Flowing with over 7,000 married and undergraduate students, the Jewish community of Lakewood, New Jersey has become among the largest fortresses of Torah in the United States. Aside for being home to its illustrious Lakewood Yeshiva (or BMG), producing countless Torah scholars, Lakewood recently became host to another very important somebody… a parah adumah, or red heifer.

As we recently read in the weekly Torah reading, in ancient times a parah adumahwas necessary for the purpose of purifying people and utensils that had become ritually impure through contact with a human corpse. The Torah commands slaughtering a red heifer, burning the carcass, and then mixing the ashes with water. This water would then be sprinkled upon people or utensils that had come in contact with a human corpse so they may once again be allowed to enter the Bet Hamikdashand partake of sacrifices and other sacred food. The Torah instructs that the cow must be completely red. Such cows are extremely rare, and the Talmud tells that large sums of money would be paid for them, because the birth of a red heifer is so unusual.

Upon learning of this recent discovery, Community Magazine obtained an exclusive interview with the owner, curious to find out whatever we could about this remarkable event. We were happy to have left deeply inspired, gaining far more than we came for.

From the Ashes of Auschwitz
to the Jersey Farmlands

On the heels of World War II, David and Rose Cellar, two survivors of the horrors of Auschwitz made their way to the United States, where they settled and began raising a family on a remote farm in Roosevelt, New Jersey. It was a new world for these survivors, and farming was all they had in common with the Western world. In 1961, the family relocated to Lakewood, where they continued their work in farming.

Their son, Herbert (or ‘Herb’ for short), left his hometown in Jersey to live in Israel, and then moved to Florida. Later, in 2003, Herb decided to move back to his native New Jersey, where he began giving back to his community by continually supporting several of its local charities, such as Chai Lifeline, SCHI, Bikur Holim, and others. He also purchased his own piece of rural property in Howell, New Jersey, on the outer edge of Lakewood. An established and respected businessman, Herb owns a vast property that is home to several animals, reliving his farming experiences of his youth.

 A Remarkable Discovery

Among the animals that graze in Mr. Celler’s farm are several cows, one of which he discovered to be pregnant. Unsure of when the cow was due to give birth, Herb kept a close eye, and immediately called the veterinarian once it seemed that labor wasunderway.

As Bonnie, already a mother of two, endured what had become a not-so-smooth labor, Mr. Celler noticed that the front hooves that had begun protruding were red, and were soon followed by a completely red head. Mr. Celler was a former student of Bezalel Hebrew Day School, and no stranger to the subject of the red heifer; and, as he explains, “I had a feeling.” He immediately instructed the vet to let Bonnie give birth naturally (since a heifer that is birthed through its mother’s belly, or Yotze Dofen,is halachically disqualified).

“What if there’s a problem?!” the doctor asked.

“We’ll deal with that then.”

After delivery, the exhausted mother bit off the umbilical cord, and her new calf stood up for the very first time. She was completely red.

Although the proud owner felt the young calf may indeed be a genuine parah adumah, he chose to keep his newest addition a secret.

Unlike the other animals on his farm, the red calf was never made to perform labor, in accordance with the Torah’s commandthat the parah adumahused for purification must have never been used for labor. She was left simply to graze, eat, and sleep. Since birth, she has never been touched by man as to ensure that she never sustains even a slight blemish, which would disqualify her for use as a parah adumah.

The Word is Out!

When the cow was 15 months old, Mr. Celler began sharing the news with members of the Lakewood community. Understandably skeptical, people wondered, a parah adumah? Just minutes from their own homes?! For a while, the news was nothing more than a cute rumor for children to cheerfully yap about.

As time passed, however, the news continued to spread, and many began to take more seriously the possibility that a real red heifer was being raised in their midst. One week before the calf’s birthday,
Mr. Celler placed a call to four rabbis to tell them about his red cow. Realizing that the birth of a parah adumahmay herald the imminent arrival of the Mashiah, upon which a red heifer would be needed for purification, several distinguished rabbis paid a visit to Herb’s farm this past January to inspect the unusual animal.

With magnifying glasses in hand, the rabbis crawled along the ground beside the 500-pound animal to meticulously inspect every inch of its body.Upon nearing completion, they were astounded to have verified the presence of all the simanim(properties) required by the Torah. The heifer had a red nose, red hooves, and red within its sclera (white part of the eyes), and even its horns were red. Any white hairs, or just two black hairs within a one-inch proximity to each other, would have disqualified the cow, but it was perfect. The cow was entirely red, it had never been forced to do labor, it was never pricked, and its body was perfectly unblemished. Herb’s cow is a true, authentic parah adumah.

“A Gift From Gd”

Nearly overnight, the cow became a celebrity. Over 40 prominent rabbis have since visited the cow. These include HaRav Dovid Feinstein, shlita, who told Mr. Celler, “Maybe you’ll be zoche[privileged] to use this cow when Mashiahwill come.” Throughout Hol HaMoedPesach, over 30,000 visitors traveled from near and far to see what may just be the first red heifer in some 2000 years.

Describing the throngs who have flocked to witness this historic spectacle, Mr. Celler says, “It’s just been non-stop!”

Among the many visitors, emails, and phone calls Mr. Celler’s received, one particular fellow from New York took extraordinary interestin the cow, offering a staggering $1,000,000 in exchange for the animal. Mr. Celler refused. When asked how he could refuse such a lucrative offer, he gave an inspiring response.

“She’s not for sale. This is a gift from Gd, you don’t sell a gift from Gd. When he asked what I’m going to do with her, I told him I’m going to be the first in line when Mashiahcomes!”

In the meantime, the cow spends its days grazing on Mr. Celler’s farmland, gated by an electrical fence. Security cameras and motion sensors surround the vicinity, and members of Mr. Celler’s home are on constant high alert. These precautions, however, will not be required for much longer.

Mr. Celler has made the decision to give the cow “as a gift to the people of the world,” and is donating the cow to the rabbis and authorities of Israel, where it will be closely guarded until the time of the final redemption, when it will, please Gd, be used for purification. Should she pass her final inspection (to be performed by an unnamed rabbi from Israel), she will be placed on a boat and shipped to the Holy Land.

There is, however, another hurdle that needs to be overcome. In the times of the Bet Hamikdash, the kohenassigned to burn a new parah adumahwas first sprinkled with ashes that had been made from the previous parah adumah, as an extra precaution to ensure that the new parah adumahashes would be pure. According to some opinions, the newer ashes were always mixed together with a combination of previous ashes. The question then becomes, if Mr.Celler’s cow is indeed a parah adumahthat will, please Gd, be used in the Third Temple, where are the ashes of the previous heifers needed to prepare the new supply of ashes?

In recent years, several individuals and groups have embarked upon numerous expeditions, most of them centered on a particular location in Israel, where it is believed that the ashes of the red heifer may have been hidden. Most of the evidence for this belief comes from a particular interpretation of passages in the Copper Scroll, one of the well-known and most cryptic Dead Sea Scrolls, discovered in one of the Qumran caves in 1952.

Now, plans are underway for a new expedition to a location in Jordan where the ashes are believed to be. Mr. Celler tells us that the Jordanian Government has granted the group permission to explore the site in question.

Heralding Our Redemption

Our tradition teaches that from the time of Moshe Rabbenu until the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 C.E., a total of just nine cows were burned for the preparation of the purification waters.  The first was burned under the authority of Moshe himself, and the second was overseen by the prophet Ezra, the religious leader at the beginning of the Second Commonwealth. Seven more cows were needed over the course of the Second Temple period. The names of the kohanim who prepared them are recorded in the Mishnah.1The Rambam (Maimonides) presents this historical record in his commentary to the Mishnah, and concludes by writing, “…and the 10th red heifer will be prepared by the king, the Mashiah, may he be revealed speedily, amen, may it be Gd’s will.”

So, could this be it? Does this mean Mashiahis right around the corner?

Hashem tells us through the prophet Yeshayahu (60:22), “…I am the Lord, in its time I will hasten it” – referring to the final redemption. The word “be’itah”(“in its time”) indicates a specific date, which is predetermined from the beginning of creation. However, the term “ahishenah”(“I will hasten it”) indicates that the redemption may arrive earlier, before “it’s time.” The sages therefore explained the pasukto mean, “In its time – it will come; if, however, you are meritorious –
I will hasten that time.”2That is to say, if we are worthy of Mashiah, then itwill come right away, even before the predetermined date.3Our rabbis have taught that we can accelerate the arrival of Mashiahby repenting4, keeping Shabbat5, learning Torah6, giving charity7and maintaining unity among Am Yisrael.8

Thus, while the news of this remarkable discovery is certainly exciting, it is important to remember that it is up to us to hasten the coming of Mashiah. May he come speedily and in our days, amen!

End Notes:

1.Masechet Parah.

2.Sanhedrin 98a; Yerushalmi, Ta’anit 1:1.

3. Zohar Hadash, Tikunim 95b.

4.Devarim 30:2.

5.Shemot Rabbah 25:12; Yerushalmi, Ta’anit 1:10.

6.Zohar 3:270.

7.Eliyahu Zuta, ch. 1; Shabbat 139a; Rambam, Hilchot Matenot Aniyim 10:1.

8.Bereshit Rabbah 98:23.