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Israel's Red Heifer

(SNS News Service -Israel-5/29-AP)

Some claim she is a harbinger of the Messiah. Some call for her destruction. Others find the attention she is getting ridiculous.
Ten-month-old Melody, believed to be the first red heifer born in the Holy Land in two millenniums, seems happy just lying around in the shade. But the debate over her theological import is one of the more bizarre signs of the growing rupture between religious and secular Israelis.

"The red heifer is one of the most important signs that we are living in a special time," says Gershon Solomon, head of a group dedicated to rebuilding the ancient Jewish Temple, destroyed by the Romans .

In ancient times, the ashes of a red heifer were mixed with spring water to purify high priests before they entered the Temple. There are fears that some groups might interpret Melody's birth as a sign the time is right to rebuild the Temple on the site that now houses some of the holiest shrines in Islam.

Asked whether his group advocated that, Solomon would say only that he believed the Dome of the Rock and al-Aksa Mosque could be dismantled and moved to Mecca -- a move that could hurt if not destroy prospects for regional peace.
Even though mainstream religious groups have not rallied around the cow, some secular Israelis see her as a threat.
"The potential harm from this heifer is far greater than the destructive properties of a terrorist bomb," the liberal Haaretz newspaper wrote recently, recommending Melody be shot.

Menachem Friedman, an expert on religious affairs at Bar-Ilan University, said Melody's birth created "a very delicate situation."
"We don't know how radical groups .. will use it," he told The Associated Press. "People are looking for those signs, and talking seriously about it."

Melody's birth 10 months ago caused a flurry of media interest, coinciding with a religious revival and coming shortly after an election in which religious parties posted a record showing.
Shmaria Shore, the rabbi of this agricultural village (Kfar Menachem) in northern Israel, said hundreds of have flocked here to catch a glimpse of Melody.

Shore said pure red heifers seem to have died out in Israel since the post-temple period, and that it is rare to see a red heifer without white or black spots. He took pains to point out that Melody, who is a darkish red, may not be the genuine article because of several imperfections.

Shore, who immigrated to Israel from New Haven, Conn. 24 years ago, hopped into Melody's pen and, magnifying lens in hand, coaxed her over. "Here, you see some white hairs," he said, pointing to the tail. "And here -- her eyelashes only start off as red, but turn to black!"

Melody's mother is from a group of visually unremarkable black-and-white cows penned in down the hill at Kfar Chasidim; but she was artificially inseminated with sperm taken from an anonymous bull in Switzerland.