"I've noticed that quite a lot of people who are prominent in the animal liberation movement are Jews. Maybe we are simply not prepared to see the powerful hurting the weak." --Peter Singer (Author, Animal Liberation)


Kapparot: Unnecessary Torture of Chickens

After I scrapped my original plan to write a comprehensive analysis of kapparot, it looks like I can't get away without doing at least a short commentary. In response to my last post, a blogger inquired:

I'm sorry, what is the problem with kaparot? The chickens are usually slaughtered and given to the poor. Is it really abusing a chicken to twirl it around your head? I personally think its a silly custom, but I'm not sure why it gets so much static from animal rights activists.

I do indeed think that swinging a rooster or a hen around you in a circle three times is an abusive act. If you wouldn't do it to a dog or a cat, why is it okay to do it to a bird? Then you're killing the animal--all this so that you can pawn off your sins on another living being before passing him or her (but somehow not the transgressed sins?) on to the poor. This article delves into the issue of kapparot in much greater depth: http://www.jewishveg.com/schwartz/kapparot.html.

As for the custom of giving the animal's flesh to the poor, this is covering up for an unnecessary evil:

1) The common substitution of using money instead of live animals is practiced by many Torah-observant Jews, and thus allows you to give at least the "price" of the fowl, if not more, as a charitable donation to the poor. Humane alternative found, problem solved.

2) Too many times, the noble intentions of practitioners to donate food to the poor don't come to fruition, i.e., there is a "surplus" of birds. In The Jewish Press earlier this month, Rabbi Yaakov Klass described horrors at a kapparot ceremony last year: "Someone had set up a 'kaporos' operation on a prominent avenue in my community. The chickens were being slaughtered rapidly on site, and due to the sheer volume, were being thrown into a garbage pail right before my eyes." Perhaps the greatest mishap this year was when the ASPCA had to step in to rescue a couple of hundred chickens ("unused leftovers" from a kapparot ceremony) who had been abandoned to starve to death.

In the post-Temple era, we no longer live in an age of animal sacrifice. Considering that kapparot is not even mentioned in the Torah or the Talmud, there is no Biblical justification for this cruel act. Not causing unnecessary animal suffering (tsa'ar ba'alei chayim) is far more consistent with Jewish teachings. The more cases we see of kapparot observers absolutely disregarding the welfare of thse animals, the more we must doubt the legitimacy of an already ethically suspect ritual.


  • At 10/30/2005 7:40 PM, Blogger respondingtojblogs said…

    Considering that kapparot is not even mentioned in the Torah or the Talmud, there is no Biblical justification for this cruel act. Not causing unnecessary animal suffering (tsa'ar ba'alei chayim) is far more consistent with Jewish teachings.

    But then it's only cruel if the chicken is harmed beyond the extent it normally is when it is slaughtered, and therefore permissible, no?

  • At 10/30/2005 8:11 PM, Blogger heebnvegan said…

    No, I don't see why I have to choose "the lesser of two evils."

    Certainly, if the harm inflicted is greater than "normal," that's a problem.

    But I also think that slitting open birds' throats while they're still fully conscious is causing unnecessary animal suffering. It's suffering in that they feel the knife going into their throats in the seconds (ideally) before they're killed, and they feel fear as they see all the other birds suffering the same fate. And that's not even going into all the unspeakable cruelty they experience on factory farms (e.g., debeaking). And it's unnecessary because we can get by healthfully without eating animals.

    If someone is asked whether they're vegetarian and they say, "I just eat a little chicken," I think "That's right, you eat a defenseless, tortured little chicken." And when Isaac Bashevis Singer was asked if he was vegetarian for health reasons, he would say "Yes, for the health of the chicken."

  • At 10/30/2005 10:17 PM, Blogger respondingtojblogs said…

    I'm just not sure if rabbinic Judaism supports the proposition that killing an animal for food is impermissible. And if it permissible, than if Kapparot were conducted in a humane manner, there should be no problem.

    Obviously you have to accept a priori that killing an animal is okay.

  • At 10/31/2005 7:51 AM, Blogger heebnvegan said…

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  • At 10/31/2005 7:52 AM, Blogger heebnvegan said…

    I do agree that killing an animal is "permissable" as per rabbinic Judaism. But the question is not just what is minimally permissable, but what is preferable. I oppose the unnecessary suffering (tsa'ar ba'alei chayim) brought about by killing an animal and the entire process of raising that animal before slaughter.

    Part of our disagreement may be because we're talking exclusively in abstract terms. Please go to MeetYourMeat.com to watch the short video. Some of those slaugherhouse abuses might be prevented by shechita, but the ones that animals suffer on factory farms and in transport are alike. And kosher slaugherhouses are far from perfect, as evidenced by an undercover investigation last year at the world's leading glatt kosher slaughterhouse: www.goveg.com/feat/agriprocessors/.

  • At 11/03/2005 12:53 PM, Blogger Jewish Wellsprings said…

    This is an edifying blog on tsar ba'alei chayim and conscious eating.

    Being diagnosed with cancer deepened my awareness of conscious eating, and the right to life and sanctity of life of all sentient beings, not just the human ilk.

  • At 11/04/2005 3:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    this ancient ritual should be abolished. what right do these people have to pass there sins on to an innocent animal. this is just another disgusting (in the name of religion - evil). any living ceature no matter how small has every right to exist. And with respect. To bad people really dont act like animals.

  • At 11/07/2005 6:23 PM, Anonymous Eric said…

    What's with you going 15 days with no updates?

  • At 11/07/2005 6:46 PM, Blogger heebnvegan said…

    Sorry to the heebnvegan faithful! I've been able to create new posts for more than a week! I contacted blogspot a week ago for tech help and still haven't heard back from them. I suppose it's time to send a follow-up e-mail.

    In the interim, please check out www.JewishVeg.com or www.GoVeg.com :-)

  • At 11/07/2005 6:46 PM, Blogger heebnvegan said…

    that last post should've said "unable to create new posts" :-)


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