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A new study states: 2,000 years ago, Tefillin were not dyed black

Researchers from Ariel University, the Antiquities Authority, the University of Exeter in England, and the Weizmann Institute conducted a series of scientific tests on ancient tefillin houses from the Judean Desert, and discovered that - contrary to the accepted law, according to which the tefillin houses must be painted black, the ancient tefillin were actually not painted that way * The surprising findings are published in the prestigious journal PLOS ONE

2,000-year-old tefillin in the Antiquities Authority laboratories. Photo: Emil Eljam, Antiquities Authority
2,000-year-old tefillin in the Antiquities Authority laboratories. Photo: Emil Eljam, Antiquities Authority

"Tana Rabbi Yossi ben Bibi: 'Square, black tefillin - halacha for Moses of Sinai'" (Jerusalem Talmud, tractate Megillah chapter 4, halacha 9 [Ea, 13]). From the days of the Sages until today, it is customary to paint the tefillin houses black. However, new scientific research indicates that, contrary to the later halacha, the early tefillin were actually not black. The results of the study are published tonight (Thursday) in the prestigious journal PLOS ONE.

As part of the research, which included a series of scientific tests on ancient tefillin from the Judean desert and lasted several years, the researchers conducted a series of scientific tests on the tefillin houses, which are made of leather, in search of remnants of black paint. The research was led by Prof. Yonatan Adler from Ariel University, in collaboration with Dr. Ilit Cohen Ofari and Dr. Yona Maor from the Antiquities Authority, Dr. Teresa Emmerich Kemper from the University of Exeter in England, and Dr. Ido Penaks from the Weizmann Institute.

In 1949, archaeologists discovered in a cave near Qumran, where the first Judean desert scrolls were discovered, a number of tefillin houses made of leather. Later, additional tefillin houses were discovered in other caves near Qumran - in a cave in Wadi Morba'at, and in a cave in Nahal Tzalim. These findings date to the same time period as the stored scrolls, around the end of the Second Temple period - about 2,000 years ago. The desert climate conditions allowed these findings to survive for thousands of years, until they were discovered. Today, the rare Tefillin houses are kept in the Judean Desert Scrolls Unit warehouses of the Jerusalem Antiquities Authority, simulating the climatic conditions in the caves.

"This is a very important discovery," he explains Prof. Jonathan Adler from the Institute of Archeology at Ariel University. "This is the first time that tefillin have been scientifically tested to examine their color. In some of the ancient tefillin houses, you can see with the eye that the skin has a natural brown color. However, in others, the very dark color of the skin was considered in the past to be the result of artificial coloring, which was done to comply with the Halacha that the skin of the tefillin houses should be painted black. Now, it turns out that where the skin looks dark, it is the result of a natural process and not intentional coloring."

According to Dr. Ilit Cohen Ofari, Director of the Conservation Laboratory at the Judean Desert Scrolls Unit of the Antiquities Authority, "In ancient times, there were two main methods of dyeing leather black. The first method made use of carbon-based materials—soot or charcoal—to give the skin a black color. The second method was based on a chemical reaction between tannin - a complex organic substance found in many plants, and iron oxides. In our tests, we ruled out the possibility that the Tefillin houses were painted black with these methods."

The researchers used the multi-spectral system of the Judean Desert Scrolls Unit at the Antiquities Authority to look for signs of the use of charcoal paint on tefillin houses owned by the unit. In addition, they took samples from pieces of leather separated from one of the tefillin houses, and conducted a series of scientific tests on them for the chemical characterization of the leather (Raman, FTIR-ATR, and SEM/EDX). The tests were carried out in the analytical laboratory at the Jerusalem Antiquities Authority, and in the Department of Infrastructure for Chemical Research at the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot.

"In the dark fragments we examined," she says Dr. Yona Maor From the analytical laboratory at the Antiquities Authority, "It seems that this is not a deliberate coloring, but the result of a natural graying of the skin. A slight leakage of water into the caves during the 2,000 years that the finds lay there could have accelerated the skin's decomposition process. In the past, we discovered that some scrolls from the Judean Desert also went through a similar process, and unfortunately - it caused the parchment to turn black."

"It is likely that in the beginning, there was no halachic significance to the color of the tefillin" he explains Prof. Adler. "Only in a later period, sages determined that the tefillin should be painted black. However, even then, the halachic judges divided over the generations whether the obligation to paint the tefillin houses black is of the essence of the law - or only for decoration. It is common to think that Jewish law is static, and not evolving. Our research on the ancient tefillin shows that the exact opposite is true; The Halacha passed down from generation to generation has always been alive and vibrant. In my opinion, this is her beauty and glory."

More of the topic in Hayadan:

18 תגובות

  1. "We ruled out the possibility that the tefillin houses were painted black with these methods" the fact that these methods were not, does not mean that other methods were not. But as usual they prove maybe and claim sure

  2. Is this called scientific research?
    Is this your level?
    How can the research determine that tefillin were not dyed black, when today he only sees that it is a natural decay of the skin, isn't it possible that before the skin turned blue, the color faded?
    Researchers urgently need to take an introductory course in logic.

  3. Until the Weizmann Institute releases a study on tefillin to the world, who should first tell Mrs. Bresler that he approves the placing of tefillin for youth on the grounds of the institute....While Bresler will live here for no more than 70 years and another generation or two, no one will remember her. And hundreds of thousands of Jews wear it every day...

  4. A. The tefillin in the picture look in the middle of their preparation and not a finished product.
    B. Basically, only the straps should be black..

  5. Poor research, quite a few studies have been refuted. The Talmud is the only clear source.

  6. It is unbelievable that they invested so much in inspecting the tefillin houses and not the strips that were only told to be black.
    Almost substandard

  7. It should be noted, even if we were to accept the following research as absolute truth, that there is a disagreement among the Rabbis as to whether painting the Tefillin house black is part of the Halacha for Moses from the aforementioned signs or only the strips.

  8. Get busy digging your graves, you have no halachic statement, you want to speak halachically, sit for 20 years in a beit midrash, not in a university, and then you will speak

  9. It seems that in the article, both in the title and in the content, there is an attempt to present the discovery as proof that the practice of painting the black tefillin houses is late.
    This is expressed both in the arrangement of things, and in the choice of certain words that will lead the mind of the average reader to wrong conclusions.
    First of all, the cited journal is not "prestigious". He is not ranked high at all, according to all accepted rankings. It seems that there is a trending attempt to give more decisive and serious weight to their discovery than in reality...

    Secondly, as one of the scholars is quoted - certain in a marginal way and only at the end of the article - there is a disagreement between the traditional verses on the matter, whether the tefillin houses must be black or it is just better that they be that way.

    Which also means that maybe even then there were some who colored like that and some who didn't, according to the methods of the verses. Of course, this should not be emphasized and should not be included in the headlines...

    Thirdly, see Emanuel Tov, the version of the Bible in the ancient synagogues, scrolls 185 199 on page XNUMX, that the tefillin cases found in Qumran are sectarian - that is, of their sect, and not representative of Klal Israel. Obviously, this is also true for the tefillin houses that were planted in the same places by the same group of people.

  10. In the caves of Qumran lived Jews who did not accept many things that the sages said, for example that in the Qumran scrolls there is no Esther scroll because according to them it is not part of the Tanach and the same with regard to the law of Moses from Sinai, they did not accept things that were not explicitly written, unlike Judaism that listened to the sages and the conditions that researchers need to know the This simple thing

  11. In every tefillin factory, the tefillin are claimed in the final process after the press. It is possible (or maybe not...) that they came across tefillin during the production phase

  12. The Gemara says black tefillin belonged to Moses of Sinai The Gemara was about 2000 years ago so maybe your studies don't know everything and maybe they don't know much either

  13. Tefillin found in the Judean/Qumran desert area, apparently belong to the Qumran sect, which means that it is not impossible that they do not follow the Halacha accepted by us. There is nothing to be excited about. Before 1948 it was generally believed that Tefillin did not exist 2000 years ago.

  14. Mishna Torah Laws of Tefillin 3rd Hand: The bands of the Tefillin between the head and the hand, their outer faces are black, and this is what went to Moses from Sinai. But the backs of the strips and the insides are kosher if they were green or white. Reds he will not do, lest the strip be turned and it is a reproach to him. And the back of the belt will never be anything but like the eye of the pie, if it is green, it is green, and if it is white, it is white. And it is beautiful for the tefillin that the top and the entire belt be black:
    We were; As a matter of principle, the strip must be black compared to the blackened Beit Tefillin only for the purpose of decorating the Tefillin due to custom and nothing else.

  15. what ignorance
    Black tefillin were black strips, but blackening the tefillin houses is just a custom for decorating tefillin
    The strips of tefillin between the head and the hand, their outer faces are black, and this is what went to Moses from Sinai. But the backs of the strips and the insides are kosher if they were green or white. Reds he will not do, lest the strip be turned and it is a reproach to him. And the back of the belt will never be anything but like the eye of the pie, if it is green, it is green, and if it is white, it is white. And it is beautiful for the tefillin that the top and the entire belt be black:
    https://www.sefaria.org.il/Mishneh_Torah%2C_Tefillin%2C_Mezuzah_and_the_Torah_Scroll.3.14?vhe=Torat_Emet_370&lang=he&with=all

  16. It is clear that it is different from today, the rabbinical religion has changed the entire Torah, and all the goddesses who do what the rabbinate says are nothing less than idolaters and idolaters

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