Sign of the messiah? Five red heifers, eligible for ‘purification,’ arrive in Israel

A Christian evangelical farmer donated the cows, which rabbis ruled as eligible for a biblical purification rite that allows service in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

Excitement and joy abounded last Thursday when five red heifers landed at Ben Gurion International Airport, causing some of their 300 greeters to weep from emotion.

Reason for the exhilaration? According to Jewish tradition, the appearance of a 100%-red cow – which is extremely rare – is a sign of the imminent arrival of the Messiah. In Jewish law, this is the only animal whose ashes can be used to purify people who had been in contact with the dead – and all Jews today are considered to be in this state of impurity. Yet only those who have been purified can serve in the Temple and bring sacrifices to the holy site.

The criteria for the cow to meet the requirements is so rigorous that there has not been a documented case of such an animal in 2,000 years. It must be a particular shade of brownish red; it cannot have more than one white or black hair in its pelt; it cannot have any one of dozens of kinds of defects; and it must never have worked even a day of its life.

Several rabbis laboriously examined the five arrivals and pronounced them kosher, an announcement that brought some viewers to tears.

“It is very gratifying that we have red cows ready both for the building of the Temple with God’s help, and in the meantime to study,” said Rabbi Yosef Zvi Rimon, the chief rabbi of the Gush Etzion Regional Council. “The building of the Temple is approaching, we need to know, to prepare, and that is one of the things” that is needed.

The five heifers were the generous donation of a Christian Evangelical farmer named Byron, who raised them on his farm in Texas. They were driven to New York by truck and then put on an American Airlines cargo flight to Israel.

The arrivals are currently in a mandated quarantine, but they will ultimately be brought to their new home in the northern Beit She’an area, a breeding farm where it is hoped that their numbers will expand greatly.

Since their existence is such a rarity, the facility also expects to become a tourist site for both religious Jews and Christians from all over the world, as well as a draw for Jewish schoolchildren throughout the country.

Ordinarily, Israel forbids the import of live animals from the U.S., fearing the transmission of disease, but “these cows have undergone over 10 blood tests in the last year and have been in isolation for four months,” a spokesperson said.

According to Maimonides (1138-1204), one of the greatest rabbis and philosophers in Jewish history, there have been only nine red heifers used to purify the nation from the time the Torah was given on Mount Sinai until the destruction of the Second Temple. The 10th, he wrote, will be used by the “King Messiah.”