Rabbi Yonah Bookstein, an Orthodox Rabbi in Los Angeles, pleads with the Jewish community to stop using chickens for the kapparot ritual. He says using chickens for kapparot violates four different Torah laws: tzaar ba’alei hayyim, creating nevailah, ba’al tashchit, and dina d’malchuta dina.
I know I’m probably going to offend some people, probably Jewish people, but when I saw this, I felt it necessary to make the information public on my blog. I generally support the right of the Jewish community to define and practice their own traditions, but as Rabbi Bookstein points out, not only does this practice directly contradict the Torah, but it is obviously cruel to the animals and has no hope of atoning for sins or benefiting the community in any way.
I had this conversation with my Pastor last week. He lived in Israel for fifteen years, so he’s witnessed this practice many times.
But if you are a Christian or are otherwise not familiar with this practice, you may be asking what Kapparot is and what’s the big deal. Jewish Virtual Library is just one place that provides the answer:
Kapparot is a custom in which the sins of a person are symbolically transferred to a fowl. It is practiced by some Jews shortly before Yom Kippur. First, selections from Isaiah 11:9, Psalms 107:10, 14, and 17-21, and Job 33:23-24 are recited; then a rooster (for a male) or a hen (for a female) is held above the person’s head and swung in a circle three times, while the following is spoken: “This is my exchange, my substitute, my atonement; this rooster (or hen) shall go to its death, but I shall go to a good, long life, and to peace.” The hope is that the fowl, which is then donated to the poor for food, will take on any misfortune that might otherwise occur to the one who has taken part in the ritual, in punishment for his or her sins.
You can click on the link and read more of the details, and it’s to the credit of the creators of this content on Jewish Virtual Library that they list the significant objections to this Yom Kippur tradition, which does not appear in either the Torah or the Talmud.
The following video is about four minutes long and I think Rabbi Yonah Bookstein makes his case well. Be warned that some of the images in the video are graphic.
Addendum: September 11, 2013: According to VirtualJerusalem.com, there is a small but growing movement among Orthodox Rabbis and others in the Jewish community protesting this practice:
Last week, the recently elected Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Israel, David Lau, warned kapparot organizers that the failure to treat animals decently is a violation of religious law.
And a number of other prominent rabbis have expressed concern that the ritual, in which chickens are hauled into dense urban centers by the truckload, makes it virtually impossible to adhere to the principle of “tzaar baalei chayim,” which prohibits inflicting suffering on animals.
Given that there are other appropriate methods of satisfying the kapparot requirement, such as waving money instead of chickens, it seems more reasonable and more in keeping with Jewish tradition to finally set aside the practice of using poultry.