Some three thousand five hundred years ago, Moses gave instructions for the making of “tekhelet” (blue dye) that was to be used in the veil that covered the Holy of holies and in the ribbons along the edges of the tallit – the Jewish prayer shawl. Extracting blue and purple dyes from a snail that grew in the Mediterranean became an important industry for centuries. However, with the Islamic invasion of the Holy Land in the seventh century, the industry disappeared. For the past 14 centuries the formula has evaded Jewish scholars. Thus, until recently, Jewish prayer shawls have sported black ribbons.
In 1984, Irving Ziderman, a biochemist at the Israel Fiber Institute in Jerusalem, was able to identify the source of the ancient dye. After years of research, trial and error, he perfected the process, using the mucus of the “banded dye murex,” a spiny shellfish once thought to be extinct.
The Talmud (Menahot 44a) says that once every 70 years the shores of the land of Israel are visited by the segulit snail from which the tekhelet, used to mark certain religious items, was made.
On November 10, 1990, The Jerusalem Post reported that these snails had begun to surface by the thousands along the Mediterranean coast. Some Orthodox Jews believe the reappearance of the snails are a sign of the approaching of the Messianic Age. Today, you can find Jews praying at the Western Wall, wearing prayer shawls with beautiful blue ribbons.
From the archives of Dr. J.R. Church