Kapparot: Does Anyone Give a Cluck?
It seems that the latest spotlight to shine on kapparot might have actually effected some change. A large group of Orthodox rabbis met and urged "that all kapparos centers be prohibited from allowing chickens to be in the sun all day, that the birds be protected by an awning or improvised roof, and that the birds be sprayed with ample water periodically," wrote one of the attending rabbis in a Jewish Press column (I can no longer find the article online, but Failed Messiah talked about it in depth here). The article noted in the final paragraph, "Reviewing the entire current kapparos situation, using alternatives to chickens such as money to tzedakah, might be a desirable option."
The rabbis' meeting was reported on by several secular publications as well as the Forward, which noted:
At the August 6 meeting in the synagogue of the Novominsker rebbe, more than a dozen religious heavyweights — including Rabbi Aryeh Kotler and Rabbi David Zwiebel — considered evidence that the chickens may have been mistreated in past ceremonies and acknowledged that the problem rose to a level that could violate rabbinic law.
After the conference, the rabbis collectively issued a call for members of the community to clean up the process during this year’s holiday season. The move was particularly notable because it came in response to complaints from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. . . .
The kapparot ceremony is one of the more colorful elements of the High Holy Days but one of the most historically fraught. Maimonides and later Joseph Caro, author of the authoritative code of Jewish law, both claimed that kapparot had its roots in pagan ritual and should be abandoned by religious Jews. But Moses Isserles, the famed 16th-century talmudist from Krakow promoted the practice, as did many of the founders of Hasidic Jewish sects.
Today, many Modern Orthodox Jews swing money, instead of chickens, over their heads. But Hasidic Jews have retained the use of the live animals. Men are instructed to use roosters, which are grasped by their shoulder blades and rotated above the person’s head three times. Women use hens for the ritual (two if the practitioner is pregnant). The animal is then supposed to be slaughtered immediately after the ritual and donated to a poor family.
Given the number of chickens required for this ceremony, some in the Orthodox community said it is not surprising that problems have arisen.
“It’s the very public nature and the pandemonium of slaughtering so many birds at one shot that necessarily involves problems,” said Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, executive vice president of the Orthodox Union and one of the participants at the August 6 meeting.
In recent years there have been a number of visible confrontations over the practice. In 2006, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals discovered 700 chickens that had been left in a garage in Brooklyn and, in another instance, PETA filed a complaint with the ASPCA in upstate New York when it found a batch of similarly abandoned birds.
PETA’s letter this year was accompanied by a lengthy video from ceremonies in 2005 and 2006. Included are scenes of live chickens being stuffed into garbage bags and teenagers ripping the heads off of chickens, which would clearly render the chickens un-kosher. . . .
Bruce Friedrich, a vice president at PETA, said he has heard encouraging things from the organization’s contacts inside the ultra-Orthodox community about this year’s ceremony. There is, however, still the question of the ritual itself. Friedrich said that even if the animals are treated well before and after kapparot, the ceremony itself “should be abandoned for the same reason you wouldn’t take a cat and swing it over your head.”
So things are looking up, to some extent. As Failed Messiah wrote, "Will these directives be followed? Who knows. Until PETA's letter, nothing had been done to deal with the problem."
Last week, Rabbi Avi Finegold wrote on The Jew & The Carrot that kapparot has become "a spectacle: children running around, playing with the livestock and us having little to no concern with their welfare." Rabbi Finegold added:
Those who choose to use ... money or [an]other suitable replacement should not feel left out either; think about the words being said during the ceremony, and understand that this truly is a kapparah-an atonement for one’s sins over the past year. Maybe even think about sins committed against all creatures over the past year, and understand that the chicken-fish-money only counts as a repentance if it serves to focus us to repent.
I posted the following comment in response:
What irks me most about all this — both the public health issues and the tza’ar ba’alei chayim issues associated with kapparot — is that just about everyone acknowledges that it’s perfectly acceptable to give tzedakah instead of using chickens for kapparot. It’s not even like anyone says this practice is necessary!
I think the efforts to improve things, as discussed in the Forward article, are a huge step in the right direction. But I’d love to see a huge push from the powers that be in the Orthodox community for [using money] instead of chicken-waving.