Most Americans missed it and most wouldn’t care, but the Jerusalem Post, a conservative daily newspaper in Israel, reported September 20 the breathless news that five red heifers had arrived in Israel, courtesy of a fundamentalist farmer in Texas. CBN News, a website claiming to present “The Christian Perspective,” posted a story three days later.

The yearling heifers were transported by jet to Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport, where they were greeted with enthusiasm.

Byron Stinson, a Texas cattle rancher, also leads an organization of Christian Zionists and Orthodox Jews called Boneh Israel, which is dedicated to preparing the way for the construction of a third temple in Jerusalem.

That can’t happen, they believe, without a perfect red heifer, which they call “the key to redemption.”


Here’s the logic: Numbers 19:1-10a contains an obscure passage claiming that God told Moses and Aaron to have the Israelites bring them a perfect red heifer (a parah adumah), with no blemishes, that had never worn a yoke.

A heifer, for the agriculturally uninformed, is a female cow that has not had a calf.

Moses and Aaron were to instruct Eleazar, a priest, to take the red heifer outside the camp and slaughter it, taking some of the blood with his finger and sprinkling it “toward the front of the tent of meeting” (here, presumably in the direction the tabernacle, though sometimes “tent of meeting” was used of a different structure).

The heifer was then to be completely burned, including its skin, its flesh, its blood, and even its dung. Note that this did not take place on the altar, but outside the camp, where it would have required a massive fire.

To the burning carcass, Eleazar was to add aromatic cedar wood, hyssop (an herb thought to have a cleansing function), and “crimson stuff” (the Hebrew word usually means “worm,” but could refer to something red).

After the conflagration died down, someone else would be sent to gather up the ashes and store them in a “clean place,” also outside the camp, where they would be “kept for the congregation of the Israelites for the water for cleansing.”

As needed, ashes were to be mixed with running water to make the “water for cleansing” into which a hyssop sprig was dipped and used to purify anyone who had touched a dead body by sprinkling them with the mixture. Regular uncleanness could be remedied with washing or sacrifice, but dead-body-uncleanness was a special case. Just about everyone would experience that at some point, for even being in the same room with a corpse counted (Num. 19:10b-20).

A fringe group of Orthodox Zionists, including many American Jews who join illegal settlements in the West Bank, have long dreamed of tearing down the Islamic ’Al Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock – which have stood on Temple Mount for more than 1,200 years, far longer than any Jewish temple – so they could clear the site and build a third temple.

Fundamentalist Christians immersed in the pursuit of end-times prophecy support the effort, contributing huge sums to the Temple Institute, which has been preparing lampstands, altars, and other equipment for a future temple, along with training men who trace their heritage to Levi to serve as priests.

But according to their understanding of Numbers 19, the temple site and its vessels can’t be purified, and priests can’t be ritually cleansed, without ashes from a perfect red heifer.

Hence the massive effort, one that has been going on for three decades, to locate a suitable animal.

A heifer born in Israel in 1997 and named “Melody” raised hopes for a while, but in time she sprouted several white hairs. Another hopeful candidate in 2002 proved equally unsuitable. Rabbis will be inspecting the five new candidates with magnifying glasses over the next two years.

A Jewish commentary called the Mishnah declared that a suitable red heifer must be at least three years old (interpreted to be in its third year) before being slaughtered and burned. And, in addition to having no blemishes or diseases, it had to be perfectly red – even two white hairs are sufficient for disqualification.

Supporters of the effort to build a third temple believe that the founding of the State of Israel in 1949 was a fulfillment of prophecy and a sign of the end times, citing eschatological passages from the book of Ezekiel.

Purely red heifers are so rare that the Mishnah claims only nine red heifers were immolated from tabernacle days until the destruction of the second temple in 70 CE.

Maimonides, an influential Jewish philosopher of the medieval period, taught that the next red heifer would be brought by the messiah.

Many Jews still look for a messiah, and Christians focused on the end times are looking for Jesus’ second coming. Though working from different angles, both believe that building a third temple will usher in a messianic age of peace.

And that can’t happen without a perfect red heifer, so there you go.

Any person who stops to think even for a moment, however, must realize that attempting to raze the two mosques atop Temple Mount would not lead to peace, but to violent warfare.

Israel and Arabic nations live in an uneasy peace as it is, largely because the Temple Mount, the third holiest site in Islam, remains as it is. Destroying the historic mosques would not only be a crime and a travesty, but also an invitation to all-out war between Israel and Arab nations, with the U.S. and others inevitably drawn into it.

Most Israelis lead mainly secular lives and have little respect for groups like the Temple Institute. It is highly unlikely that even the most extreme Israeli government would sanction an effort to clear Temple Mount for a small sect to build a temple.

Even so, let’s pray that the latest crop of red heifers will soon grow enough white hairs to spare them from the flames lest their owners feel emboldened to spark a terrible war.

That’s the better logic.

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