The intricacies of animal husbandry and care are not something one would immediately suspect rabbis and scholars of Jewish law to be particularly engaged with.
But the Temple Institute, a religious educational and activist group dedicated to preparing for the construction of the Third Temple in Jerusalem, has recently partnered with an Israeli cattleman to raise a red heifer, a cow suitable for use in important Temple rituals as described by the Torah.
One of the most arcane stipulations of Jewish law is that in order to remove spiritual impurity acquired by contact with the dead, a prerequisite for service in the Temple, a cow that is entirely red and fulfills a variety of other stringent requirements must be slaughtered, its remains burnt to ash and then sprinkled over someone who has become ritually impure, and thereby purifying him in the process.
The Temple Institute, which has constructed many of the different vessels required for use in the Temple, explained the purpose of the project as yet another step in what it hopes will be the construction of the Third Temple and the messianic age that accompanies it.
“During this [current] period known as the ‘Three Weeks’ as world Jewry mourns the destruction of the Second Holy Temple, The Temple Institute has taken a bold move toward the third,” the organization says of its red heifer project.
Although Rabbi Chayim Richman, director of the institute’s international department, states that the various breeds of cow from which a bovine candidate to be a biblically approved Red Heifer are common, such as Red Angus, Shetland and others, it is the rarity of finding a cow that meets the stringent stipulations of Jewish law and the level of required supervision over such beasts that makes it so challenging to fulfill the law’s regulations and produce a true red heifer.
Not only must the cow in question be entirely red, if it has just two hairs of a different color it is invalidated. The Torah also stipulates that it never have been used for labor; that the owner never have derived benefit from the cow in any way; that it have no blemishes or injuries; and that no male cow ever have mated with it.
The cows are being produced by a rancher in the Negev region utilizing the technique of implanting frozen embryos of Red Angus cattle in Israeli domestic cattle. The result will be the introduction of the Red Angus breed into Israel. The project already has witnessed the birth of a number of male Red Angus cows, and females are now eagerly awaited.
To meet the exacting requirements for a red heifer, supervisors of the cow in question must always be able to observe the animal, the cow must be fed a superior quality diet to that a normal cow and various other environmental conditions need to be met.
Richman will have 24-hour access, via his smartphone, to footage from cameras installed at the farm in the Negev Desert where the Temple Institute has established its partnership.
The institute says the project is the culmination of decades of research into ancient religious texts discussing the laws of the red heifer, as well as into methods of harnessing modern science and technology into creating the ideal conditions for producing this unique cow.
The institute is, of course, paying for the particular conditions in which these cows will need to be kept, so costs will be high. A fund-raising campaign launched with the project seeks to bring in $125,000, but this sum represents only part of the total cost of the project, the rabbi said.
Richman said that anyone who thinks such a project has no practical application is “of a mindset acquired during the Jewish people’s experience of exile” and called the plans to produce a red heifer the “normative Jewish expression of faith in action.”
“Make no mistake, this project is no less than the first stage of the reintroduction of Biblical purity into the world, a prerequisite for the building of the Third Temple,” the institute asserts.
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