Five perfectly red heifers, required for the ritual purification of those who have touched a dead body, arrived in Israel from a ranch in Texas on Thursday, as the Temple Institute continues preparations to lay the ground for the construction of the Third Temple in Jerusalem.
The heifers are all under one year old and if they remain 100% red and avoid any blemishes which would disqualify them, they will each be eligible to be used to create the ashes required by Jewish law to purify those who have been in contact with a dead body, explained the Temple Institute on Monday. This level of purification would be needed in order to allow the kohanim (priests) to carry out their work in a future Temple.
The prized cattle were immediately transported to Haifa where they will sit in quarantine for no less than seven days, in accordance with the regulations of the Israel Veterinary Authority. After the quarantine, they will be released to two separate locations in Israel, one of which will eventually be opened to the public. The heifers will be fed and cared for at these locations until they can be slaughtered and rendered into ashes from their third year onwards.
The heifers were located and brought to Israel with the help of the Boneh Israel organization, which involves both Jews and Christians. Byron Stinson, a Texas rancher and a fundraiser and adviser for the organization, raised the cattle.
The heifers were greeted by a ceremony at Ben-Gurion Airport. Temple Institute officials Rabbi Chanan Kupietzky, Rabbi Tzachi Mamo, Rabbi Yisrael Ariel and Rabbi Azaria Ariel participated in the ceremony, alongside Stinson and Jerusalem and Heritage Ministry director-general Netanel Isaac.
“I didn’t set out to do this, but right now, I am probably the best red heifer hunter in Texas,” Stinson told Israel365 news. “The Bible says to bring a red cow to purify Israel, and I may not understand it, but I am just doing what the Bible said.”
“The prophecies came true, and the Jews are back in Israel,” added Stinson. “Now they need to build a Temple. But it’s like buying a really nice car. If you don’t have the key, you aren’t going anywhere. The red heifer is the key to making the Temple work like it’s supposed to.”
The farmer who raised the cattle is a devout Christian who was intensely interested in this commandment and began breeding cattle for the trait, according to Stinson.
What is a red heifer?
The red heifer is first mentioned in the Book of Numbers 19:3, when God tells Moses and Aaron "This is the ritual law that God has commanded: Instruct the Israelite people to bring you a red cow without blemish, in which there is no defect and on which no yoke has been laid."
The Torah goes on to explain how the heifer is processed and burnt and its ashes mixed into sanctified water. Those who became impure due to touching a human corpse would be purified by having the water mixed with the ashes sprinkled on them twice: once three days after they came in contact with the corpse and a second time seven days after contact.
The Torah relates that a red heifer was brought to Elazar the Priest, the son of Aaron, and was processed for its ashes for the ritual. According to the Talmud, those ashes were used from that moment until the end of the First Temple period. During the Second Temple period, another five to seven red heifers were burnt for their ashes. Maimonides wrote in his compendium of Jewish law, the Mishneh Torah (Laws of the Red Heifer, 3:4), that the next red heifer will be brought by the Messiah.
Why is the red heifer important?
In the modern day, all Jews, including kohanim, are assumed to be impure with the impurity imparted by a corpse. While in everyday life in the modern day this status does not have much of a practical effect, those impure with this type of impurity are prohibited from entering the Temple.
Kohanim impure with this type of impurity are thereby prevented from conducting the services required in the Temple and would need to be purified with the ashes of a red heifer before being able to serve again, making the creation of such ashes a necessary requirement for any attempt to reestablish the Temple in Jerusalem. (One exception is the Pascal sacrifice, which can be offered even by those who are impure with the impurity imparted by a corpse, as long as the majority of the Jewish people are impure with this type of impurity)
Non-Jews and the red heifer
This would not be the first time that non-Jews have helped provide a red heifer to the Jewish people.
The Talmud (Kiddushin 31a) relates that a non-Jew named Dama ben Netina refused to provide gems needed for the Temple, despite the offer of a large reward, due to the fact that his father was sleeping on the key to the box holding the gems and he did not want to disturb his father's rest. In reward for the respect he showed for his father, a red heifer was born into ben Netina's herd the next year and he was able to sell the Temple the heifer for the money he would have earned if he had sold them the gems.