The flock of Jacob’s Sheep has arrived at the next stop in their journey home: Beit El, the house of God, the scene of Jacob’s prophetic dream of a ladder connecting heaven and earth. And for the first time, a pair of rams can now be viewed by the public.
In 2017, a flock of a rare breed of Jacob’s Sheep arrived in Israel from western Canada. But after arriving in the Holy Land, the flock was unable to find a permanent home. Last year, the flock was taken under new management with the intention of maintaining the rare breed.
Despite the extraordinary efforts of the previous owners, Jenna and Gil Lewinsky, the flock dwindled from 119 to about 50 head.
Naama Rue, who is managing the herd, explained that the herd is in need of rejuvenation.
“The situation was dire one year ago but it is getting better,” she told Israel365 News. “They are being raised in an undisclosed location. We are working to make sure they are being cared for properly and getting the necessary medical attention. When the Ministry of Agriculture gave permission to bring them to Israel, it was for the purpose of maintaining this rare heritage breed for the diversity of livestock.”
“There are only about 20,000 purebred Jacob’s Sheep in the world,” she said.
According to breed aficionados, the sheep originated in the north of Biblical Israel and were sold to Egypt. By way of North Africa and Morocco, the sheep made their way to Spain, and finally to Britain, where they were favored by the landed gentry for their distinctive spotted appearance and four horns.
Though they are indigenous to the Middle East, none of the breed remain in the region. The sheep most commonly seen in Israel are from the Awassi breed and originated in Syria.
It is speculated that their unique appearance links them to Biblical Jacob who made a deal with his deceitful uncle Laban (Genesis 30:39). In the story, Jacob demands his wages for working for 14 years, claiming the speckled and black sheep that would be born. He removed all the speckled and black sheep and placed poplar, plane, and almond branches in the troughs of the stronger sheep, with the bark stripped off in stripes. He separated out the striped and speckled sheep as his own.
Called Ovis Aries, the continuation of diverse breeds is necessary for the preservation of the genetic biodiversity of livestock, contributing to global food security. This is, in fact, the only breed in the world to produce spots and speckles in offspring,
Two rams from the herd arrived at Havat Ephraim Bet El’s Pinat Hai (Children’s Zoo) last month.
“There have been so many requests to see the sheep,” Rue said. “But it was important to protect and nurture the herd. Serious infrastructure was required. Fortunately, most of the herd is rams so these two were not required for breeding.
“Havat Ephraim Bet El’s Pinat Hai is pleased to welcome two beautiful Jacob Rams into our community. We are happy to provide an opportunity for fans of the heritage livestock to visit the Jacob Sheep,” said Tuvia Victor of the Children’s Zoo.
The children’s zoo is a place where many types of animals are raised in an environment in which children can interact and experience nature. The zoo is an informal learning environment that is open to the public and located about 20 miles north of Jerusalem.
The Bible relates how the patriarchs Abraham and Jacob built altars in Bet El to honor God.
When Jacob fled from his brother, Esau, he slept in Bet El, dreaming of angels ascending and descending Heaven on a ladder. Beit El is situated along the Path of The Patriarchs, the road by which Jacob returned to the land of his heritage, with his new flock and family.
The Jacob Rams arrived at the Children’s Zoo on 10 Cheshvan 5783, one day before 11 Cheshvan which is the yahrzeit of both the Matriarch Rachel (1553 BCE) and of Methuselah (2105 BCE) who was the longest-lived human being of all time. Rachel is the first shepherd mentioned in the Torah.
The Prophet Ezekiel compares the Jews to Sheep when he described them returning to the Land of Israel.
For thus said Hashem: Here am I! I am going to take thought for My flock and I will seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock when some [animals] in his flock have gotten separated, so I will seek out My flock, I will rescue them from all the places to which they were scattered on a day of cloud and gloom. Ezekiel 34:11-12More information can be found on the zoo’s website.