Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave US Secretary of State's Mike Pompeo a unique gift from traditional Jewish heritage: a beautifully framed Israeli flag with stripes and Star of David that were dyed with the authentic Biblical blue dye, tekhelet. Pompeo received the gift during his recent trip to Israel, which was his first trip abroad since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.
“Tekhelet has been a symbol of Jewish identity for thousands of years, and it is no coincidence that it was chosen to represent the State of Israel on its flag, which evokes the tallit (prayer shawl),” says Joel Guberman, CEO and co-founder of Ptil Tekhelet, the organization that created the gift.
“The founders of our organization are olim (immigrants) from Russia and the United States and we have always seen tekhelet as a uniting factor. Tekhelet brings together the ancient and the modern, Torah and science, and is the common thread which connects all Jews the world over. The gift highlights the strong and everlasting bond between Israel and America.”
In the Bible, tekhelet plays a prominent role in the adornments of the High Temple, its curtains, and the garments of the high-priest. Additionally, Jews are commanded in the Shema prayer to “affix on the corner tassel a thread of tekhelet” on the tzitzit (fringes) of their tallit (prayer shawl).
Due to a combination of historical events, about 1,300 years ago, tekhelet was lost to the world and the secrets of this singular blue color including the identity of the mysterious sea creature that produced the dye, slipped into obscurity. Jews continued to wear tzitzit, but with only white strings were unable to fulfill the commandment in its most complete form.
Recent advances in chemistry and archaeology have helped determine the authentic source of tekhelet and have led to the reestablishment of the practice. Today, many across the globe are once again wearing tekhelet on their prayer-shawls.