do not grow in the Sharon. In fact, wild roses are quite rare in Israel. They are found only in the mountains in the north and they are not impressive.

So if we cannot tell what is Havatzelet, we can check what is the second flower, and assume that those are the same flower of similar ones.

Shoshana (a Lily?)

Shoshana or Shoshan (Lily?) appears many times in the Bible and in different contexts. Its Hebrew root is the number Six (Shesh). So it makes sense that this is a flower with six petals – like the lily!

In Song of Solomon it appears many times as a flower that was growing in the gardens:

My beloved has gone to his garden, To the beds of spices, To feed his flock in the gardens,
And to gather lilies (Song of Solomon 6, 2)

In Psalms it appears in a context that is not quite clear and can be interpreted in many ways:

To the Chief Musician. Set to The Lilies. A Psalm of David (Psalms 69, 1)

But when Solomon built the temple, the “Shoshan” appeared as a geometric shape that is used on top of the pillars:

“The capitals which were on top of the pillars in the hall were in the shape of lilies, four cubits” (1 Kings 7, 19)

“The tops of the pillars were in the shape of lilies (1 Kings 7, 22)

“It was a handbreadth thick; and its brim was shaped like the brim of a cup, like a lily blossom. It contained two thousand baths” (1 Kings 7, 26)

So the “Shoshan” is first of all a beautiful flower with six petals that grows in the valleys of the Sharon and in the gardens of Solomon. It has some special meaning that is used in music in Psalms. And it is also a shape that is used as a geometric decoration in the temple.

Archaeology comes to our aid

A coin that was discovered in Israel and is dated to the Persian period (Ezra and Nehemiah) shed some more light on this topic.

-e1445107920445.png
The sign of “Shoshan” on old coin and on New Israeli Shekel

The Ancient coin has a flower on it that is a symbol of the province of Judea in the Persian period. This coin was used when stamping the coin of the New Israeli Shekel.

This symbol resembles very much the Royal French symbol “Fleur-de-lis” or the symbol of the scouts!

images.jpg
Fleur-de-lis

 

Royal Flower symbols

So the French Fleur-de-lis may be originated from a Jewish symbol in the Persian period. And back to our question – What is this flower.

We have Three suggestions.

  1. Lily – The Lily is a white flower with six petals that grows wild in Israel in very rare places at the cliffs of the mountains. Not very probable for a flower that grows in the valleys of the Sharon and in the gardens of Solomon.lily
  2. Narcissus – A white flower with six petals and good blossom that is common in the mountains and the valleys of the Sharon. It can be the “Shoshan” that we are looking for!narcissus

Iris – A colored flower that grows in Israel in many places, including the Sharon. The Iris resembles most then the others the Fleur-de-lis and the symbol on the Jewish coin!1787296-1600x1200

Conclusion

The “rose” and “lily” that appear in most translations of Song of Solomon are probably not rose and lily. It makes more sense that those are the same flower or two similar flowers that their shape was used as a decoration in the first temple, and later on coins. The flowers in the Bible could be narcissus but more probably an Iris. Certainly not a rose.

Who is really the Eagle in the Bible?

The word “Eagle” “Nesher” in Hebrew, appears 28 times in the Bible.

Eagle is the name of a spices of bird that appears more than any other bird name in the Bible. Sometimes the scriptures refer to the bird itself, and sometimes they refer to it symbolically.

But what is the exact bird spices that the writers of the Bible referred to when talking about the Eagle?

Depending of your country of residence, you may think of the Eagle as what you call Eagle in your home. In North America – The American Bald Eagle. In Europe and the the British Islands – The Golden Eagle. Can any of those be the Eagle in the Bible?

800px-haliaeetus_leucocephalus_-skagit_valley-8-2c
Bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)

Problem of identifying the species in the Bible

Whether you read the Bible in Hebrew, or in any of its many translations, we have a big issue with identifying what is the animal, the bird or the flower that the Bible call by name.

There are three reasons to this problem.

First, in ancient times, the science of systematics and taxonomy did not exist. People called an animal or a bird by different names in different places. Moreover, they sometimes called different species with the same general name. So a name of animal in the Bible does not necessarily be an exact name of one specific animal or bird.

Second, Once the Jews were exiled from the country, they did not know all the natural animals of Israel, and new better the animals in their new countries. So even if they continued to read the Bible in Hebrew, they lost the relation to the original animal that their fathers knew.

Third, when the Bible was translated to many languages, first Aramaic and Greek, then Latin, and from the 16th century to all other European languages, the translators translated the names of animals and birds to species that they knew in their own homelands. They did not know what was the original meaning.

What do we know about the Eagle in the Bible?

So we are in some kind of problem here, but as the Eagle is so important in the Bible, we want to find what it is, so we can see the exact bird when we visit Israel!

Let’s open our Bible and see what evidences we can find about the Eagle.

The Eagle is unclean animal and must not be eaten:

In Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14, the eagle appears in the list among other birds that are not allowed to be eaten by the people of Israel

The Eagle has very large wings:

“But there was another great eagle with large wings and many feathers” (Ezekiel 17, 7)

The Eagle can fly long distances and up to very high places:

  • “The Lord will bring a nation against you from afar, from the end of the earth, as swift as the eagle flies” (Deuteronomy 28, 49)
  • “But those who wait on the Lord Shall renew their strength; They shall mount up with wings like eaglesThey shall run and not be weary, They shall walk and not faint.” (Isaiah 40, 31)
  • Though you ascend as high as the eagleAnd though you set your nest among the stars, From there I will bring you down (Obadiah 1, 4)

The Eagle nests in cliffs on high mountains:

  • Your fierceness has deceived you, The pride of your heart, O you who dwell in the clefts of the rock, Who hold the height of the hill!
    Though you make your nest as high as the eagleI will bring you down from there (Jeremiah 49, 16)
  • Does the eagle mount up at your command, And make its nest on high? (Job 39, 27)

Can we tell by now who is the Eagle?

According to everything we read so far, the Golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos), which is also a relative of the American Bald eagle is a good fit: It is large, fly high, can pass long distances and nest in high cliffs.

The Golden eagle is common in Europe and England. It also exists in Israel today, although it is quite rare.

GoldenEagle-Nova.jpg
Golden eagle (aquila chrysaetos)

But what about those verses…

  • The eye that mocks his father, And scorns obedience to his mother, The ravens of the valley will pick it out, And the young eagles will eat it. (Proverbs 30, 17)
  • Make yourself bald and cut off your hair, Because of your precious children;
    Enlarge your baldness like an eagleFor they shall go from you into captivity (Micah 1, 16)

From the first verse in Proverbs 30, we learn that the eagle, just like the raven may eat eyes of animals. Maybe dead animals. This is not typical to the Golden eagle that catch its prey and eats the whole of it.

But from the second verse in Micah, we learn that the eagle is bald. This is certainly not the Golden eagle!

The meaning of the word Nesher (Eagle in Hebrew)

The word Nesher comes of the Hebrew root N.Sh.R

This root is used to describe something that falls out of. For example, leaves or fruits that fall from a tree, or hair that falls from the head leading to baldness.

Is there another bird that exists in Israel and fit all verses in the Bible regarding the Eagle?

Yes! there is. The name of this bird in English is Vulture.

It is a large bird of prey that lives in cliffs. It eats only dead animals and its head is bald.

In modern Israel, the vulture is the bird that we call Nesher.

Griffon_vulture_landing.jpg
Griffon vulture (Gyps fulvus)

Where can we see the Biblical Eagles (Vultures) in Israel?

The griffon vulture is an endangered bird.

There are two main places where you can see vultures in their native environment.

  • Gamla in the Golan Heights.
  • Valley of Zin near Ben-Gurion tomb in the Negev.

In “Hai-Bar Carmel natural reserve”, Near Haifa, vultures bred are introduced back to nature. The vultures can be seen there in cages. This is a special Israeli project that aims to help increasing the vultures population in nature.