Virus claims half of ‘Jacob’s sheep’ flock, mentioned in Bible

After a multi-year saga to bring a heritage breed of sheep mentioned in the Bible from Canada to Israel, shepherds Gil and Jenna Lewinsky lost 55 percent of their sheep to blue tongue virus, a mosquito-borne virus that affects livestock, Jenna Lewinsky tells The Times of Israel on Sunday.

The total death toll is in the dozens, as the flock that made it to Israel numbered over 120.

Bringing the sheep from Canada to Israel took diplomatic negotiations between the countries as Israel generally does not allow importation of livestock due to concerns over viruses, including blue tongue virus.

All of the “Jacob’s sheep” breed were given a clean bill of health before leaving Canada on an $80,000 airlift operation and underwent a stormy quarantine upon arriving in Israel.

Jenna Lewinsky says the couple is “devastated” by the deaths. “It hit every single sheep, but half of them were able to survive,” she says. “It has been hard because we love every sheep.”

The couple hoped to start an educational farm to celebrate the Jacob’s sheep breed, whose origins can be genetically traced back to the Middle East some 5,000 years ago. The sheep are characterized by “spots and speckles,” the kind of sheep that Jacob took from Laban in Chapter 30 of the book of Genesis.

— Melanie Lidman

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