reading how some non-kosher dyes were used in the building of the Mishkan
(Tabernacle). How could they use impure animals for the holiest of places?
It would be awfully tempting to
answer this simply by saying that while non-kosher foods may not be eaten, we
can use them for other purposes. However, that answer doesn’t work in this
case. Here’s why:
The Talmud discusses the mysterious
creature called tachash, which
Scripture tells us was used for the Mishkan covering. The Talmud asserts that
it must have been kosher, since “only
the hide of a kosher animal was deemed suitable for heavenly service.”
Incidentally, the biblical
commentator Rabbeinu Bechaya ben Asher (1255-1340) explains that this is why
silk (which comes from a non-kosher silkworm) wasn’t used in the building of
So what’s up with the dyes?
One of the dyes used for the
Mishkan, as well as in the purification processes for lepers and those who came
in contact with the dead, was something called tola’at shani. Although usually translated as “crimson wool,” the
word tola’at literally means “worm.”
worms are not kosher, some explain that the dye does not come from the worm
itself, but from a fruit or berry that contains the worm or insect.
however, are of the opinion that the dye came from the worm or insect itself. Indeed,
in the ancient world there was a dye that was produced from an insect, Kermes ilices.
(The English word “crimson” is actually derived from this Latin name.)
a number of explanations as to why this was permissible.
Tefillin and Religious Articles
explain that, halachically, the statement “only the hide of a kosher
animal was deemed suitable for heavenly service” only
applies to tefillin, mezuzot and other ritual items that
contain G‑d’s name or verses from Scripture. However, non-kosher components may
indeed have been used in the Mishkan or Temple.
They bolster their argument by noting that the Talmud cites a specific teaching
barring the use of non-kosher animals in the construction of tefillin. They maintain that if there
were indeed a universal prohibition on using non-kosher materials for “heavenly
services,” there would be no need for a specific prohibition regarding tefillin.
find opinions in the Jerusalem Talmud that the tachash, whose skin was used as a covering for the Mishkan, was a
hold that although the basic material used needs to be kosher, the dye coloring
need not be, and therefore there would be no problem using tola’at shani.
Moses Sofer (known as the Chatam Sofer) explains that the prohibition is only
for using the non-kosher material in its original state. Once it has been
converted into a new substance (e.g., dye), it can be used for “heavenly
That Is the Mitzvah
say that the dye would indeed theoretically be forbidden, since one cannot generally
use non-kosher material in the service of heaven. However, the same Torah that
generally prohibits this material is specifically telling us to use it in this
instance, so that is what we should do.
Musk and the Mysterious Chilozon
are a few other items used in the Mishkan that may have come from non-kosher
animals. One is the techelet dye (a
deep, sky-colored dye), which came from the enigmatic creature the chilozon. Another is the mor, often
translated as “musk,” which was one of the ingredients of the anointing
oil and ketoret. If these items were indeed
products of non-kosher animals, then the above explanations would apply to them
we have explained why it may technically have been permitted to use these
non-kosher items, the question remains, why were we commanded to do so in the
David ibn Zimra, known as the Radbaz, explains in his Kabbalistic work Magen
David that the world cannot exist without the forces of judgment and negativity, through
which the wicked are punished and brought to repent. Since the energies for the
entire world are channeled through the holiest of places, the Mishkan (and then
the Temple), there must be a source for negativity there as well. Thus, the dyes that were made from impure
animals serve as the source for these forces.
we await the day when there will be no more a need to punish the wicked, and
only good will reign!