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red heifer

in Jewish history, unblemished, never-before-yoked animal that was slaughtered and burned to restore ritual purity to those who had become unclean through contact with the dead (Numbers 19). Certain spoils of war and captives were also purified in this way. After the blood of the red heifer had been sprinkled by a priest, the carcass was totally immolated with cedarwood, hyssop, and a scarlet thread. The ashes were then carried to a clean spot and mixed with fresh water in an earthen vessel. A sprinkling of the mixture restored purity to all who had taken part in the ritual.

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Encyclopedia Britannica, 2008. Encyclopedia Britannica Online.
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