Guest Post: Alliance to End Chickens as Kaporos
Kaporos (“atonements”) is a custom preceding Yom Kippur in which chickens are ritually sacrificed by many Orthodox Jews. The person “swings” the chicken, by holding the legs or pinning the bird’s wings backward, around his or her head while chanting about transferring one’s sins symbolically onto the bird. The chicken is then slaughtered and may or may not be given to the poor. Prior to the ceremony, the chickens are packed in crates, and birds not used have been found abandoned in their crates when the ceremony was over.
The Alliance to End Chickens as Kaporos (AECK) seeks to replace chickens in kaporos rituals for three principal reasons:
- The use of chickens as kaporos is cruel. They suffer in being held with their wings pinned backward, in being swung over the heads of practitioners, and in being packed in crates, often for days without food or water leading up to the ritual, which violates tsa’ar ba’alei chaim, the mandate prohibiting cruelty to animals.
- The use of chickens is not required by Jewish law. It is not a mitzvah but rather a custom that originated in the Middle Ages.
- There is an acceptable substitute that not only avoids cruelty but also can help reduce hunger and show compassion: Money can be used as a non-animal alternative. Funds raised can be given directly to charities that provide food for the poor and hungry throughout the year, including 13,000 Jewish families living at or below the poverty line in New York City.