This week I visited the Ptil Tekhelet Factory in Kfar Adumim. Amutat Ptil Tekhelet was formed to provide tekhelet (the blue string on tzitzit fringes) to the general public.
Jews were commanded to wear the blue string since the days of Moses. "G-d said to Moses, saying, 'Speak to the children of Israel and say to them, that they shall make for themselves tzitzit on the corners of their garments throughout their generations. And they shall place upon the tzitzit of each corner a thread of tekhelet...And you shall see it and remember all the commandments of G-d and you shall do them." (Numbers 15:37-39)
Tekhelet was a precious commodity. One of the Amutah members Baruch Sterman said in a movie at the factory, "Everyone in [Biblical days] worse raw wool - beige, brown, grey. So when the Jews wore tekhelet, they stood out. The blues and the purples are what royalty wore."
"When he wore the strings of tekhelet, he looked down and said, 'I'm not a peasant farmer. I'm a prince, a king, a priest."
But the Romans put an end to those thoughts. They issued edicts that only royalty could wear purple or blue. And with the oppression of the Jewish people, and their exile from the Land of Israel and from the sea and the source of tekhelet (thought to be the trunculus snail), the secret to making tekhelet was lost.
In the late 19th century, the Radzyner Rebbe felt that the Messiah couldn't come until the Jewish people reinstituted the tekhelet, and so he tried to restore tekhelet to Am Yisrael, beginning with his own Chassidim.. His followers still wear blue strings on their tzitzit. A few decades later Rabbi Isaac Herzog (later Chief Rabbi of Israel) wrote a doctoral dissertation on tekhelet, and was even in contact with the Radzyner chassidim about their dye. Rabbi Eliyahu Tavger of Jerusalem began researching the tekhelet again while writing a book on tzitzit in 1985.
Today, Ptil Tekhelet makes about 1000 sets of blue-stringed tzitzit every month. That's not an easy feat, considering the fact that it takes 30 snails to make one set of tekhelet.
Joel Guberman, our guide in the factory, said that since all shell fish are protected in Israel's waters, today most snails come from Croatia.
We walked through the factory where the wool is made into spools, and where the threads are dyed blue. Every step of the way, the words, "Be'shaim mitzvot tzitzit" (in the name of the mitzvah of tzitzit), were intoned.
Joel told us that in order to make blue fringes easier for the general Jewish public, Ptil Tekhelet even has a tzitzit tying board with international tyers who are available to tie tzitzit in many areas of the world.
In fact, I met a tyer.
Five Towns teenage tekhelet tyer (you say that five times fast!)Michael Rosenfeld was visiting the factory while we were there. Michael said that he can tie tekhelet in any one of the many shitot (opinions) of our sages. He can be contacted to tie tzitzit at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For tyers in other areas, contact Mois Navon, email@example.com .
It says in Sifre, Shelakh, "Rabbi Meir said, 'Whoever observes the mitzva of tzitzit, it is considered as if he greeted the Divine Presence, for tekhelet resembles the sea, and the sea resembles the sky, and the sky resembles G-d's Holy Throne."