Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the prominent and controversial Israeli ulta-Orthodox rabbi, criticized mistreatment of chickens in kapparot ceremonies. According to a Haaretz article:
Speaking Saturday at his Jerusalem synagogue, Hayazdim, Yosef warned that overworked ritual slaughterers wind up using flawed blades that are not deemed "perfectly sharp."
"If it is not perfectly sharp, it is not only non-kosher but nevela," he said, using the term for the carcass of a kosher animal not killed in accordance with Jewish law and therefore forbidden for consumption.
An Israeli court found that the kapparot ritual violates animal slaughter laws. According to a different Haaretz article:
A Petach Tikvah court on Tuesday ruled that the ritual slaughter of chickens for the Yom Kippur "kapparot" ritual is a violation of state regulations on animal slaughter.
The court adopted the matter after a resident of Ramat Modiin was caught by agriculture ministry officials with dozens of slaughtered chickens in his possession without the required permits for animal slaughter.
The man refused to pay the fine police gave him, and demanded a trial to clear his name.
During his trial, the court ruled against the defendant, and issued a penalty of NIS 2,700 or 17 days imprisonment.
YNet ran an article about Israeli animal rights activists' criticism of kapparot. It quoted Let the Animals Live chairwoman Etti Altman as saying, "Thousands of chickens are cramped together, with no food or water, for days before kaparot … they are abused and then they are slaughtered. People ask for their sins to be forgiven? They should be asking for the chicken's forgiveness."
Failed Messiah posted disturbing photos here from the parking lot of a Chabad synagogue in Long Beach, California, prior to a kapparot ritual. You can see the conditions referred to by Altman pretty clearly. The chickens have no space to move around, and their excrement is all over the place. Some interesting discussion popped up in response to that post and a follow-up.
The VeggieJews Yahoo group has been a fantastic source of information about this topic and is how I found the three Israeli articles. It's also been a great forum for people's comments about kapparot, and there have been some really wonderful ideas. Here are just a couple of them:
- Jim Sinclair of Syracuse, New York, wrote: "Last year in response to Kapparot, I signed up to sponsor a Farm Sanctuary chicken for one year. This year I'm already signed up to sponsor another chicken. I could just make my $10/month donation indefinite, but I like the symbolism of 'sponsoring' a different individual chicken every year."
- Yaakov Perry of Andover, New Hampshire, wrote: "I am a Chabadnik (or Lubavitcher as some call us). The ritual of Kapparot bugs me a great deal so instead of partaking, I take a look at the stock market and find what 18 (18 = Chai = Life) ounces of silver are worth, use the money to buy vegetarian food, swing it over my head, and then donate it to the local food pantry."