I've known about Kapparot – the custom of swinging a live chicken around one’s head, symbolically transferring one’s sins to the bird,
who would then be killed - in a vague sense ever since my parents enrolled me in a Jewish day school years ago, but it wasn't until the eve of Yom Kippur
2016 that my eyes were opened to the utter cruelty of this practice. On Yom Kippur Eve, I received a frantic phone call informing me that crates of
Kapparot chickens had been held for several days with no food or water by a local orthodox Jewish organization. This synagogue practices Kapparot every
year. They keep the chickens in cages for days on end with nothing to drink or eat, and the "leftover" chickens who are not killed are then left to die in
crates by the dumpster. How could this be happening in such a religious community, especially in the 21st Century? How can a religious leader enter into a
24-hour holy fast, which is a trial even for adults, knowing that there are animals sitting abandoned on his doorstep who have gone without nourishment for
72 hours or longer? Leaving them in a box, exposed to the elements, with no way to forage for food or seek shelter for an additional 24 hours – how
could a religious leader do that to them?
Ever since the industrial age, the business of meat production has become streamlined and mechanized and removed from the public eye. Meat, pre-packaged in
shiny plastic on white Styrofoam trays in the grocery store, is purchased and consumed by people blissfully unaware of the horrors of the modern-day meat
industry and the huge cost of volume farming on the animals. The chickens used in Kapparot come directly from factory farms. They are stuffed into
transport crates - up to 16 chickens in each crate – and stacked 10, 12, or more crates high. They are held without food, water, or protection from
the elements for up to 5 days before they are swung and then killed.
Investigations into the practice have shown that , despite practitioners’ claims that their flesh is donated “to the poor,” the chickens
are instead thrown into garbage bags or dumpsters, usually while still in their death throes. This practice is cruel, wasteful and unnecessary, and has
remained controversial among Jewish scholars through the centuries. Many have argued that the ritual, while not mandatory at all, can and should be done
using money, instead of chickens. The money can then be donated to charity.
How is it possible to sway the minds of the few Orthodox sects that stubbornly hold on to the antiquated and cruel ritual and rigidly oppose change? The
study of Torah and Talmud is built on interpretation, discussion, and insight, and thrives on differences of opinion that encourage debate and growth.
There is no place for a bloodbath leading up to Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year, a day when we should reflect on (rather than add to ) any unkind
things we may have done throughout the year. There is no need for innocent animals to be tortured, starved, and abandoned to suffer a slow death. We need
to work within the community to transcend these archaic relics of the Middles Ages and to, instead, promote kindness, benevolence, and compassion.
~a friend to the chickens, avid animal lover, police volunteer, and medical professional
The Alliance to End Chickens as Kaporos is a project of
United Poultry Concerns.
Formed in New York City in June 2010, the Alliance is an association of groups and individuals who seek to
replace the use of chickens in Kaporos ceremonies with money or other non-animal symbols of atonement.
The Alliance does not oppose Kaporos per se, only the cruel and unnecessary use of chickens in the ceremony.