'South Park' and the Jewish Red Heifer Tale of Armageddon

Cartoon Uses 'Ginger Cow' To Herald Era of World Peace

south park

By Elon Gilad

Published November 13, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(Haaretz) — South Park’s latest season premiered on Comedy Central on Wednesday, and started with an epic prank pulled by Eric Cartman.

He announces he has found a ginger cow (spoiler alert!), though in fact he merely dyed its coat.

The news spreads like wildfire. Rabbis fly in from Israel to South Park to claim the cow, which they need to rebuild the Temple and induce the coming of the Messiah. But when they get there, they find that Christians and Muslims, to whom the red heifer is also holy, had arrived first. The three religions prepare to war over the cow, which they see as portending Armageddon.

Just as the world is about to come to an end in a conflagration of holy war, the sides agree to sacrifice the red heifer in Jerusalem together. Members of the three religions unite in the Holy City at an open-air concert by Van Halen in preparation for the cow’s sacrifice. We are told that world peace has arrived.

This all comes to an end and war resumes when the crowd is told that the red heifer appeared miraculously and wasn’t dyed “by a child with a small penis” as the prophecy had foretold.

So it is in South Park. But in actuality, the red heifer really is an element in the three religions; it is central to Jewish belief and, according to some traditions, is key to the coming of the end of days. However, the ritual of the red-colored bovine is probably rooted in misinterpretation.

First, sacrifice and burn the cow

We first hear of the red heifer in the Book of Numbers. “This is the ordinance of the law which the LORD hath commanded, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, that they bring thee a red heifer without spot, wherein is no blemish, and upon which never came yoke.” (19:2)

This unblemished bovine, the text continues, needs to be ritually slaughtered, burnt to ashes together with cedar wood, hyssop and scarlet wool. The ashes are then collected, mixed with pure water and voilà! You’ve got mei nida - purifying water.

The ancient Hebrews were profoundly preoccupied with spiritual purity, and the worst kind of uncleanliness was that incurred by handling the dead. A seven-day ritual was needed to purify oneself, which included twice being sprinkled with the purifying water.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • According to a new poll, 75% of Israeli Jews oppose intermarriage.
  • Will Lubavitcher Rabbi Moshe Wiener be the next Met Council CEO?
  • Angelina Jolie changed everything — but not just for the better:
  • Prime Suspect? Prime Minister.
  • Move over Dr. Ruth — there’s a (not-so) new sassy Jewish sex-therapist in town. Her name is Shirley Zussman — and just turned 100 years old.
  • From kosher wine to Ecstasy, presenting some of our best bootlegs:
  • Sara Kramer is not the first New Yorker to feel the alluring pull of the West Coast — but she might be the first heading there with Turkish Urfa pepper and za’atar in her suitcase.
  • About 1 in 40 American Jews will get pancreatic cancer (Ruth Bader Ginsberg is one of the few survivors).
  • At which grade level should classroom discussions include topics like the death of civilians kidnapping of young Israelis and sirens warning of incoming rockets?
  • Wanted: Met Council CEO.
  • “Look, on the one hand, I understand him,” says Rivka Ben-Pazi, a niece of Elchanan Hameiri, the boy that Henk Zanoli saved. “He had a family tragedy.” But on the other hand, she said, “I think he was wrong.” What do you think?
  • How about a side of Hitler with your spaghetti?
  • Why "Be fruitful and multiply" isn't as simple as it seems:
  • William Schabas may be the least of Israel's problems.
  • You've heard of the #IceBucketChallenge, but Forward publisher Sam Norich has something better: a #SoupBucketChallenge (complete with matzo balls!) Jon Stewart, Sarah Silverman & David Remnick, you have 24 hours!
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.