top of page

Coverings of the Tabernacle, part 4 Badger Skins “Tachash” - Exodus 35:7 by Dr. Terry Harman

Updated: Dec 5, 2023


Two Rabbis – How Many Opinions?

My chaplaincy mentor, Rabbi Minard Klein of blessed memory, told me this joke. “How many opinions do you have when two Rabbis come together to discuss Torah? Three! One rabbi might even argue against his own opinion.” The mystery of the tachash skins is no exception to the number of opinions surrounding the roof of the tabernacle and in particular, the identity of the animal skins used for the fourth covering of the tabernacle.


In general, when beginning my study for a blog, I start with prayer and then do my best to translate the verse(s) from Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek. After I have chewed on the passage for several days, then I begin reading trusted sources. This helps me to avoid becoming “locked in” to someone’s opinion while seeking fresh insights for my application. This study leaves my head spinning but my soul is nourished! I’ve never encountered so many different opinions for any single verse in the Bible.


Tachash - Difficult Word to Translate - Exodus 35:4-9 JPS 1917


And Moses spoke unto all the congregation of the children of Israel, saying: ‘This is the thing which the LORD commanded, saying: Take ye from among you an offering unto the LORD, whosoever is of a willing heart, let him bring it, the LORD’S offering: gold, and silver, and brass; and blue, and purple, and scarlet, and fine linen, and goats’ hair; and rams’ skins dyed red, and sealskins, and acacia-wood; and oil for the light, and spices for the anointing oil, and for the sweet incense; and onyx stones, and stones to be set, for the ephod, and the breastplate.


I followed my pattern for the study of the fourth covering of the tabernacle, the tachash skins. The word tachash may be one of the most difficult words in the Bible to translate, interpret and make sense of.


Hebrew Word: תַּחַשׁ Part of Speech: Noun Masculine Transliteration: tachash Phonetic Spelling: (takh'-ash)

Origin of the word: of uncertain derivation Definition: the only thing we know for certain is Tachash was some kind of animal skin.


Meanings of Tachash in the Bible

Tachash is used differently in three ways in the Bible as a personal name, as one of the coverings of the Tabernacle and to describe the materials used for costly foot coverings.

1. Personal name of a son from Nahor’s concubine named Reumah in Genesis 22:24.

2. Covering for the Tabernacle in Exodus 25:5, 26:14, 35:7 and 23, 36:19, 39:34 and in Numbers 4:6,

10-14, 25.

3. Shoe Material Ezekiel 16:10 as a reference for costly beaded shoes

There appears to be little consensus on the correct translation of the mysterious animal. The sources I reviewed stated it was anything from a sea creature, a common animal such as a goat, badger skin, a giraffe, a beaded leather, or a creature that only existed during the construction of the Tabernacle. Last, the name did not indicate the animal but the time-consuming process of tanning and dying the leather a blue or violet hue.


English Translations

Here is the list of the Christian and Jewish translations used to interpret the Hebrew word Tachash.


“tachash skins” (Chabad.org, Artscroll Stone Edition, 1998, 2000)

“and sealskins” (JPS - Jewish Publication Society 1917)

"a covering of sealskins" (Revised Standard Version)

“dolphins skins” (The Contemporary Torah JPS 2006, The Message Bible)

"a covering of porpoise skins" (New American Standard Bible)

"a covering of hides of sea cows" (New International Version 1984)

“beaded leather” (Common English Bible)

“and fine leather” (Complete Jewish Bible)

"fine leather" (The NET Bible, New Revised Standard Version, Good News)

"fine goatskin leather" (New Living Translation)

"a covering of goatskins" (English Standard Version)

“specially treated goatskins” (The Living Bible)

“and badger’s skins” (King James Version, New King James Version, The Darby Translation)

“and skins blue” (LXX – Septuagint Greek translation of the Hebrew)

"blue skins as coverings" (Brenton)

“violet colored skins” (Douay-Rheims 1899 American Edition)

“manatee skins” (Holman Christian Standard Bible)

“sheep skins” (New Catholic Bible)


Order of the Materials

Notice materials listed in Exodus 35:4-9. Notice the descending order: precious metals, costly dyed wool yarns, fine linen, animal skins, wood, oil, spices, incense, and stones. Tachash skin is listed as the last of the four animal skins. The specific ordering of the building materials may suggest:


1. Reflects the simple ordering from the inside to the outer covering.

2. Indication of the descending “cost or value” of the materials – the most expensive to the least

expensive. The most expensive was the multicolored tapestry the least expensive was the tachash

skins.

3. No specific reason for the ordering of materials. Just a list of the materials needed.

Many Interpretations Regarding the Roof of the Mishkan (note 1 below)

Roof One Covering but 2 Materials

In Rashi’s comment on Exodus 26:14 he mentions that although Rabbi Nechemia taught that the ram skins dyed red and the tachash skins were two separate coverings, Rabbi Yehuda taught that the roof of the Tabernacle was one covering but made of both the ram skins dyed red and the tachash skins. This interpretation is pictured above where the red ram skins are positioned over the holy of holies and the tachash skins are positioned over the holy place. This interpretation is interesting because according to it, the spiritual significance between the Holy Place (Menorah, Table of Showbread, and the Altar of Incense) and the Holy of Holies (Ark of the Covenant) is found even on the roof of the Tabernacle, and not only inside, where the veil -parokhet separates both chambers.


What leads some to choose this interpretation of Exodus 35:6-7? The word “and” is missing in the Hebrew structure of verse seven. “and blue, purple, and crimson wool; and linen and goat hair; and ram skins dyed red, tachash skins, and acacia wood.”


Observe that the word “and” is used to separate the wool, linen, goat hair, and rams skins dyed red but not when tachash is listed. Immediately after tachash the word “and” is used again to include the acacia wood. “And” is missing between the ram skins and the tachash. You will have to decide whether or not this convinces you that the top portion of the roof of the Tabernacle was comprised of two materials – red ram skins AND tachash.

My Head Still Spins

Here’s what I’ve learned searching for answers regarding the mystery of the tachash. A rational approach to studying this passage did not bring forth a simple answer for me. It remains a mystery. No consensus exists. Jews and Christians are equally divided among the two religions as well as within each camp. How many opinions do you have when a Christian and Jew discuss the tachash – too many! My head is still spinning after searching for answers. Regardless of what the tachash was or the types of skins used on the top covering of the Tabernacle, my soul is nourished! Why?


Conclusion

If the tachash was listed as the last covering because its value was not based on street value but on the amount of sacrifice or effort it took to produce the fine leather. If it was listed last because it lacked beauty such as a "badger skin," then even this most insignificant hide still had great value in that it protected the golden holy vessels within the Tabernacle. Tachash was a korban, an offering brought to the builders of the Tabernacle as a means of expressing the donor’s desire to draw closer to the Lord.


If the tachash was a mysterious animal that only lived during the construction of the Tabernacle, then the Lord provided it and the people of God used it to glorify the Lord and the dwelling place of the Shekinah because it was a “one of a kind,” fit for the King of Kings and it will always remain a mystery. Then the lesson for me is there is a deeper spiritual level of understanding to be gained from the interpretations of my Christian Orthodox and Jewish mystics who mine for the spiritual nuggets of gold deep beneath the surface of the plain sense of the Bible.


If the ram skins dyed red and the tachash skins were positioned in such a way to signify the spiritual significance of the Tabernacle versus all other dwelling places in the desert, then the roof of the Tabernacle displayed to everyone in and outside the camp, the reverence and awe of the people had for the Almighty God versus the gods of the Egyptians.


Regardless of its exact identity, the use of tachash in the construction of the Tabernacle serves as a reminder of God's provision for His people. Despite their wilderness wanderings, God provided all the materials needed for the Israelites to build a sanctuary so that they would be able to draw closer to him. This same principle holds true for us today. No matter what our circumstances may be, God will always provide what we need to worship Him and draw near Him.


The coverings, the holy vessels, and the white linen fence surrounding the Tabernacle highlight the importance of holiness and the consecration of all that is used in worshiping God. It reminds us that everything we use in worshiping Him should be set apart for His use and treated with reverence and respect. And just like the tachash used in the construction of the Tabernacle, we too can trust that God will provide what we need to worship Him.


Further Reading

1 Detailed examination regarding the structure of the roof of the Tabernacle from “The Colors in the Mishkan (II) | Yeshivat Har Etzion


Regarding the color red in the Mishkan in general, it should, of course, be noted that on top of the goats' hair covering of the Ohel, there was a covering of ram skins dyed red, as well as tachash skins. Regarding this covering, the Baraita De-Melekhet Ha-Mishkan states (end of chap. 3):

He would bring a large covering of ram skins dyed red, thirty cubits long and ten cubits wide, which he would spread out to cover the Mishkan from the east to the west, as it is stated: "And you shall make a covering for the Tent of ram skins dyed red, and a covering above of tachash skins" (Shemot 26:14). And it was made with stripes on the top; these are the words of R. Nechemia. R. Yehuda said: There were two coverings. The lower one was of ram skins dyed red, and the upper one was of tachash skins, as it is stated: "It’s covering, and the covering of the tachash skins that is above upon it" (Bamidbar 4:25).

Thus, we see that R. Yehuda and R. Nechemia disagreed about the relationship between the two coverings (also in Shabbat 28a). According to R. Yehuda, the ram skins dyed red and the tachash skins were two different coverings, the tachash skins being on top of the rams' skins.

According to R. Nechemia, there was only one cover – half ram skins and half tachash skins – "like a striped animal." There are various understandings of how the ram skins and tachash skins were integrated according to R. Nechemia.

* In the Baraita De-49 Middot – the red-dyed ram skins and the tachash skins constituted one covering in a triangle pattern. The two inner triangles were rams' skins, while the two outer triangles were tachash skins. (This is also the opinion of the author of Ma'aseh Choshev.)


* According to Zayit Ra'anan, the covering over the Holy of Holies was made of tachash skins, whereas the covering over the Holy was ram skins.


* According to the Rambam and the Midrash Ha-Gadol, the ram skins covered the boards, and the tachash skins covered only the roof.


* According to the Moshav Zekenim, the covering was half ram skins and half tachash skins.


* According to Rashi, the ram skins only covered the roof of the Mishkan, thirty cubits in length and ten cubits in width (Rashi, Shemot 26:14).


* The book Chokhmat Ha-Mishkan records in the name of the Midrash Ha-Gadol that the ram skins also covered the walls of the Mishkan.

What did the tachash skins look like? Rashi writes that "it is an unclean animal, with spots of different colors." Others say that it is striped. According to R. Nechemia’s view that there was only one covering, it turns out that the uppermost covering of the Mishkan was also red from the red-dyed ram skins. Cassuto notes in his commentary that the color red, striking to the eye from a distance, was also used by the nations at large to mark sanctified places.


685 views2 comments

2 commentaires

Noté 0 étoile sur 5.
Pas encore de note

Ajouter une note
JP
JP
09 févr. 2023

Right! Let me read that one more time again just to make sure that I read it again one more time.

J'aime
Dr. Terry Harman
Dr. Terry Harman
09 févr. 2023
En réponse à

Yes and then we need to reread it in yet another translation. Thanks for the read.

J'aime
bottom of page