May 29, 1997 in Nation/World

Melody Elates Some Israelis, Cows Others Birth Of Red Heifer Seen As Both Holy Sign And Threat

Associated Press

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,” said Gershon Solomon, head of a group dedicated to rebuilding the ancient Jewish Temple, destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D.

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 extremist 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 said.

© Copyright 1997 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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