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The Red Heifer: Fact & Fiction


by Rabbi Chaim Richman

Throughout the many years of exile since the destruction of the Holy Temple, a certain aura of mystery, a near-mythological status, developed around the concept of the Red Heifer.

Today, some think an actual, Biblically-valid red heifer is a very rare oddity; others are convinced it is nothing short of supernatural or miraculous. But neither view is correct.

From time to time, throughout the years and even quite recently, there have been various "sightings" and reports of the birth of red heifers. These reports are invariably greeted with enthusiasm, since a red heifer holds the key to the resumption of the elusive spiritual purity that would pave the way to the rebuilding of the Holy Temple.

However, there has never been an authentic red heifer - either in Israel or abroad - since the Second Temple era. According to the sources of Jewish tradition, the last red heifer was prepared by the High Priest, Yismael ben Piavi, more than two thousand years ago.

Torah teaches that the concept of the red heifer, a spiritual cleansing process as described in Numbers 19 and clarified by our sages in the Mishna and Talmud, is the exclusive device necessary for restoring tahara, the ideal state of spiritual purity and balance, to the world. This is a prerequisite for the building of the Third Temple.

Called the ordinance of the para aduma, and elucidated by the teachings of the sages of Israel, the red heifer is a female cow, three years of age, with perfect consistency of a particular reddish/brownish hue (the exact color is the subject of exhaustive research), having not even two hairs of any other color. The heifer also may never be used for any type of labor, and must be totally blemish-free. The nature of these common blemishes, both internal and external, is established by Biblical law.

Red cattle can be found in plenty throughout the world, and are not uncommon. However, these are not authentic red heifers. Raising a perfect red heifer in accordance with Biblical requirements for the fulfillment of the Numbers Ch. 19 commandment is possible, albeit a daunting task that would require advance planning, exacting preparation and constant supervision.

Since a fundamental concept of Jewish belief is that all the Torah's commandments are applicable and doable, the commandment of the red heifer should be no exception. But in order for a heifer to be considered kosher for the Biblical commandment, it must literally be raised from birth under specific circumstances and in a controlled environment. Such a program would require extensive Torah knowledge, expertise in Halacha and science, and special conditions.

In the past the people of Israel waited for the birth of a potential red heifer. But with Torah knowledge and advanced science, the Temple Institute has now begun to actively pursue this commandment.

The scholars of the Temple Institute have been researching all aspect of this subject for more than 25 years. While there are a number of species of red-colored cows throughout the world that could possibly qualify, the Institute long ago identified Red Angus, a species originating from Scotland that is widely produced for beef consumption in America, as the most suitable candidate for the fulfillment of the Biblical Red Heifer.

Originally the Institute sought to import these cows to Israel. However Israel's Ministry of Agriculture disallows the importation of cattle from the USA as a precaution against certain bovine diseases that are occasionally reported in America.

Now, with the help of local cattlemen and experts in the science of animal husbandry, the rabbis of the Temple Institute have embarked upon an unprecedented program to raise a herd of red Angus here in Israel. Frozen embryos of red Angus will be implanted in Israeli domestic cows. From this herd, a proper candidate with which to fulfill the Torah's commandment will be selected. This method meets with the approval of the Ministry of Agriculture, as the embargo only applies to the animals themselves.

It should be noted that the late Rishon L'Tzion, the illustrious Chief Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu of blessed memory, expressed keen interest in this ideal, and gave his approbation and halachic approval for the use of embryo implantation to raise a red heifer.

The scholars of the Temple Institute have prepared a unique halachic protocol which instructs a modern-day farmer how to raise a kosher red heifer utilizing the standards and technology available today. This includes a number of basic innovations and changes in the daily care and supervision of the cattle, as well as modifications relating to the infrastructure of the farm, to protect the cattle from any possible blemish and in general, to meet the special needs of these cattle.

Not long ago, it was reported that a red heifer was born in a small town in New Jersey, to a Jewish farmer. This farm is located nearby the town of Lakewood, home of one of the most important and prestigious yeshivot in the world. The news of this heifer's birth was seized upon by the Jewish world as a sign, a harbinger, generating great enthusiasm. Jews rejoiced; a delegation of local rabbis made a pilgrimage to the cow and declared her to be a 'perfect, kosher red heifer.' The farmer told reporters that he had been offered a million dollars to sell the cow, but he would not consider it, because he wanted to personally present the heifer to the messiah upon his arrival.

Ironically, just as the Temple Institute prepared to launch its project, the sad news was announced that the New Jersey-based red heifer has been disqualified - rendered un-kosher for use. Why? On what basis? Did the color of its hair begin to change - as sometimes can occur?

Actually, the heifer was rendered unfit because it became blemished, in the form of a very basic Biblical blemish: she gave birth.

According to Torah, this renders her completely unfit! But how is it possible, after all the excitement joy that this cow's birth generated, that it was allowed to become disqualified?

Why were the simplest and most basic precautions not taken in order to insure that it remains kosher? The answer is simple. That heifer had been viewed the same way in which, unfortunately, the Holy Temple is viewed by so many as something supernatural, something other-worldly, which has nothing to do with reality. So a red heifer was born!

So what should be done with it, here in New Jersey? Other than wait for the messiah to arrive and personally take care of everything. After all, if one believes that the Temple is going to fall down from the sky, then so will the red heifer.

But Torah teaches us that we are responsible for every detail of the rebuilding of the Holy Temple, and raising a proper red heifer is indeed an intrinsic aspect of preparation for the Holy Temple.

The motto of the Temple Institute's 'Raise a Red Heifer in Israel' campaign is 'The Future is in Our Hands.' This is a powerful and significant statement. Ever since its inception, the Temple Institute's goal is the 'bring the Temple down from Heaven,' to change the misconception that the Holy Temple is not a real part of our very real world.

raising cows. Raising these red requires involvement and mastery of Halacha; it requires an understanding of and dedication to the Torah of life.

Ours is a truly marvelous generation. What a splendid rectification for these days of mourning for the Holy temple: Rather than continue to cry and witness the endless cycle of mourning, we have the opportunity to contribute to the fulfillment of the promise of Israel's destiny and the fulfillment of G-d's promise of redemption for all humanity.



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