Did a seal visit Israel to check on preparations for the Third Temple?

For that, the earth is withered: Everything that dwells on it languishes— Beasts of the field and birds of the sky— Even the fish of the sea perish.




(the israel bible)

May 15, 2023

3 min read

On Friday, a Mediterranean Monk seal came ashore on a beach in Jaffa in central Israel. The sighting was reported to the authorities by Avi Benson:

“I was riding my bike when I thought I saw a dolphin,” Benson said. “As I got closer, I realized it was a seal coming in and out of the water. I first thought it might have been injured until it reached the shore to rest. I contacted the police, and from there, they forwarded me to the Nature and Parks Authority, who arrived quickly.”

Guy Levian, the head of the Marine Unit at the Nature and Parks Authority, acknowledged that it was, indeed, a female Monk seal.

“Since she arrived, we’ve been trying to understand together with researchers if she is tired, what led her here, perhaps she is injured,” he said. “But the conclusion at the moment is that she is simply resting and going through a molting process. It’s a process that will likely take a few days. Therefore, she prefers to stay on land and rest on the beach at this stage.”

Initial estimates place the seal’s age at 3-5 years, but she was identified as the same animal that had been spotted in other countries in the region. 

“The conclusion is that she is a female who was first spotted in Turkey in 2007, so she is older than we initially thought. However, it is not known exactly what led her here,” he said. “She probably came to us by chance.”

“We are safeguarding the seal until it returns to the sea to prevent people from approaching and disturbing it. It is a protected marine mammal that must not be harmed,” said Levian. “The public is kindly requested not to approach and allow the seal to return to the sea after its done resting safely.”

The Mediterranean Monk Seal, averaging about 2.5 meters in length and weighing about 350 kilograms, is endangered, with only an estimated 700 remaining. The species used to be pretty common in the region, but commercial hunting (especially during the Roman Empire and Middle Ages), coastal urbanization, and pollution have all contributed to a dramatic decrease in population.

“In recent years, there has been an encouraging increase with cautious optimism,” Levian said. “We can say that the numbers of this species are rising, but it is still in danger of extinction, and therefore, of course, all these marine mammal species are protected natural treasures, and it is forbidden to harm them.”

Reports of individual sightings were documented from the 1920s through 1958. The only other recent sighting in Israel was in 2010 off the coast of Tel Aviv. The same seal was sighted a few weeks later near Rosh Hanikra in northern Israel.

At 3:15 on Monday morning, the monk seal was seen returning to the sea. 

“I arrived on duty at 5:30 and realized from the inspector who was in front of me that she entered the water at night and hasn’t come out since,” Dr. Mia Elser of Delphis, who directs seal research in Israel, said. “I thought that was it, she must have left, but I didn’t give up and continued to watch, and suddenly at 6:30 in the morning, after about three hours in the water, I saw her rise back to the same place. She looks healthy and functioning. Apparently, she went in to eat and freshen up.”

“We are seeing some kind of recovery after her long journey, which is a good sign,” Dr. Elser said. “We also very much hope that soon she will recover enough to return to places where she has more living space, such as the longer beaches of Turkey.”

While seals are not specifically mentioned in the Bible, some commentators believe the enigmatic tachashim described in Exodus (35:7) as being used in the construction of the Tabernacle were seals. Their hides were used for the outer covering of the Tabernacle and as a slipcover for the holy vessels while they traveled in the desert. The Midrash states that God created the tachash animal specifically to be used for the Mishkan. As such, it existed during the construction of the Mishkan, but afterward, it was “hidden” from the world. 

One opinion in the Jerusalem Talmud states that the tachash was a kosher animal, which would seem to exclude seals which are not kosher to be eaten. However, other opinions maintain that the tachash was not kosher. Yet another argument holds that it was a giant wild kosher animal with a single horn, its skin was of six colors, and its length was 30 amot (nearly 50 feet).

While it is doubtful that the Mediterranean Monk seal wandered the desert when the Jews left Egypt, it was undoubtedly plentiful at that time in the nearby sea. And while it is exceedingly rare today, like many elements of the Temple, the tachash was prophesied to reappear in the days of the Messiah to be used as footwear for the righteous:

I clothed you with embroidered garments, and gave you sandals of Tachash leather to wear, and wound fine linen about your head, and dressed you in silks. Ezekiel 16:10

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