HOUSMAIL Number HM#007 : THE TENTH RED HEIFER (19 October 1998)
From time to time, I have run across reports which wax eloquent about the alleged birth of a new Red Heifer in Israel some time in late 1996. It is claimed that this is the first Red Heifer to be born in Israel in nearly 2000 years.
If this is indeed a genuine Red heifer, then for the first time since the destruction of the Second Temple in AD70, the Jews have the ability to recommence an ancient ritual, instituted by Moses. Purification of the Temple Site by this ritual, would be an essential prerequisite for building a Third Temple in Jerusalem.
If all has gone well, this animal would have become ready for sacrifice, any time following 8 October this year.
As might be expected, this event has fuelled a lot of speculation about the possibility of the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem, in the immediate future.
However, be warned! There is a LOT of conflicting information out there, which is clearly not all as reliable as we might hope. It is not easy to decide just how much is useful and profitable, compared with other material which might have been given an "adjusted" emphasis to advance the cause of particular "vested interests".
The information which does appear here has been prayerfully sifted, in an attempt to provide a low key summary of what is happening, without getting too excited about some of the more sensational claims.
But first some background .....
THE BIBLICAL SIGNIFICANCE OF THE RED HEIFER.
The sacrifice of the Red Heifer has its origin in a ritual instituted by Moses in the Wilderness. (Numbers 19)
A Red Heifer was to be selected which was free from defect or blemish, and "upon which a yoke had never come". (verse 2) It was to was to be burnt to ashes, together with cedarwood, hyssop and "scarlet stuff". (verse 6 RSV) The ashes were to be kept in a clean place outside the camp for "the water of impurity, for the removal of sin". (verse 9)
As described by Moses, they were to be used by the people of Israel for the ritual cleansing of those who came in contact with dead bodies. They were also to be used for the ritual cleansing of the tent in which a death had taken place. Any people who had been in the tent, as well as open vessels and furnishings in the tent, were also subject to cleansing. (verses 14-19)
The requirement was very strict. Those who had not gone through the ritual of purification, were to be excluded from the congregation. (verse 20)
It is important to notice that this law is a perpetual obligation which began in the wilderness ..... NOT in the promised land. And it predates the Temple by centuries. There is nothing at all in what Moses said, to suggest that it was intended as a special Temple service. However, the requirement for cleansing after contact with the dead, applied to the whole of the area occupied by the Jews. Thus a death on the Temple site would create a need for cleansing of the Temple itself; and any who were ritually unclean through contact with the dead, could never enter the Temple without undergoing a personal purification ceremony.
THE RED HEIFER IN RABBINIC TRADITION
In later Jewish Rabbinic TRADITION, the Red Heifer did become closely associated with the Temple services. And although Moses said that the ashes were to be stored "outside the camp", it became more convenient to store them in stone jars in the Temple precincts.
The catalogue of possible causes of "corpse defilement" grew to be massive. The list came to include entering tombs, stepping on graves, or even casting one's shadow across a corpse or a grave. Towards the end of the Second Temple era, cities such as Tiberias were declared "off limits" to Jews, because they contained UNMARKED graves which would contaminate those who unwittingly stepped on them!
One source I found says that after the Babylonian destruction of the First Temple, every land outside Israel was declared "corpse contaminated". And after the destruction of the Second Temple, even Israel was declared unclean! If enforced today in a strict Jewish culture, this would mean that virtually EVERYONE, anywhere in the world, would require a "Red Heifer cleansing" to become ritually pure. No Temple could be built, and no one, Priest or layman, could ever serve or worship in the Temple, without a prior Red Heifer ceremony.
THE TENTH RED HEIFER
According to Rabbinic tradition, since Moses first instituted the ritual described below, only NINE such Red Heifers have been sacrificed in Israel. (all prior to the destruction of the second Temple) This new Red Heifer is being claimed, by some fundamentalist Jews, to be the fulfilment of a centuries old prophecy by the Jewish Rabbi Maimonides, that the TENTH Red Heifer will herald the appearance of the Jewish Messiah.
Her name is Melody!
She is a reddish brown heifer. She was born from a black and white Holstein mother, living in Northern Israel, artificially inseminated with sperm from an anonymous dun bull, living in Switzerland. This unlikely coloring for a calf from such parents, has been hailed by some religious Jews as a miracle.
But ..... is she really the TENTH genuine Red Heifer?
Based on information available at this time, it would be impossible to confirm this, one way or the other.
On the one hand, it is said that some rabbis have confirmed that Melody is a genuine Red Heifer in the Biblical and Talmudic tradition.
However on the other hand, this is by no means certain! Like most things religious, there is more than one opinion around! There are others who have noticed possible flaws which cause them to reserve judgement. It seems there are some white hairs on Melody's tail, some partially black eyelashes, and a couple of other marks, which may be potential sources of disqualification.
Alas, we simple laymen who observe from the other side of the world, must simply wait and see!
20TH CENTURY SIGNIFICANCE
A. FOR JEWS
For many non-religious Jews, the new Red Heifer is the source of great political embarrassment.
To clear space for the building of a Third Temple would require the demolishing of the Dome Of The Rock. Any Jewish attempt to demolish this THIRD HOLIEST Muslim site, has the potential to start World War 3! This uncomfortable prospect has even led to serious suggestions that the Israeli government should intervene to destroy Melody before a war is precipitated!
However, for strictly religious Jews, there would be great significance in the appearance of a genuine Red heifer. For them the rebuilding of the Temple is a binding obligation.
When it was destroyed in AD70, the Temple site was the scene of many deaths. It has never yet been "ritually purified" from the defilement caused by those deaths. Rabbinical tradition would require cleansing of the site by the Red Heifer ritual, as an essential prerequisite to restoration of Temple services. That requirement for cleansing would extend to all prospective Priests and worshippers, who might somehow have become defiled.
A Red Heifer is essential for the rebuilding and dedication of a new Temple.
B. FOR CHRISTIANS
There is a maze of confusion to negotiate!
There are many whose imprudent credulity has caused them to throw proper caution to the winds. And there are others who have jumped on the bandwagon, with various enthusiastic claims of their own. There are "expositors of prophecy" who are making extravagant, and largely unbiblical, predictions for the short term future. There are "evangelists" who are using it in a "scare campaign", which attempts to frighten people into the Church. There are some commercially minded people who have things to sell. (books, or tapes and videos, or T-shirts imprinted with "Red Heifer" logos, etc.) There are some with a diverse range of other "financial interests" at stake. And to cater for the "globe trotters", there are even some enterprising souls who are now conducting tours for the faithful to see (and even be photographed with) the new Red Heifer!
However there are certainly also many genuine souls longing for the return of Jesus, and the appearance of Kingdom of God, who will quietly and CAUTIOUSLY watch to see what, if anything, develops from this significant event. These cautious disciples will understand the need for prudence in choosing the good, refusing the bad, and waiting until till they have enough reliable information to do that.
For the present, it should certainly be regarded as something which has the potential to develop into events which would affect the already unstable Middle East "peace", and touch all of us in uncomfortable ways.
As to whether there MUST be a Third Temple Built before Jesus returns, there are diverse opinions. The Futurist school of prophecy says "definitely yes". The Historicists, by and large, say "probably no".
It is certainly not impossible that there could be some future Jewish attempt to demolish the Dome of the Rock, with the construction of a Temple in view. Indeed that would not be surprising at all. There have ALREADY been several abortive attempts by extremists to do just that! And there are several organisations who are making active preparations, such as production of architectural plans, training Priests, or making clothing and vessels for the Temple service. On 7 October last, there was even a token attempt to lay a foundation stone on the site.
However, even if those plans do come to fruition, my personal leaning is towards the view that it is unlikely that Temple services will ever be restored this side of the Kingdom.
God willing, this vexed question, will be discussed in the next HOUSMAIL.
There are too many unanswered questions to venture a final informed opinion about Melody, the Red Heifer.
The important thing is that we must not allow a Red Heifer to become a "RED HERRING" which distracts our attention from our real goals as Christians. For those who look forward with hope to the return of the MESSIAH to establish His Kingdom, there are other much more important priorities.
There is a SPIRITUAL CLEANSING from the defilement of SIN which is foreshadowed in the meaning behind that Old Testament Red Heifer ritual. (Heb 9:13)
This cleansing is essential for all who want to become living stones in that REAL New Temple, in which JESUS is the chief cornerstone (Eph 2:20) and in which spiritual sacrifices are ALREADY being offered by a new Royal Priesthood. (1 Cor 6:19-20, 2 Cor 6:16-18, & 1 Peter 2:2-5)
"Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, and make HOLINESS PERFECT in the fear of God." (2 Cor :1)