THE PASSOVER QUESTIONS YOU NEVER THOUGHT TO ASK
By: Efraim Harari
The snail is a gastropod, a soft-bodied type of mollusk, whose body is protected by a hard shell. It is a slow-moving creature that is only a few inches long and usually weighs just a few ounces. There are over 1,000 different species of snails found worldwide, and they are divided into three groups. There are land snails, sea snails, and freshwater snails.
An adult snail is quite the distinctive creature, due to its unique, hard, coiled outer shell. Snail shells come in various shapes and sizes. The shell is large enough for the snail to retract its entire body into for protection when it feels threatened. A snail will also go into its shell when the weather is very hot and dry; this helps to keep its moist body from drying out.
Snails have tentacles on their heads. Some species have one set of tentacles, while others have two sets. The snail’s eyes are usually located on its longer set of tentacles(if it has two sets). The smaller pair of tentacles is used for the sense of smell and the sense of touch.
Believe it or not, the snail has a foot! Located under the snail’s body, this “foot” is actually a long, muscular organ. The snail is able to move by contracting and expanding this muscle.
Snails are generally herbivores, primarily eating vegetation such as leaves, stems, and flowers. Some larger snail species, however, are known to be predatory, either being omnivorous or, in some cases, fully carnivorous.
In order to break down their food, most snails have thousands of microscopic, tooth-like structures located on their ribbon-like tongue, which is called a radula. The radula works like a file, ripping the snail’s food into small pieces for the hungry creature.
Due to their relatively small size and slow-paced movement, snails are preyed upon by numerous animal species all around the world. Rodents, birds, fish, and amphibians such as frogs and toads are some of the snail’s main predators.
The average lifespan of a snail is approximately fifteen years. However, it is believed that some species live up to twenty-five years, depending on their habitat. In captivity, snails can live longer, due to their needs always being met and the fact that they arealso protected from various types of predators.
Giant African Land Snail
The giant African land snail is the largest species of snails found on land, with a height of around three inches and a length that can exceed eight inches. Large colonies of giant African land snails can be formed from just one snail, as it lays around six clutches of eggs every year, with an average of 200 eggs per clutch. In contrast to other kinds of snail hatchlings, around 90% of giant African land snail hatchings survive, which can cause a previously snail-free area to quickly become infested.
The giant African land snail is generally seen as a pest, as it will eat almost anything vegetarian that it can find and has proven to be quite destructive when around crops and wildflowers. Giant African land snails are also known to carry parasites that can cause diseases in humans. Because they cause so much damage in such a short period of time, possession of the giant African snail is illegal in some countries, including the United States.
Cone snails are among the most venomous creatures on earth. There are three different types of cone snails, and they are all venomous. Cone snails that hunt and eat fish are classified as piscivores. This type of cone snail uses its proboscis to attack its prey. The proboscis is a long, tubular duct that is often several times the length of the snail itself. The snail’s proboscis contains a toxin-laced “harpoon” (which is actually a hollow, spear-like tooth), which is attached by a “thread” to the snail, sort of like a fishing line. When the proboscis makes contact with the fish, it injects its harpoon-like tooth into the fish, immediately immobilizing it. Within seconds after being injected, the fish is paralyzed, and the snail reels in its meal.
The venom of some of the larger species of cone snails is powerful enough to kill a human being. Attacks on humans, however, only occur when a cone snail is either stepped on or picked up from the water or the beach.
When the Torah commands the Jewish People to wear tzitzit, it tells us to put on the corner of the tzitzita thread of techeilet (Bamidbar15:38). The pasuksays that thistecheiletis meant to remind us of all the mitzvot of Hashem.
But what is techeilet, and where does it come from? Techeilet is the sky-blue dye that was used in the curtainsof the Mishkan and in the clothing of thekohen gadol.
The Gemara tells us that techeilet comes from a sea creature called the hilazon.
Now, after years of research and new discoveries, there are those who believe that the hilazonis a snail that lives in the Mediterranean Sea, called the Murex trunculus. This snail fits many of the descriptions found in the Gemara, and is known to have been used for dyeing thousands of years ago. Archeologists have recently found Murex shells in Yerushalayim dating from the times of the Bet Hamikdash, which further supports the belief that this type of snail is the hilazon.
Since the evidence pointing to the fact that the Murex snail is the hilazonis quite strong, today many people do, in fact, wear techeilet strings on their tzitzit, using the dye of the Murex. However, most people do not do so. This is because they feel that we are still missing something known as a mesorahfor it, and without a mesorah, there is always the possibility that we may be wrong in our understandings. When Mashiah comes, he will clarify this issue for us.