Why Are Rabbis Trying to Genetically Engineer a Mythical Red Cow?

Saturday November 25, 2017 Written by amy

heffer wide

A rabbi and a cowboy walk into a bar… OK, not really, but not too far from the truth.

In Jerusalem, rabbi Chaim Richman is working with cattle breeders to genetically engineer “a perfect red heifer”. That’s what he says in this promo film which accompanies a crowdfunding campaign to realise the dream.

What’s behind this unusual passion project? Well, the bigger story here is that in the bible, Ezekial had a prophecy about a ‘third temple’, a permanent house in which God would reside. Most orthodox Jews think this will be a miraculous event that can’t be hurried up by us mere mortals, but a minority of ‘temple activists’ are a bit over waiting, so have decided to just build the thing themselves. The Temple Institute is one of these groups, and rabbi Richman is their international director.

One stumbling block in this controversial build is that according to the bible, people can only access the temple if they’ve been cleansed with water mixed with the ashes of a sacred red heifer. The kosher cow is also believed to herald the coming of the messiah, and some Jews and messianic Christians even believe it’s a sign of the end of the world.

So, religion turned to science for help. There have been a handful of bovine contenders so far, but no dice. The lucky winner of the sacrificial-cow lotto cannot have more than two non-red hairs, or a single imperfection. No pressure.

There’s a darker side to this story though. Launching a crowdfunding campaign to breed a miracle cow is one thing, but these temple activists are considered extremists by Israel and the majority of Jews, because they also want to build their new temple on top of one of the most sacred Islamic sites in the world – the Al-Aqsa Mosque, currently managed by the Jordanian government.

Read more on that side of the story here.