age of anxiety
Apocalypse Watch

A group is advancing a plan to breed red heifers in Israel, according to a piece in the Times of Israel. That’s much more important than it may sound: Both Christian and Jewish holy books appear to predict the construction of a new Jewish Temple before the world ends. One of the obstacles has been that the ashes of a red heifer “without blemish or spot” are needed for certain ceremonies connected with it. It appears now that some embryos with the right genes are ready to go—if suitably kosher farms can be found for them in Israel. Times of Israel:

Red heifers were slaughtered as sacrifices in the Temple and the ashes were used in purification rituals, especially for people who had become impure through contact with dead bodies.

The Temple Institute is a 28-year-old organization that has built more than 70 artifacts that can be used when a Third Temple is built. Its latest project is to import frozen embryos from Red Angus cattle in the United States to create a herd of kosher red heifers in Israel. […]

In order to create an environment that will sufficiently protect the cows and safeguard their ritually kosher status, [Temple Institute co-founder Rabbi Chaim] Richman and his supporters toured a number of farms in Israel, ironing out the details of the layout and infrastructure to minimize the possibility of harm.

We’re not reporting this because TAI is in the doomsday prediction business. Indeed, the Temple Institute itself denies that its motivation is bring about the end times—as the Times piece reports, “Richman said that the organization’s focus on building ritual objects ready for use in the Third Temple does not have a messianic agenda and does not aim to hasten an eschatological end of days.”

But projects to supply the Third Temple invariably will have eschatological overtones for some people, and the story reminds us that the politics of the 21st century is increasingly driven by messianic longings and apocalyptic fears. With anxieties about nuclear apocalypse, runaway global warming, the rise of intelligent machine overlords, and many fears about other threats circulating in human imaginations, we are living in a time when humanity’s ultimate nightmares threaten to come to life. At the same time, scientific progress offers continuing hope for blessings, ranging from universal prosperity to greatly extended lifespans. The human mind bounces like a ping pong ball between hope and fear.

The most important political consequence of this radical uncertainty are drives toward radicalism like the ones we see upending both the Shi’a and Sunni worlds in Islam. And Israel is not exempt; the cells of religious fanatics like those taken into custody this week are as driven by the emotions of our age of millenarian upheaval as the ISIS fighters just a few tens of miles to their north.

We live in interesting times.

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