The Ingathering of the Exiles took on a pastoral twist when a Canadian couple turned to a mystical rabbi to help bring their flock of 130 sheep to the Holy Land. After a year of struggle, suddenly, Jacob’s Sheep seem set to make aliyah.
The rare heirloom breed, originally from the the Middle East, hasn’t been seen in Israel since the sheep went out into the diaspora with their Hebrew owners 2,000 years ago. The sheep spread from ancient Israel to Egypt, where Moorish trades took them to Spain. From Spain, the breed found greener pastures in England, before being taken to Canada.
Their unique speckled appearance and four horns are unmistakeable proof of their Biblical pedigree and, carefully bred by enthusiasts, they retain their unique Biblical traits, including the ability to thrive in arid climes.
Two years ago, with no prior farming experience, Canadians Jenna and Gil Lewinsky decided to adopt a flock of Jacob’s Sheep and bring them home to Israel. They immediately encountered seemingly insurmountable resistance from government agencies. Transferring livestock between countries is strictly regulated by the the World Organization for Animal Health and there are no channels for transferring livestock from Canada to Israel. The complicated process requires a specially outfitted plane to transport the sheep and after the period of quarantine upon arriving, they would need pasture and a barn.
In desperation, they turned to Rabbi Amram Vaknin, a well known mystic from Ashdod. When Rabbi Vaknin saw photographs and videos of the sheep, he was thrilled, noting the Biblical significance of their speckled appearance, conforming to the story in Genesis in which Jacob took the speckled sheep as his wages from Laban.
And the flocks conceived at the sight of the rods, and the flocks brought forth streaked, speckled, and spotted. Genesis 30:39
“Rav Vaknin stated that the sheep have a special blessing on them from Jacob in the Bible,” Gil told Breaking Israel News.
The blessing seems to be working, as obstacles that stood in their way for so long have suddenly disappeared. After nearly a year of being turned down by the Israeli Agricultural Ministry, the Israeli Embassy in Canada intervened on behalf of the sheep, and the ministry has decided, for the first time in history, to allow livestock to be imported from Canada.
Israeli airline El-Al has generously decided to subsidize most of the cost of flying the entire herd of 130 sheep from Canada to Israel.
Rabbi Vakhnin insisted on special treatment for the sheep after they arrive in Israel.
“The animals must not be slaughtered for meat enterprise, but must be an animal of blessing. We can use their wool,” Gil related. “The rabbi said that the shofar horn from the Jacob Sheep is the most holy in the whole world.”
Rabbi Vaknin told the Lewinskys that bringing the sheep to Israel will be an essential part of the geula (redemption), so important, in fact, that he personally wants to take part in it.
“He wants to be there to witness and bless the sheep’s arrival,” Gil told Breaking Israel News. “He also wants to bless the field that the sheep will be on in the future Heritage Park.”
Limiting their future income to showcasing the herd led the Lewinskys to the Golan, which, as their ancient birthplace, is uniquely suited for the sheep. According to the Bible, the sheep originated in the fields of Jacob’s father-in-law, Laban. He lived in Padan Aram, Mesopotamia, or what is now Syria, adjacent to the Golan.
“The soil is especially rich in selenium and cobalt,” explained Jenna. “In Canada we needed to give them injections to supplement their food. We won’t need to do that in the Golan.”
The Lewinskys are on a holy mission but struggle with many practical concerns. The sheep must have sufficient fencing and barn facilities and theft of livestock is a serious problem in most parts of Israel. They have begun a crowdfunding campaign to help with the expensive process.
The return of the Jews to the land of Israel has brought about many unexpected changes, making the desert a blooming, high-tech oasis in the Middle East. Jacob’s Sheep, with their undeniably Biblical appearance, are another step in the process of returning the Holy Land to its original condition.