Oct 05, 2022
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On Thursday, five red heifers arrived in Israel, bringing the world one step closer to reinstating the Temple service. Red Heifers are exceedingly rare and difficult to find and the saga of how they made it to the Holy Land from the Lone Star State of Texas underscores how miraculous their arrival really was.

The effort was led by Boneh Israel (Build Israel), an organization that connects Christian lovers of Israel to the Holy Land. A member of the team spoke with Israel365 News about the remarkable efforts to bring the heifers to Israel.

Boneh began the search several years ago, but even after we found the calves, we knew there was a lot of work ahead,” he said “We were elated that we had found the red heifers but after that, the effort to bring them to Israel was like a roller coaster, but with a lot of downs. After the rabbis certified the five calves, we knew that we needed to ship them to Israel so we started making plans right away,” he said. “Timing was critical. We needed to wait until after they were weaned at five months, but we had to bring them to Israel before they were a year old, as it is not allowed to ship livestock that is one year old.”

“We didn’t want to ship them by boat, which is very hard on the animals. We started investigating shipping them by air. We didn’t even know who to speak to. This was not like shipping animals for human consumption. There were many special considerations based on the holy purpose of the cows.”

Any blemishes or scars disqualify a red heifer and make it unfit for use in the Temple. The cows would have to be transported in the most gentle manner possible.

“In order to ship them, they needed to have identification tags,” he said. “Normally, calves are tagged in their ears as soon as they are born. This would have rendered them unfit. By a great stroke of luck, the ranch employee who normally puts in the tags did not come to the farm when these five calves were born because of COVID. But they needed an ID tag for travel.

“They needed blood tests and checks along the way,” he said. “We looked into different ways to tag them. There is a device that the cow swallows and it sits in its stomach and is used to identify the cow. But the rabbis studied this. The red heifer can never have a yoke on it, and cannot be used as a beast of burden to carry things. The rabbis ruled that this would be like carrying a burden and would render the heifer unfit.”

‘Finally, we discovered that we could use an RFID chip,” he said. “But even then, we had to figure out precisely where to place it so it would not scar or affect the heifers’ hairs.”

These questions were recorded by Rabbi Azariah Ariel of the Temple Institute, who is consulting with other leading rabbis to compile a comprehensive guide to the Jewish laws pertaining to the Red Heifer.

After much effort, Boneh succeeded in obtaining the necessary permits from the Israeli Agricultural Ministry and the American authorities. They would be able to bring the heifers to Israel in April, the week before Passover. 

“We were working from both directions, with authorities from the Israeli and US governments,” he said. “They were supposed to fly in a cargo plane via Belgium because all cargo planes in Europe stop there. We booked the flight with the Israeli CAL Cargo Airlines. But at the last minute, they bumped the European leg of our flight because they had a flight full of salmon from Oslo heading to Israel for the Passover holiday.”

“We found other flights, but flights from Texas only fly livestock out in October because of the intense heat in the summer. But by October, the cows would have been one year old and Israel would not have accepted them at that age. 12 months old is a clear cutoff.”

“We tried to ship them through Chicago with British Airways. It seemed like a good option because there is a wonderful organization in London, ARC, which takes care of the animals at the airport. We needed to get a letter from ARC saying that if the flights got delayed, they would take care of the cows until the next flight. But then the British government notified us that they wanted assurances from the government agricultural agency as well, stating that the cows would be cared for. So that flight fell through.”

“We tried to deal with El Al,” he said. “The owner is religious and wanted to help us. But they only had one plane available. It was a passenger plane and the air in the cargo space is not monitored. So that fell through.”

“We even tried to fly them in the cargo spaces of Nefesh B’Nefesh, the organization that brings new immigrants to Israel from the US. But all of their flights until October were totally full and they needed every inch of the cargo space for the passengers’ baggage. These flights were carrying a lot of baggage because people were moving their entire lives to Israel.”

“In mid-August, American Airlines agreed to fly the heifers to New York. Everything was set. But at the last minute, the authorities nixed it, saying that the temperature in New York was 75 degrees, but in Tel Aviv at 5 PM when we were scheduled to land, the temperature was expected to be 86 degrees Fahrenheit. The cut-off was at 85 degrees. We knew that the cows had been raised in Texas and were used to the heat, but those were the regulations – and so I flew back to Israel empty-handed.”

“We kept pushing, telling all the authorities that would listen that they were for educational purposes. We even got letters certifying them.”

Time was running out. In a leap of faith, Boneh packed up the cows and sent them on a 33-hour truck ride to New York. The heifers spent three weeks in a horse pasture belonging to Alex Nichols, who specializes in shipping horses. With Nichols working from the US and Frank De Leede, who ships horses from Israel, working from the Holy Land, things began to move forward.

“The final arrangements were made last week for the flight to Israel and we knew that if they didn’t work, the deadline might pass and they would be too old. I was sitting in Israel, my eyes glued to a flight tracker. Until I saw on the flight tracker that the plane was in the air, I wasn’t sure that Israel would have a red heifer.”

The flight to Israel and preparations cost over $250,000 dollars. Now that they are in Israel, the heifers will need to be raised until they are at least two years old. There are five heifers and the cost to feed them is $10 a day per cow. $50 feeds the entire group of cows for one day can clisk on the image below.