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18 October 2011  
End Chickens as Kaporos Campaign:
A Growing Force for Compassionate Change

kaporos protest cbslocal
2011 kaporos by van scott
Photo: Van Scott, Brooklyn, NY, Oct. 2011.

“Menachem Friedman, an expert on Jewish religious society in Israel, said replacing chickens with donations to charity is a rising trend in Israel and around the world. . . . Most opposition to chicken kaparot has come from progressive Jewish circles, and modern Orthodox worshippers shun the practice, though Friedman said ‘there are sprouts of an awakening’ now among the very religious.” – The Associated Press, Oct. 7, 2011

“The group Alliance to End Chickens as Kaporos has articulated its disgust with the practice and to convince people to use money rather than chickens. . . . ‘There is a deep concern, among societies for the prevention of cruelty to animals and other people concerned about animal cruelty, to do something to stop or change the ritual,’ [Karen] Davis said.” – “Demonstrators protest Brooklyn ‘kapparot,’” The Jerusalem Post, Oct. 7, 2011

“Protestors are rallying against what they call the cruel treatment of chickens that happens in a ritual ahead of the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur. . . . ‘often putting them in garbage cans, putting them in dumpsters,’ said Davis.” – 1010 WINS’ John Montone reports/CBS New York, October 7, 2011

crying baby
Gallery: Jerusalem 'kapparot' rituals in full swing
An ultra-Orthodox woman swings a chicken by the feet
over the head of her child in a Kaporos ritual in Jerusalem (Reuters)

The Alliance to End Chickens as Kaporos was launched in 2010 as a project of United Poultry Concerns. Its purpose is to replace the use of chickens in kaporos rituals with money or other non-animal symbols of atonement. Composed of Jewish and non-Jewish advocates including members of the Orthodox Jewish community, the Alliance promotes compassion and respect for chickens and all creatures in a spirit of mercy befitting a religious observance dedicated to spiritual repentance and moral improvement. In “A Yom Kippur of Money or Cruelty?” Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz writes that instead of using chickens, kaporos observers “should be cultivating mercy for all those who suffer and not be perpetuating pain on sentient creatures in the name of piety.” A Yom Kippur of Mercy or Cruelty? | The Jewish Week.

This year the Alliance to End Chickens as Kaporos hosted three protest demonstrations at different locations in Brooklyn, New York. Holding our signs “A Heart Beats in Us the Same as In You,” “What Wings are For,” “End Chickens as Kaporos” and signs pleading for mercy in Hebrew, 40-50+ demonstrators gathered each evening on October 4, 5 & 6 to protest the ritual and bear witness to the suffering of the chickens. We watched kaporos practitioners holding young chickens tightly fisted with their wings pinned painfully backward and their legs hanging pitifully without support. We watched rabbis and others pull chickens roughly out of plastic transport crates and wave them over the heads of men, women, children and infants, while the cries of birds being butchered filtered through and rose over the mayhem – an experience evoked by Hasidic Rabbi Yonassan Gershom in his October 4 blog as “a strange, scary, bloody ceremony meant to frighten us into obedience.” (

Rabbi Gershom notes that most modern Hasidic communities “rarely keep pets or have any personal contact with animals at all. Witnessing the slaughter of a kapparot chicken,” he says, “may well be the only contact with animals that these children have all year,” and the birds they are seeing are not healthy, happy, beautiful birds, but caged, sickly and half-starved. He asks: “What kind of message does that send to our children? Certainly it does not teach them that chickens are sentient, feeling beings with a social structure in their flocks, over 40 different calls, and the ability to pass learned behavior down to the next generation of chicks. Nor does it teach them about the love a mother hen has for her chicks – an image we sometimes use of God, who shelters us like a mother bird.”

(Unfortunately, children growing up with animals don’t always empathize compassionately with animals either. Farming communities have their own desensitizing rituals of animal sacrifice involving the sacrifice of children’s feelings of love and tenderness for animals.)

rabbie gershom and ladybird

Rabbi Gershom is a vegetarian who keeps chickens compassionately and appreciatively at his home in northern Minnesota. Here we see him holding one of his own hens, supporting her feet and tucking her body under his arms in opposition to Rabbi Shea Hecht’s New York Chabad kaporos centers where practitioners hold chickens suspended by their wings. Of this he writes: “Imagine somebody holding your arms behind your back and then suspending you by the elbows to get an idea of what Hecht’s method would feel like. The feet of a chicken are made to support its weight; the wings are not.”

“Great Suffering”
chickens feet tied while inhumanely suspended
In this Reuters photo, the chicken's feet appear to be tied together
while he or she is being inhumanely suspended by the wings.

Activists of Anonymous, in Israel, “have been distributing thousands of leaflets in synagogues across the country under the banner, ‘Saving lives rather than a soul for a soul.’ ”

The suffering of the birds in New York under Rabbi Hecht, who told NPR in 2009 that he likes watching chickens die for his sins, is not limited to Brooklyn. Neither is the protest. In Israel opposition to the use of chickens in kaporos rituals is mounting. Jewish World reported on October 6 that the animal rights group, Anonymous, which has protested chicken kaporos for years, received “surprising support this year from an ultra-Orthodox organization called Hemla,” whose spokesperson said: “We want to raise awareness to the horrible way that people hold the chickens. It’s inhumane – they sit in the sun, crowded, without food or water. Judaism says a person must not eat before feeding his animals. . . . I personally perform Kapparot with money.”,7340,L-4129867,00.html

The Associated Press reported this year as well on the increasingly outspoken opposition to the ritual by Orthodox rabbis and community leaders in Israel. Rabbi Meir Hirsch, a member of the Neturei Karta ultra-Orthodox sect in Jerusalem, decried the ritual, saying, “You cannot perform a commandment by committing a sin.” Yehuda Shein, a community activist in a Jerusalem suburb, founded an ultra-Orthodox animal rights group last year called Behemla, or “In Compassion.” This year 50 Behemla members “handed out flyers citing rabbinical opposition to performing kaparot on chickens.”

The Alliance to End Chickens as Kaporos, Anonymous, and others point out that the suffering of the chickens used in kaporos rituals is not limited to the lack of nurturing, cruel transport, starvation, dehydration, inhumane handling and slaughter of the 6-week-old birds. These birds have been artificially bred to become the size of footballs in their infancy with a predisposition to crippled legs, heart attacks and numerous other human-created maladies. “They are genetically injured birds,” says Karen Davis, president of United Poultry Concerns, founder of the Alliance to End Chickens as Kaporos and author of Prisoned Chickens, Poisoned Eggs: An Inside Look at the Modern Poultry Industry. “Pain, suffering, and injury have been bred into them. They are genetically defiled and deformed beings whether they’re called Kosher or otherwise.”

Some critics of modern-day chicken kaporos have suggested that traditional village kaporos was less traumatic for the birds since they didn’t used to be factory-farmed and trucked long distances from rural areas to urban centers as they are today. While industrial farming has increased the magnitude and lengthened the time period of misery for the birds, chicken kaporos – animal sacrifice – is not truly humane. (For one view of old-fashioned village life for chickens and other farmed animals, see Isaac Bashevis Singer’s Nobel Prizewinning stories, such as “The Slaughterer.”)

Throat-cutting is excruciatingly painful no matter how expert the butcher or sharp the blade. (The crying of birds being slaughtered is real and the pain receptors in their necks, throats, skin and faces are the same as ours.) Waving a chicken over one’s head to take on one’s sins symbolically is hardly respectful, natural or kind, and there is the belief associated with chicken kaporos that the “animal soul,” having gained power within the practitioner in the form of sins, must be punished and expiated. In his blog urging peaceful kaporos, Rabbi Yanklowitz points out this punitive aspect, and an article in The Jerusalem Post summarizes: “The climax of the ritual is the confessional, in which the penitent lays his hands on the animal, exclaims his guilt, and declares the chicken his substitute for the death penalty.” Must one perform the 'kapparot’ ritual with a chicken?

In looking to the past, a heartwarming image appears: “ in ancient times, children planted seeds early in the month before Yom Kippur and twirled the young plants over their heads in place of chickens.”

“Momentum to switch to the use of money is definitely growing,” says Richard Schwartz, PhD, a founding member of the Alliance to End Chickens as Kaporos & president of Jewish Vegetarians of North America. We thank Richard for bringing this moving and informative discussion from South Africa to our attention:

Chicken Rescue and Rehabilitation South Africa , “Meet our kapparot chicks – Senior Rabbi Speaks Out Against Chicken Kapparot,” October 2, 2010.

Successful rescue and adoption of chickens in New York in 2011

The Alliance to End Chickens as Kaporos coordinated an amazing rescue of 125 chickens this year in New York! Nearly all were baby roosters who are now safe in sanctuaries. Our gratitude to these rescuers and sanctuaries is boundless and we know that we speak for the birds in saying so.

Selected Videos & Photos:

2011 kaporos by van scott 2
Photo: Van Scott, Brooklyn, NY, Oct. 2011.

The Alliance to End Chickens as Kaporos thanks everyone who attended our wonderful Benefit Dinner at Blossom in New York City on October 3 and who otherwise contributed to this important campaign. Your continuing donations are much needed and gratefully received. This year the Alliance spent $$4,375.00 to run several thousand animated ads in 19 online Jewish publications, plus additional ads urging compassionate kaporos in three major print publications: 5 Towns, Jewish Week, and Jewish Press. In addition we spent $2,120 for hundreds of Internet press releases through PR Newswire plus a dramatic display of our Logo on Times Square! Please help us do even more next year with your generous contributions to the Alliance to End Chickens as Kaporos. Simply go to to donate. Thank you!

ecak animated
Photo: Carol Guzy, The Washington Post, October 9, 2010.
2011 ecak print ad

The Alliance to End Chickens as Kaporos is an association of compassionate people who seek to replace chickens in Kaporos ceremonies with money or other non-animal symbols of atonement. To learn more about the Alliance and its objectives, please go to

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