Some of Jacob’s sheep on the grass in Canada, awaiting return to Israel. (Photo: Friends of the Jacobs Sheep website)
He said, “What shall I give you?” Jacob said, “You shall not give me anything. If you will do this for me, I will again pasture your flock and keep it: let me pass through all your flock today, removing from it every speckled and spotted sheep and every black lamb, and the spotted and speckled among the goats, and they shall be my wages. So my honesty will answer for me later, when you come to look into my wages with you. Every one that is not speckled and spotted among the goats and black among the lambs, if found with me, shall be counted stolen.” Laban said, “Good! Let it be as you have said.” But that day Laban removed the male goats that were striped and spotted, and all the female goats that were speckled and spotted, every one that had white on it, and every lamb that was black, and put them in the charge of his sons. And he set a distance of three days’ journey between himself and Jacob, and Jacob pastured the rest of Laban’s flock.– Genesis 30:31-36 (ESV)
Evidence doesn’t always come out of the ground or from an ancient building. Sometimes it can be seen in creation and living things around us; like a particular breed of sheep. Jacob sheep look quite different than the image that comes to mind for most people when they hear the word “sheep.” More than likely, what comes to mind is a group of plump animals bleating on the hillside of a green English pasture, with solid white coats.
Like the description in the Genesis 30, Jacob sheep are piebald (white with colored spots). They are also a smaller breed than the breeds that are widely raised today. This rare breed is also polycerate (multi-horned); they may have from two to six horns, but most commonly four. Several organizations have formed to keep this heirloom breed pure and register animals to document lineage. The Jacobs sheep in North America are thought to be closest to their ancestors as they have not undergone extensive cross-breeding and selective breeding like the flocks in other countries, like the British Jacob’s.
Jacob sheep are the only breed to produce spots and speckles in offspring. (Courtesy of Paul and Molly Baker)
(Courtesy of Paul and Molly Baker)
Then Jacob took fresh sticks of poplar and almond and plane trees, and peeled white streaks in them, exposing the white of the sticks. He set the sticks that he had peeled in front of the flocks in the troughs, that is, the watering places, where the flocks came to drink. And since they bred when they came to drink, the flocks bred in front of the sticks and so the flocks brought forth striped, speckled, and spotted. And Jacob separated the lambs and set the faces of the flocks toward the striped and all the black in the flock of Laban. He put his own droves apart and did not put them with Laban’s flock. Whenever the stronger of the flock were breeding, Jacob would lay the sticks in the troughs before the eyes of the flock, that they might breed among the sticks, but for the feebler of the flock he would not lay them there. So the feebler would be Laban’s, and the stronger Jacob’s. Thus the man increased greatly and had large flocks, female servants and male servants, and camels and donkeys. – Genesis 30:37-43 (ESV)
Believed to have developed in the ancient Mideast region and be an important part of the Israelites’ culture, traditions and faith; Jacob’s sheep have been absent from Israel for nearly 2,000 years, until recently. It is believed that as the Israelite people migrated, they brought their flocks with them. For unknown reasons the Jacob’s sheep population dwindled in Israel.
The distinctive 4-horned variation of Jacob sheep (Courtesy of Paul and Molly Baker )
(Courtesy of Paul and Molly Baker)
There are prophecies in the Bible about a Jewish return to the Promised Land after a long exile. While those prophecies don’t mention sheep specifically, there is a precedent for flocks being essential to the Jewish return to Israel. Before the Plague of Darkness, Moses demanded that Pharaoh let the Hebrews leave Egypt to go into the desert to serve God. Pharaoh agreed, but said that they needed to leave their flocks behind. Moses declared that they would not leave any animal behind. They were unsure of what types or number of sacrifices they would be required to bring. (Genesis 10:24-26)
As reported in Breaking Israel News, breed aficionados believe that “the sheep originated in the north of Biblical Israel, and were sold to Egypt. By way of North Africa and Morocco, the sheep made their way to Spain, and finally to Britain, where they were favored by landed gentry for their distinctive spotted appearance and four horns.” And then later brought to North America by collectors.
Gil and Jenna Lewinsky feed a flock of Jacob’s sheep. (Photo: Courtesy of Gil and Jenna Lewinsky)
Today Jacob sheep are kept as pets, on hobby farms and also used as guard animals to protect a farm from theft or vandalism. They will also defend other livestock against predators. The story of the Lewinsky’s diligent efforts to raise up a strong flock is particularly exciting and thought provoking!
Gill and Jenna Lewinsky’s story starts in Canada. This Jewish couple was living in British Columbia. According to Breaking Israel News, Jenna worked for the Israeli foreign ministry and Gil was a journalist. Neither one of them had any farming or animal husbandry experience. However, after learning about Jacob’s sheep and “that the breed originated in the Holy Land but no longer found there, they were inspired to take on the mission.” The Lewinsky’s decided that they would work to return Jacob sheep to Israel. They bought a herd of 70 and began a not-for-profit farm. All along, they had a sense that the sheep had a greater purpose than producing wool and milk.
As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. And I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land. And I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the ravines, and in all the inhabited places of the country. – Ezekiel 34:12-13 (ESV)
Just this past winter on November 30th, after a process that had many roadblocks with each one faithfully knocked down, a three-year journey ended with the arrival of the flock and the Lewinsky’s in Israel. In total 119 sheep made the journey. The number of sheep chosen specifically, “The number 119 is seven times 17,” explained Gil. “The Gematria (Hebrew numerics) for the Hebrew word for ‘sacrifice’ (זבח) equals 17.” What’s more, “Seven is a complete natural cycle, or perfection,” indicating significance to each number in the equation. Another blessing was that all 119 sheep survived the journey and the rigorous tests given by the Department of Agriculture. Typically, about 12 percent of animals fail these tests.
“The sheep are for the Jews what the buffalo were for the Native Americans, but we forgot this” explained Gil to Breaking Israel News. “Not only do we use their milk and meat for food, but their skin is used to make Torah scrolls, their horns make shofars (horns blown for ritual purposes), and their wool is used to make tzitzit (ritual fringes). When the Torah tells us to bring sheep for a sacrifice in the Temple, these are the [very animals] it is speaking about.”
Tikva, member of the flock of Jacob’s sheep. (Photo: Courtesy of Gil and Jenna Lewinsky)
Once the Gil and Jenna decided that they wanted to bring the sheep to their holy land, it was the the help and blessing of Rabbi Amram Vaknin that they found success. Upon seeing images and video of the sheep, he noted the biblical importance of these sheep. Gil told Breaking Israel News that, “Ray Vaknin stated that the sheep have a special blessing on them from Jacob in the Bible.” Rabbi Vaknin guided the Lewinsky’s on the treatment of the sheep and what they would be permitted to do in regards to income, per the Torah.
With the instructions that they could only use their wool and also the horns to make shofar horns, but not slaughter the sheep for meat enterprise… The Lewinsky’s plan to establish a park for the sheep in the Golan Heights. Rabbi Vaknin was so joyful of the sheep’s return that he joined the Lewinsky’s upon the arrival in Israel and blessed each sheep.
Israeli mystic Rav Amram Vaknin kisses and blesses Jacob’s Sheep who have at last returned to their ancestral homeland. (Photo Credit: Adam Alioa)
Although the journey wasn’t an easy one and was even met with a storm that caused a few to perish while in quarantine, everyone is hopeful and gladdened to see the Jacob sheep prospering. The flock survived in Canada, but back on soil that is native to their breed, they will no longer need the nutritional supplements that kept them healthy there. “The soil is especially rich in selenium and cobalt,” explained Jenna to Breaking Israel News. “In Canada we needed to give them injections to supplement their food. We won’t need to do that in the Golan.”
“The sheep have traveled across the world and back again, searching for their shepherd on two continents,” as reported in Breaking Israel News. “Genetic tests have shown that this breed is originally from the Middle East, and Rabbi Vakhnin told the Lewinsky’s that he knew these sheep were descended from Jacob’s original flock. Jacob’s sheep have returned and it is time for the blessing they bring to be revealed.”
(Photo: Courtesy of Gil and Jenna Lewinsky)
Other families have felt led to raise up this special breed of sheep. Tim Mahoney visited a family farm in Tennessee to hear their story and to investigate the nature of these sheep firsthand for his next film in the Patterns of Evidence series. The next episode will focus the journey of the Israelites out of Egypt and across the sea recorded in Exodus 12-15 and Numbers 33. There have been many different proposals put forward for the route of the Exodus, and those ideas hinge on questions about how far and fast the Israelites could have traveled. Many have claimed that large flocks of sheep would have severely limited the Israelites range of travel. Rather than just reading about the different ideas on this matter, Tim decided to go see the sheep himself and talk to people who work with them.
Tim Mahoney Setting up a shot of Molly Baker and the sheep, with Silas Baker assisting. (Courtesy of Paul and Molly Baker)
After navigating the winding roads of a Tennessee hollow, Tim Mahoney and Steve Law arrived at Springrock Farm owned by the Baker family. There is a common thread in the Baker’s story with the Lewinsky family. Before acquiring Jacob sheep they had never raised or cared for a flock of sheep and they quickly became enamored. The Baker family welcomed the Patterns of Evidence team to the farm and since their children are budding filmmakers, they even assisted in the shooting. After sharing their knowledge and experience with Jacob’s sheep, they shared their home.
Ezra Baker filming a scene after his sisters Lucy, Daisy and Eliza drove the sheep into position. (Courtesy of Paul and Molly Baker)
Much insight was gained about these animals that have uniquely adapted to the harsh conditions of the Middle East. Could their attributes be one key in finding evidence of the journey of the Israelites out of Egypt? Look for Jacob’s sheep in the upcoming film, with announcements on progress to come in the months ahead.