TribeFest and The Wisdom of Techellet

The Karaite Jews of America's Booth at JFNA's TribeFest.

The Karaite Jews of America’s Booth at JFNA’s TribeFest.

Eli Shmuel and I are here in New Orleans at the Jewish Federation of North America’s TribeFest 2014 – which is awesome so far. Over Shabbat, Eli and I were discussing whether we (Karaites, Rabbanites, others) know the true color of techellet

And the conversation led me to one of the most profound realizations of my young life.

Eli started by explaining the arguments in favor of the traditional Karaite view, and he concluded by suggesting that for most people it doesn’t really matter whether the Karaites or Rabbanites are right about the source or the color of the techellet. Most of us just need something to look upon in order to remember the commandments.

My eyes immediately lit up.

As I explained to Eli, I had never realized the importance of “blue threads” until recently when I was walking to work, carrying a set of tzitziot t0 mail to someone who wanted Karaite-style threads. I was running late for work and I passed a homeless woman who clearly needed some assistance. But I, like everyone else, rushed on and started crossing the street. I do not know how it happened but as I took two steps into the crosswalk, the tzitziot I had been carrying entered my field of vision.

The blue threads – the techellet – opened my consciousness to the suffering of this silent homeless woman. So, late for work or not, I stopped at the Peet’s Coffee on Montgomery Street in downtown San Francisco and bought some food and coffee for the homeless woman.

After I finished my story, Eli told me that the Chief Hakham of the Karaite Community, Hakham Moshe Firrouz, believes that we should give something to every homeless person we see. One penny. One shekel. The amount does not matter.

And at yesterday’s opening session for TribeFest, Joshua Molina, spoke about his personal Jewish odyssey across many Jewish movements, and he mentioned how his conservative Jewish father would give something to everyone who asked for help on the streets.

And then it hit me: it doesn’t matter what your affiliation or denomination is; all that matters is whether you open your arms and doors to your fellow man.


Filed under Eli Shmuel, JFNA TribeFest, Moshe Firrouz, Techellet

13 Responses to TribeFest and The Wisdom of Techellet

  1. Zvi

    Shawn- yes, it “does not matter what the hue and source of the original Tekhelet was”, yet there is an article on my FB forum that proves that Isatis (Woad) was the original Tekhelet (see my last comment). Please go to Eli and tell him.

  2. I will definitely look into it and I even mentioned this possibility to him in connection with the possibility that Tola’at Shani was plant based as well.

    • Zvi

      I am unfamiliar with the theory that the Tola`at Shani was plant based. You have the honor of edifying me and many others, so please roll it out on my forum, or wherever you feel most comfortable doing it.

      • I am copying what was posted in a Karaite forum. I have not done any research into this since:

        Tola‘at Shani was not made from worms, rather it was made from the root of Rose Madder (Rubia tinctora), a plant widely used throughout the Middle East in Biblical times, especially in Egypt and the Levant (the Greeks eventually learned its use from Egypt and/or Phoenicia and called the plant ἐρυθρόδανον [erythródhon](meaning “binding red”, from its ability to bind the colour to fabric) and was mentioned by Hippocrates (ca. 460 b.c.e). The colour of the dye derives its Hebrew name from its resemblences to the red staining that the larvae of the wasps that infect the Quercus coccifera [Terebinth oak] leave on things that they touch. The actual use of the dried bodies of of the females of the Kermes vermilio scale insect to manufacture red dye did not come about until the Midddle Persian period, i.e., during Sassanid times (224–654 c.e.), when the technique and the name Qirmiz (from the Sanskrit कृमिज kṛmi-ja meaning “worm-made”), the origin of the English word crimson, was imported from India to the Middle East.

  3. Yelena

    While I agree something should be given to homeless people, I don’t think that thing should be money. Other than that, do you think you wouldn’t have reacted if you only saw white strings? What about the blue threads made the difference?

    • I have thought about that a lot. And I do not have an answer. According to Eli, some Karaite sages believed the color of Techellet was the color of a blue sky (which they associated with purity and the creation). It is possible that the blue of the threads hit me especially because it was a cloudy day so the blue stood out.

      • Zvi

        Seems like most Qaraite Ḥakhamim considered Tekhelrt to be sky-blue:

        * Ḥakham Dawid Ben-Avraham al-Fasi (10th century) in his Biblical Hebrew to Arabic dictionary Kitab Gami‘ al-Alfaz for Tekhelet: Ismangun . That is a Farsi word derived from Isman, the Farsi plural of the Arabic word for sky + Gun, the Farsi word for color.

        * Ḥakham Lewi Ben-Yafet HaLewi (10th century) in his long version of Ḥakham al-Fasi’s work uses the same word, as does Ḥakham ‘Ali Ben-Yisra’el (10th century) in his dictionary, and Ḥakham ‘Ali Ben-Suleiman in his dictionary.

        Ḥakham Ya‘aqov al-Qirqisani (10th century) in his encyclopædic work Kitabu ’l-Anwar wa-’l-Maraqib, Discourse XII, Chapter 42, paragraph 3, defines Tekhelet as Lawnu ’l-Ismangun [the color of sky blue].

        * Ḥakham Aharon Ben-Eliyahu in his Halakhah work Gan ‘Eden (1354), ‘Inyan HaTefillah, Pereq 6 (on Sisit) says: We-Emet SheHaTekhelet KeMar’eh HaRaqi’a‘ [And the truth is that Tekhelet is like the appearance of the sky] and in his Torah commentary Keter Torah (1362), on Shemot [Exodus] 25:4 says: Tekhelet. Seva‘ KeMar’eh HaShammayim [a color like the appearance of the sky].

        * Ḥakham Eliyahu Ben-Mosheh Bashyachi in his Halakhah work Aderet Eliyahu (1530), ‘Inyan HaTefillah, Pereq 7 (p. 198 in the edition reprinted by the Community in Israel in 1966) says: WeHa‘Iqqar Hu’ HaTekhelet SheHu’ Domeh LeMara’eh HaRaqi’a‘ [And the main issue (of the commandment) is the Tekhelet which resembles the appearance of the sky].

        * Ḥakham Shelomo Ben-Aharon of Poswol (later Troki) (mistakenly called Shelomo Ben-Shemu’el Troki in the 1961 edition published by the Community in Israel) in his Apiryon ‘Asah Lo (1697), Pereq 17 (p.20 in the 1961 edition) describes Tekhelet as: KiDemut HaRaqi’a‘ [like semblance of the sky].

        * Ḥakham Mordokhai Ben-Nisan of Kokizow (later Troki) in his Levush Malkhut (1703?), Miṣwot from Sefer BeMidbar, no.1 (p.48 in the 1961 edition published together with the above Apiryon ‘Asah Lo) says of Tekhelet: Domeh Le‘Ein HaShamayim [resembles the appearance of the sky].

        * Ḥakham Simhah Yiṣḥaq Lucki [Lutzki] in his Halakhah work Ṭurei Zahav ‘Im Neqqudot HaKasef (1765), Miṣwah 19 (p.49 in the edition republished in Israel) says: UFtil Tekhelet SheHu’ HaṢeva‘ HaSapiri Ke‘Ein HaShamayim [and a plaited cord of Tekhelet which is the sapphire-like color like the appearance of the sky].

        * The 1841 Qaraite Judæo-Tatar translation of the Torah translate Tekhelet as Kök [sky-blue].

  4. jhswh retea

    Shalom shalom,
    Shawn, I think it’s great that you were hit by the blue thread.
    That is my joy when I see one, and remembered, I always wear the blue thread.

  5. Daphne

    Love this. Very true. As long as your arms and mind are open you never know what will come your way. But if they are closed, you can be sure you will never find out.

  6. Pingback: My Most Meaningful Fast | A Blue Thread

  7. Marty

    Hi, I’ve watched some youtube videos of Karaites. I don’t understand why you don’t wear tzizit outside your pants. It seems clear that the intention of the Torah, the whole purpose of the tzizit, is that they be seen constantly so you’re reminded of the Law and not led astray. The orthodox tell me they don’t have to be visible because “my rebbe said so”. What is the Karaite take on it?
    Also, why do you wear a kippa? I’m not aware of anything in the Tanach that even hints at it?
    Thank you

    • Hi Marty,

      I think there is ample evidence that people were covering their heads in biblical times. But I confess that the concept of a “kippah” is a rabbinic influence on Karaism.

      The tzitziot is a more complicated issue. How is the commandment to be interpreted: (i) you must always wear tzitziot? or (ii) you must always wear tzitziot, whenever you wear four cornered garments? In this case, I was not wearing a garment that I deemed to require tzitziot. (Though, my views on this are evolving.)

      Thanks for the question.


      • Marty

        Thank you, Shawn. I’m puzzled as to why there is any question about tzizit. We see in Numbers 15:30 “But if a person should act highhandedly…he is blaspheming the Lord…” Then in 15:32 it gives an example of gathering wood on Shabbat and the penalty, which is followed by the commandment to wear tzizit culminating in Num 15:39 This shall be fringes for you, and when you see it, you will remember all the commandments of the Lord to perform them, and you shall not wander after your hearts and after your eyes after which you are going astray.” Isn’t it clear it’s meant to be seen during the entire course of the day? And isn’t “corners” just meant to say the front and back, left and right side? As far as we know from ancient drawings, isn’t it correct that the main garment was a robe? Is there any other verse in the Tanach to suggest any garment had 4 corners? Thank you

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