Among the various items used to build the Mishkan, the verse tells us that our ancestors used something called “tachash skins” for the outer covering of the Mishkan and as a slipcover for the holy vessels while they traveled in the desert.1 The exact identity of the tachash has been a matter of great speculation.

Possibly Used for Footwear

The only other time that Scripture mentions tachash is in Ezekiel, where G‑d says that after the Exodus, “I clothed you with embroidered garments, and I shod you with [skin of the] tachash, and I girded you with fine linen, and I covered you with silk.”2

While We Are on the Subject of the Tachash ...

It would thus seem that the tachash skin was also suitable for making shoes. Indeed, some explain that tachash skin was actually black leather.3 However, other commentaries point out that the verses in Ezekiel are metaphoric references to the Mishkan. “And I shod you with the skin of the tachash” is G‑d’s way of saying, “I placed my Mishkan, which was covered with tachash skin, to dwell among you.”4 This verse would therefore not actually indicate that the tachash was normally used for footwear.

Yet others explain that there were two different types of tachash, one that you can make shoes from and one used for the Mishkan.5

Dye or Animal

In the Jerusalem Talmud, we find three opinions regarding the tachash:

Rabbi Yehuda says: “It was taynin,6 and named for its dye.”

Rabbi Nehemiah said: “It was galaktinin.

The other rabbis said: “It was a clean [kosher] animal, and it lived in the wilderness.”7

There are differences of opinion as to what Rabbi Yehuda and Rabbi Nechemiah mean.

Rabbi David Hirschel Frankel (1704–1762) in his commentary Korban Ha’eida explains that both Rabbi Yehuda and Rabbi Nechemia held that the tachash refers to a pigment that was used to dye the goat skins, and they differ as to what color it was.8

On the other hand, Rabbi Moses Margolies (1710–1780) in his commentary Pnei Moshe explains that both Rabbi Yehuda and Rabbi Nechemia held that it was some sort of non-kosher creature, although they differ as to its identity.9 Some explain that the word galaktinin is a conjunction of the words gala xeinon, “a weasel from a foreign country.”10

Kosher Animal

The tradition of the Babylonian Talmud concurs with the third approach, that the tachash was some sort of kosher animal.11 What animal was it? In addition to the Talmud’s assertion that it was kosher, there are other clues.

A Giant, Colorful Unicorn

The Targum, the traditional Aramaic translation of the Torah, renders the tachash as sasgona. The Talmud explains that this is because it rejoices (sas) in its many colors (gevanim).12

The Midrash tells us that it was a large wild kosher animal that had a single horn (a.k.a. a unicorn), its skin was made up of six colors, and its length was 30 amot (nearly 50 ft.).13

Does It Still Exist?

According to what seems to be the majority opinion in the Midrash and Talmud (and quoted in the classic commentary Rashi), G‑d created the tachash animal specifically to be used for the Mishkan. As such, it existed during the construction of the Mishkan, but afterwards, it was “hidden” from the world.14

So will we ever see the tachash again?

Perhaps. Rabbi Moses Sofer qualifies the above tradition: The general species of animal exists, but miraculously, during the construction of the Mishkan, some of these normally non-kosher animals were created kosher.15

Others explain that this species isn’t normally found in the Sinai Desert, but it was miraculously found there when it was needed for the Mishkan.16

There is also an opinion that equates the tachash with another unknown animal called the keresh; however, the keresh existed even after the time of the construction of the Mishkan.17

So What Was It?

Many have speculated about the tachash’s identity. Some of the more popular possible candidates (which have also crept into various translations of the Bible) include ermine, badger, seal, antelope, okapi, zebra and giraffe.

It is clear that many of these possible candidates don’t quite fit with the Talmud or Midrash. And if the tachash was created exclusively for use in the Mishkan, there is really no way to identify it.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains that the uniqueness of the tachash is that it is the only creation that was used exclusively for holy purposes. Thus, the tachash illustrates that the ultimate purpose for all of creation is to be used only in service of G‑d. This will be fully realized with the building of the Third Temple, may it be speedily in our days!18