After three days of Purim, Jerusalemites young and old came out of one more night of revelry as Tuesday Night Live focused on Biblical Jewish fashion.
The evening featured Reuven Prager, who pioneered a movement of producing Beged Ivri (Hebrew garb) for Jews who have returned to the Land of Israel, as well as Dr. Ari Greenspan, who has reintroduced the Biblical blue tekhelet dye, used to fulfill the mitzvah (commandment) of tzitzit (fringes placed on four-cornered garments).
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“Ever since 135 CE, when Hadrian forbade, under death, the wearing of tzitzit, we have attached our tzitzit to a little garment hidden beneath our gentile attire,” Prager told hosts Ari Abramowitz and Jeremy Gimpel. “It became just a zecher (a remembrance),” he said, emphasizing that now that the Jewish people are a sovereign nation in the Land of Israel it behooves us not only to dress like it, but to return to the full observance of the Biblical laws governing Jewish dress.
“A garment is something that you put on when you go outside to protect you from the elements or for the sake of modesty,” he explained. “Every Jews would wear a haluk – which our neighbors and cousins, who still wear them, call a jalabiya. It was the Middle Eastern undergarment. An Israelite could be distinguished by his tallit.”
Not Just For Prayer
Though today’s tallit is a four-cornered piece of cloth used as a prayer shawl, Prager says that in ancient times it was worn by a Jew at all times. “It was only when we had to do it in secret that we only put it on during prayers,” he explained.
Prager, who runs a web site, BegedIvri.com, says that he used to have to “stand on [his] head” to sell a garment but now has a three-month waiting list for new orders.
Following Prager was the multi-talented Dr. Ari Greenspan, who runs a private dental practice in Jerusalem by day, but is a mohel, shochet (kosher butcher) and sofer (scribe) in his spare time, in addition to baking matzas for Passover in his basement and traveling the globe preserving Jewish traditions for the slaughter of exotic kosher animals from giraffe to sparrow.
Dr. Greenspan is most known, however, for his role in helping to reintroduce tekhelet, the Biblical blue dye, into the Jewish consciousness, thus enabling the fulfillment of one of the few Biblical commandments that can be performed 365 days a year.
Greenspan said that techeilet disappeared from Jewish use about 1,300 years ago. “We know [the sage] Abaya had it in the fifth century and tried to smuggle it to Babylon,” he said, but describes a combination of foreign edicts and persecution that led sages beginning in the eighth century and onward, including the Rambam and others, to say “it has been many years since we have merited to wear the blue on our tzitzit.”
The modern quest to renew the blue threads began 120 years ago, when the Radziner Rebbe, Chassidic master Rabbi Gershon Hanokh Leiner, went to the first aquarium in Naples to attempt to match the description of the aquatic creature from which comes the dye that is described in the Talmud.
Dr. Greenspan, working with Rabbi Moshe Dovid Tendler and others, spent time diving off of Israel’s coast searching for the snail that matched the description and that was available to ancient Israelites. Their organization Ptil Tekhelet succeeded in identifying the dye, and tens of thousands of Jews in Israel and across the globe are now wearing the Torah-mandated blue threads.
Click here to learn more about or to obtain tekhelet and to view a video on the rediscovery of the Biblical blue.