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How Now Red Cow?

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Topic: Cow, Red, Significance

Here are but a sample of many questions that our readers have recently sent to "Ask the Rabbi" about the apparent discovery of a Red Heifer in Israel:

B. H. Moore from Spokane Washington wrote:

The National news media reported that a red heifer was born in Israel which has some bearing on the future Temple.
Could you explain the significance of this?

Fábio, Alexandre, Juliano, Rafael and Mariángela from Brazil wrote:

Please, we want to know about the red cow that was born in Kfar Hassidim, and the connection with the restoration of the Temple and the Meshiah. Thank you.

David Waysman from Australia wrote:

We have seen reports of what may be a Para Aduma. Is there any basis to this claim, & if yes, what may be the implications of the existence of a Red Heifer.

Peter Crowson from Live Oak, California wrote:

What is the significance of the red heifer. How was it different from all the other sacrifices?

Mitch Klausner wrote:

In the Boston Globe a few weeks ago, on the front page of the Sunday edition was a picture of a red heifer found in Israel. Apparently it is very rare to find such an animal. The article said that some believe this means Mashiach is coming soon. Is there any reason to believe this? Thank you in advance.

Lou Brifman wrote:

Dear Rabbi,

Please discuss the Parah Adumah and its significance today.

The Farber Family from South Africa wrote:

Would you please explain to us the significance of a "Red Heifer" born in Yerushalayim?

Lester from Pampa, Texas wrote:

Dear Rabbi,

What about the flawless Red Heifer?

Dear Readers,

As rare as it may be, the birth of a red heifer is nothing more than a curiosity. There is no source in Jewish tradition that sees the birth of a red heifer as a sign of the arrival of the Mashiach.

According to the Torah, someone who comes into contact with a dead body becomes halachically 'impure.' The Torah describes a very specific process that enables a person to purify himself. This process involves slaughtering a heifer which is completely red, burning it and mixing its ashes with water. Some of this 'purifying water' is sprinkled on the impure person twice over a seven-day period.

This had great practical importance during Temple times, because all participants in the Temple service needed to be ritually pure, and the entire nation needed to purify themselves for the Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot festivals. It will have practical significance again when the Temple is rebuilt.

Maimonides writes that from the time of Moses until the destruction of the Second Temple, only nine red heifers have been used to prepare the 'purifying waters.' The tenth red heifer, says Maimonides, will be prepared by the Mashiach.

This can be easily misunderstood. It does not mean that there existed only nine red heifers in history, and that the tenth one to be born will be used by the Mashiach. It simply means that the ashes from each heifer lasted a long time, and there was never a need to prepare more than nine. The tenth red heifer process will take place in the times of the Mashiach.

About twenty years ago, a red heifer born in Israel caused a similar stir. Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, the noted halachic authority of the time, was unmoved. "One of the requirements of the red heifer is that it be at least two years old. What if the Mashiach were to come tomorrow? Would we have to wait two years in order to become pure? When Mashiach comes, they'll find a red heifer that's two-years old."

The reason for the commandment of the red heifer is considered the deepest secret in the Torah. So much so that even King Solomon, the wisest scholar who ever lived, was unable to fathom its deep meaning. According to the Midrash, its meaning will be revealed in the era of the Mashiach.


  • Bamidbar (Numbers) 19
  • Mishna Parah 3:5
  • Rambam, ibid. 3:4
  • Bamidbar Rabba 19:4

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