On Sunday, a woman went out to collect tiny insects that once a year, produce the flame-colored dye that was used in the Temple.
The time-consuming work produced a minuscule amount of dye but she is determined to continue moving forward towards bringing the Third Temple.
Bringing back the Temple service requires attention to the multitude of details described in the Bible. תּוֹלַעַת שָׁנִי (Tola’at shani) is usually translated as crimson wool but the actual term refers to the worm which is the source of the dye used for the Temple curtain, as well as the garments of the High Priest:
As for the Mishkan, make it of ten strips of cloth; make these of fine twisted linen, of blue, purple, and crimson yarns, with a design of cherubim worked into them. Exodus 26:1
The ephod was made of gold, blue, purple, and crimson yarns, and fine twisted linen. Exodus 39:2
It was an essential element as Tola’at shani is mentioned 25 times throughout the sections of the Torah dealing with the Tabernacle. It was used to dye the wool for the tapestries of the Mishkan, the the sash worn by the regular Kohen and several of the garments specific to the Kohen Gadol.
It was also was added to the ashes of the red heifer and for purifying lepers:
and the Kohen shall take cedar wood, hyssop, and crimson stuff, and throw them into the fire consuming the cow. Numbers 19:6
A skein of crimson wool dyed in shani featured in the culmination of the Yom Kippur Temple Service. A skein was wrapped around the horns of the goat sent to azazel. The skein of scarlet wool was removed from the goat’s horns and tied to a nearby rock and thrown from a cliff. The cliff was so sheer that the goat tumbled and torn to pieces from the fall. If Israel’s sins were forgiven by this act of contrition, the crimson thread would miraculously turn white as would the thread on the Temple doors. This aspect of the Yom Kippur service was hinted at by the Prophet Isaiah.
“Come, let us reach an understanding, —says Hashem. Be your sins like crimson, They can turn snow-white; Be they red as dyed wool, They can become like fleece.” Isaiah 1:18
In rabbinic literature, the dye is referred to as zehorit, which was extracted from the body of the “crimson worm” (carmine), the Kermes biblicus. In Israel, this worm can be found on the branches of the oak Quercus ithaburensis. In the early spring, when the females filled with red eggs and became pea-shaped, the dye was squeezed out of them.
Orange or red?
In 2002, Dr. Zohar Amar of bar Ilan University claimed to have verified the specific insect referred to in the Bible and even extracted some dye. He concluded that the color produced was orange, rather than red.
“We checked many historical sources, the most important of which is Josephus, who was the last one to describe and document the existence of the ‘shani’ in the Temple,” Dr, Amar said. “Josephus describes the color as symbolizing fire, which is orange – as opposed to the red that many think it is. Our production process also produced orange.”
Orna Hirshberg: “My personal connection to the Temple”
Orna Hirshberg, a resident of Itamar in Samaria, has dedicated herself to bringing back this necessary component of the Temple as part of the Temple-related work that is specific to women.
“I basically work alone and see this as my personal connection to the Temple,” Hirshberg told Israel365 News. “Every person has their special connection but the purpose of the Temple is to bring all of mankind together to serve Hashem (God). The work itself should bring us together. I consult with the Temple Institute and the rabbis who study the sources in depth. Even so, it is one thing to learn how about the theory of the Temple and something else entirely to learn practically how to create it.”
This is the time of year that Hirshberg goes out to harvest the insect which are found on oak trees.
She boils the insects along with the threads which absorb the color leeched from the insects. She then soaks the threads in vinegar in preparation for use. The process is time consuming and difficult. The insects are difficult toi see and produce a small quantity of dye but Hirshberg is optimistic.
“We went out yesterday and all of us together gathered five grams, a tiny amount,” Hirshberg said. “I think one day we will wake up and there will be suddenly one day, a huge amount of the insects that produce a large amount of dye,” she told Israel365 News. “That will be a sign that the Third Temple is about to be built.”
She is currently working on embroidering garments for the Kohanim and producing the wool for the Red Heifer. She has woven a curtain for the Temple as a model to teach and inspire. In addition, making the curtain taught her a great deal about making the actual curtain.
“I am funding all of this myself,” she said. “To actually create these things for the Temple would be too much work and too much money for one person to take on themselves. But I pledged that my work with weaving and embroidery would be sanctified and not used for unholy objects. So this is what I do.”
Orna’s work can be seen on her website.