The birth of a pure red heifer in Israel is being hailed by an ultra-conservative Jewish group as a potential sign that the Temple might be rebuilt after 2,000 years.
The Temple Institute, which campaigns for the rebuilding of the Temple on Temple Mount or Mount Moriah in Jerusalem in what it says would be fulfilment of biblical prophecy, announced the birth last week on Facebook.
It said the calf had been born on August 28 and was being cared for under the institute's 'Raise a Red Heifer' programme.
'One week after its birth the heifer underwent an extensive examination by rabbinical experts, who determined that the heifer is currently a viable candidate for the Biblical red heifer (para aduma) described in Numbers, chapter 19, and will be examined again in three months time to determine whether it continues to possess the necessary qualifications for the red heifer, a necessary prerequisite for the renewal of the Divine service in the Holy Temple,' it said.
Numbers 19: 1-10 contains instructions for the sacrifice of a red heifer whose ashes were used with water for the cleansing of sin. The Temple Institute believes the birth of a red heifer is a prerequisite for the refounding of the Temple.
It has bred the animal by implanting the frozen embryos of Red Angus cows into Israel domestic cows. Several other calves have been born but were later judged unsuitable as grew.
According to the Temple Institute website, there have been only nine red heifers used in the water of cleansing since Moses. The Jewish scholar Maimonides linked the coming of the tenth red heifer to the Messiah, saying: 'the tenth red heifer will be accomplished by the king, the Messiah; may he be revealed speedily, Amen, may it be God's will'.
The institute says: 'If there has been no red heifer for the past 2,000 years, perhaps it is because the time was not right; Israel was far from being ready. But now... what could it mean for the times we live in, to have the means for purification so close at hand? With the words of Maimonides in mind, we cannot help but wonder and pray: If there are now red heifers... is ours the era that will need them?'
Some Christians also believe the Temple will be rebuilt.
Its ancient site now contains Muslim edifices including the Dome of the Rock and the Al Aqsa Mosque, and is considered the third holiest site in Islam. Non-Muslims are banned from praying there by the Israeli government because of the risk of violence. However, right-wing Jewish groups are increasingly challenging restrictions placed on them.