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Red cow at center of Israeli holy row

red cow

Is Melody a sign of the Messiah or a threat to peace?

May 23, 1997
Web posted at: 11:34 p.m. EDT (0334 GMT)

KFAR HASIDIM, Israel (CNN) -- Grazing peacefully under the sun munching her cud, Melody seems oblivious to all the stir she is causing.

She may look like an ordinary -- albeit strangely-hued -- cow. But some people in Israel see her birth a year ago on a small farm as a momentous sign from God. Others fear this humble heifer might plunge the Middle East into another round of violence and war.

All because Melody's coat is red.

Under Jewish tradition from the era when the Holy Temple stood atop Jerusalem's Temple Mount, the ashes of a red heifer, butchered in her third year, are mixed with water and used to purify Jews before they can approach the temple.

The last temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D., and Melody is believed by many to be the first red heifer born in Israel since that time. So some devout Jews see her birth as a sign that the temple can now be rebuilt -- and that the coming of a promised Messiah is nigh.

That worries other Jews and Muslims in Israel, who fear that extremists may try to use the symbolism surrounding Melody to destroy Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem, which could trigger a war.

Map of Israel

The Wailing Wall, the last remnant of the destroyed temple, shares the Temple Mount with the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa mosques, one of Islam's holiest sites. There are some in Israel who advocate destroying those mosques to make way for a rebuilt temple.

Because of that, a number of influential Israeli journalists and leftist politicians have suggested that the potential harm that Melody represents is perhaps even more serious than the risk of terrorist bombs. They propose that the heifer be destroyed.

However, destruction might not be necessary, because any blemish inflicted on the cow might be enough to render Melody an unsuitable sacrifice.

So intense is the debate over Melody that she has an armed guard. There is also talk of trying to breed her in an attempt to create a herd of red cows that will insure the future of the purification ritual.

The local rabbi, Shmaria Shore, had to quash the idea that Melody might be the Messiah, pointing out that the Messiah could not be a cow.

Reuters contributed to this report.


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