A Jewish activist group dedicated to the controversial project of building a Third Temple in Jerusalem has launched a crowdfunding appeal to scientifically breed the “perfect red heifer”.
The creation of a Third Temple as a permanent house in which God will reside was prophesied by Ezekiel, and most orthodox Jewish authorities regard it as something that will be a miraculous event. A minority, however, believe that humans can build the temple.
An obstacle for the latter group is the belief that because the world is impure, individuals wishing to ascend to the Temple must be cleansed with water mixed with the ashes of a pure red heifer that has been ritually sacrificed.
For decades Jews subscribing to this belief have been engaged in a painstaking and unsuccessful search for the miraculous red cow, known in Hebrew as the para aduma. The most recent candidate was suggested and discounted last year.
Now, however, the Jerusalem-based Temple Institute has announced it plans to breed its own red heifer using surrogacy techniques.
The plans have sparked friction with local Israeli agricultural authorities and US-based investors in a business that imports red angus embryos to raise for meat, after the activists appeared to have attached themselves to the import business.
The institute hopes to raise $125,000 (£80,000) for the red heifer project to pay for embryo implantation, care and identification of candidates to breed the perfect red heifer in Israel.
The Temple Institute was founded in 1987 by Rabbi Yisrael Ariel and has recreated artefacts for rituals required in a new temple of which the red heifer would be the most ambitious.
Controversially it has been active in encouraging its supporters to visit the Temple Mount, known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary, causing friction at the site. The more conventional view of Orthodox rabbis is that Jews should not visit the site.
The cow is mentioned in Numbers and other religious texts and has significance to strands of both messianic Christianity and Judaism.
Jewish religious teaching holds that between the time of Moses until the destruction of the Second Temple, only nine perfect red heifers were discovered. The 10th--according to the Jewish philosopher Maimonides, whose writings in this case the group adheres to--will herald the coming of the messiah.
The cow’s ashes, burned with fragrant wood and scarlet wool, are used to produce mei niddah--purifying water that allows people access to the temple’s most sacred places.
For messianic Christians, the red cow is also regarded as a precursor to the building of the Third Temple, an act itself that would herald the “end times”.
In recent years the Temple Institute has twice announced the discovery of the perfect red cow as part of a more conventional search only to reverse its view.
In a video this month to launch the initiative--which has already raised $22,000 in 12 days--Rabbi Chaim Richman, head of the Temple Institute’s international division, insisted: “Make no mistake, this project is nothing less than the first stage of the reintroduction of biblical purity into the world, the prerequisite of the building of the holy temple.
“For 2,000 years we’ve been mourning for the destruction of the holy temple, but the future is in our hands.”
Religious experts have pointed out a perhaps insoluble problem with the institute’s plans to make their own red heifer.
Ritual requires that the priest who sacrifices the heifer be ritually pure as well. Lacking the mei niddah from a previous holy cow, that seems like a catch-22.