Topics: Temple

Getting Ready: Temple Institute Practices Burning the Red Heifer

Israeli professor involved in test of the Red Heifer ritual calls it an “historical moment” on the road to purity and redemption.

Getting Ready: Temple Institute Practices Burning the Red Heifer
Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90

The requirement of a Red Heifer is probably the most enigmatic biblical commandment, and one that continues to capture the imaginations of Jews and Christians alike. The preparation and purpose of the Red Heifer as described in Numbers 19 indicates that the entire Temple service depends on the presence of water mixed with Red Heifer ash, the one and only means of purifying one who has come in contact with a corpse. 

Since ascending the Temple Mount required purity, and it is assumed that everybody has either knowingly or unknowingly been made impure by coming in contact with death, no one can enter the Temple court until a Red Heifer is found and properly prepared.

It is for this reason that to this day, Jews are religiously forbidden from entering the area that was once the inner court of the Temple. Religious Jews who do ascend the Temple Mount first immerse themselves in a ritual bath, but that’s only good enough to get them into what was the outer courts, not to be confused with the Temple itself. This is the reason why until today Jews are not allowed to enter the Temple parameters. Those who do ascend, immerse themselves first in ritual bath, that only allows entering the Mount, that is not to be confused with the Temple itself. 

The short of it is that without the Red Heifer, the Temple can’t be rebuilt.

The absence of the Temple, in turn, means that the full redemption of Israel is impossible, since according to Ezekiel 36, only the sprinkling of the Red Heifer water allows for the complete change of heart and spirit (“then I shall sprinkle pure waters upon you, and you shall be clean, from all your uncleanness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. I will also give you a new heart, and I will place within you a new spirit”).

The reason why so many Christians are enamored with the Red Heifer is because they, too, understand that the Third Temple means not only redemption for Jews, but also redemption of the world. Likewise, both Jews and Christians share the belief that when Messiah will arrive, he will enter the Temple. So, for him to come, there must be a Temple.

Though in contemporary Israeli society the Red Heifer is relegated to the realm of the delusional, there are still enough who are doing everything they can to make all the necessary preparations for the building of the Third Temple, and that includes breeding red heifers and practicing the ceremonial burning of the calf.

The Temple Institute has recently done just that: Experimenting with the meticulous rabbinic rituals surrounding the red heifer. The effort includes burning a dead cow on a kind of a wooden altar. Into the burning fire were also thrown cedar wood, hyssop and scarlet-dyed wool. The experiment was designed to check the amount of ash produced, and whether it would be enough to purify every Israelite living today.

According to the Jewish Voice news portal, Prof. Zohar Amar of the Department of Land of Israel Studies at Bar-Ilan University took part in the experiment and described it as an historical moment. “For 2000 years we have been waiting for this moment,” said Prof. Amar, “when Jews will look into and experiment realistic possibilities for the renewal of purity in Israel.”

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