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A few years ago, as I was researching animal abuses for my book Bleating Hearts, I learned of a Jewish “religious tradition”* known as kapparot (also spelled kaparos, kaporos, or kapores), which is observed during the High Holy Days, the 10-day period between Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement). The ceremony, practiced by Orthodox Jews, calls for a live rooster (for men) or hen (for women) to be swung in a circle three times above the practitioner’s head while he or she declares, “This is my exchange, this is my substitute, this is my atonement. This rooster/hen will go to its death while I will enter and proceed to a good, long life, and to peace.” The bird is then killed, and the animal’s flesh is supposedly donated to the poor, though some witnesses have seen the chickens simply thrown out with the trash. Kapparot is repeated in public spaces and outside synagogues throughout the world.

Most Jewish literature is careful to avoid using the word “sacrifice” when describing kapparot—preferring to call it “a symbolic act of atonement,” “a ceremony of expiation,” or, even more accurately, “a ritual slaughter.”

Whatever one calls it, the result is suffering and death for countless animals. Packed into small cages with other birds, chickens are routinely transported long distances and denied access to water and food. Karen Davis, founder of the non-profit United Poultry Concerns (UPC) and a longtime advocate for chickens and other domestic fowl, is particularly sensitive to the abuse these animals suffer during the High Holy Days. “The birds used in kapparot are sometimes sitting for as long as week without food or water, usually exposed to the elements,” she told me. “Whole flatbed trailers bring the chickens in to places like Brooklyn and the Bronx, where they just sit stacked in crates or cages before the actual ritual takes place. They’re being starved and dehydrated and left out in the rain. The birds are treated like rag dolls, like objects.”

With Rosh Hashanah approaching, UPC and other animal advocates are once again asking Orthodox Jewish leaders to embrace “compassionate kapparot” (a nice explanation of what this entails from Rabbi Jonathan Klein is here, even if he disses veganism) by replacing birds with bags of coins.

What You Can Do:

1. Sign the UPC petition (warning: graphic image of a dead chicken).

2. Contact the following Orthodox organizations and ask them to promote the use of money instead of chickens for kapparot ceremonies:

 

Orthodox Union

Attn: Mr. Allen I. Fagin, Executive Vice President

11 Broadway

New York, NY 10004

Phone: 212-563-4000

Email: afagin@ou.org

All OU executives, titles and email addresses are listed here:

http://www.ou.org/contact

 

Rabbinical Council of America

Attn: Rabbi Elazar Muskin

305 Seventh Avenue, 12th Floor

New York, NY 10001

Phone: 212-807-9000; 212-741-7522

Fax: 212-727-8452

Email: RabbiMuskin@gmail.com

Email office@rabbis.org

 

Vaad Harabonim of Flatbush

Attn: Rabbi Meir Goldberg

1206 Avenue J

Brooklyn, NY 11230

Phone: 718-951-8585

Email via this website: http://www.vaad.org/contact

 

The New York Board of Rabbis

Attn: Rabbi Joseph Potasnik

Executive Vice President

136 East 39th Street

New York, NY 10016

Phone: 212-983-3521

Fax: 212-983-3531

Email: jpotasnik@nybr.org

Email: info@nybr.org

 

Agudath Israel of America

Attn: Rabbi Shia Markowitz, CEO

Attn: Chaim Dovid Zwiebel, Executive Vice President

42 Broadway

New York, NY 10004

Phone: 212-797-9000

Email: news@agudathisrael.org

Email: dzwiebel@agudathisrael.org

 

Rabbinical Alliance of America

Attn: Rabbi Mendel Mirocznik

Executive Vice President

305 Church Avenue

Brooklyn, NY 11218

Phone: 212-242-6420; 718-532-8720

Email: rabbi@igud.us

 

3. Support United Poultry Concerns’ efforts to win a legal victory for the birds by making a tax-deductible donation to help with their mounting Court of Appeal costs. Please donate by check for “Kaporos” to: UPC, PO Box 150, Machipongo, VA 23405, or by credit or debit card to their Alliance to End Chicken Kaporos Fund by clicking on http://www.endchickensaskaporos.com/donate

 

*According to Jewish leaders, animal sacrifice as a tradition in Judaism ended with the destruction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem in the 6th century BCE.

 

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