20 September 2017

Los Angeles Kapparot 2017: Update and Litigation Strategy

Update and Summary of the Legislative Strategy I'd like to See (19 September 2017)
Dear Friends,

A year has gone by since the practice of Kapparot was taking place in LA. So far, our small team of activists have located only TWO places in Los Angeles where we believe the ritual will take place, namely the Hebrew Discovery Center in the San Fernando Valley (surely there are other locations, but this particular spot is of highest concern due to the obnoxiousness and outright framing of activists by Rabbi Louie) and the Kabbalah Centre on Robertson Blvd (at 1am on Thursday night).

We will protest at Hebrew Discover Center; Here's the Facebook event page:

For whatever reason, we do not see as much visible in the Pico-Robertson neighborhood as we have seen in the past, though perhaps it will surface after Rosh HaShanah comes...it could be a tad early to know where this will be happening.

We know there will likely be other places where the ritual will take place, but we cannot be in all places at once and we have been successful at preventing the week-long killing fest that defined this period in past years. We are focusing on the worst, most obnoxious person in the system, and also feel like we need to take on other strategies to address the other groups such as Chabad. As mentioned, we have heard reports that Kapparot will be practiced with chickens by the Kabbalah Center on Robertson at 1am Thursday night the 28th (technically the 29th), but that group is not tied to most of the Jewish community so it is less our focus.

Here's a primer on the issues:

The Kapparot Ritual

Kapparot, as you probably are aware, involves a penitent during the Jewish High Holydays waving a hen or rooster over their head and saying an incantation to expiate sin, then slaughtering the chicken.

There has been a long history of Jewish community tension about the practice for a host of reasons:

• It can easily lead to animal cruelty (“Tsaar Baaley Chayim”), a religious prohibition

• It looks too much like other religious traditions (“Chukat Goyim”), which can be a prohibition

• As currently practiced, it leaves to creation of dead carcasses (“N’veilah”) and is wasteful (“Bal Tashchit”), both religious prohibitions.

Since even traditional prayer books (most, not all) offer the alternative of using money that is then donated instead of chickens that are then donated

How We’ve Prevented Kapparot in LA

Enforcement of CA Food and Agriculture slaughterhouse regulations has lessened the ritual with chickens dramatically, forcing the providers of the practice into a paradoxical conundrum: Practitioners assume that the slaughtered chickens are donated to the poor, but that is only possible if providers get a license to operate a slaughterhouse (which is expensive due to needing refrigeration and other health concerns). It IS legal to dump slaughtered chickens in the trash, but since some subgroups in the Jewish community don’t want that for reasons outlined above, they use money instead (which is a perfectly fine alternative for most segments of the Jewish community).

What We Need to Do To End The Ritual: Legislative Strategies

This has led to a great deal of success, but we want to end the practice altogether, recognizing that there is already religious precedent for abolishing it (and some subgroups haven’t done this ritual for centuries).

One way to discourage the practice is to make the practice more expensive so that people will opt for money instead of chickens. Ultimately, that’s what enforcement of Slaughterhouse regulations achieves; however, that isn’t enough of a poison pill to end this cruel practice fraught with injuries and suffering of the birds.

One potential direction is to focus on the inadvertent cruelty created by transporting these fragile birds. Most of the birds being used for this ritual are “spent hens” which factory farms sell to the Orthodox Jewish community for pennies each since they have lost their ability to produce enough eggs to make them economically viable. We have heard that they cost as little as $.50 each, definitely no more than $2 each. The ritual is being sold for $18 to practitioners as a service, sometimes $26 with a minimum of two birds in home or office delivery.

I believe that stopping the transport of these birds is necessary to lessen their suffering. Even if the birds are treated well once transported, there is evidence of many broken-winged birds making their way to the providers of the ritual, undoubtedly many of them being injured during transport in battery cages. Given their suffering, we think it would be most ideal if they are prohibited from transport.

Such a limitation would accomplish two things:

1) It would prevent suffering for these discarded birds. Even if they are killed at the factory farm, their last days should NOT be made even worse by constant injuries and pain. This is the primary motivation that I have, and religiously, there’s no basis for using “spent hens.”

2) It would make it much more expensive for anyone wanting to do Kapparot with a chicken, as they would need to source them from places other than factory farms casting away their hens.

The ritual was historically tied first and foremost to charity, supposed to pose a real financial burden for the poor penitent who was giving away a chicken to other poor people, to feed the indigent in the community…that’s so far away from the current way it is being handled.

A Word about Religious Freedom

We know that the animal sacrifice prohibition on the books in Los Angeles is NOT the basis for our case, as the Supreme Court overruled a local law (but, interestingly, left the door open in some ways) in Florida in the nineties that essentially was seen as an encroachment on religious freedom. However, what we are trying to do is not stop the practice of Kapparot, which might be religiously protected, but rather capitalize on laws meant to protect animals from cruelty which has become a necessary condition for the practice. We also know that there are other rituals that have been modified by American law; one example is the way we perform burial in Los Angeles, in which caskets are placed in concrete containers due to living in an earthquake zone. Religious tradition shifted to incorporate local laws.

So that's it for now. There's a lot of work to do, but meanwhile, I hope you will join us at this year's protests.

Thank You,


Rabbi Jonathan Klein
Director, Faith Action For Animals

Faith Action for Animals is a coalition of faith leaders and activists who advocate and take action on behalf of
animals who are exploited, abused, tortured and slaughtered for food, research, fashion and entertainment

Kapparot 2017: Litigation Strategy (20 September 2017)
Dear Friends,

As Rosh HaShanah closes in (starting tonight at sunset), followed by Shabbat, I and other observant Jews will be largely unavailable for conversation until Saturday night. We hope to receive further instruction from Animal Services regarding their efforts to notify Kapparot providers of the legal boundaries that they must observe.

Meanwhile, reports have made their way to us that Hebrew Discovery Center has cleared their back alleyway where a container has lived, in anticipation of the ritual and animal slaughter they plan, we believe, on Thursday and Friday. Remember, our protest is scheduled for Thursday and Friday: https://www.facebook.com/events/122908655119537/.

In response to my earlier email, attorney Bryan Pease sent the following, to share with all of you:

Regarding the litigation strategy, our current case is against the City of LA for failure to enforce Penal Code section 597(a), which makes it illegal to kill animals unless their is some exception in the law (such as killing animals for food). There is no exception for killing and discarding animals for religious rituals.

Religious rituals that break the law are not protected by the Constitution. The reason the LA municipal code section against animal sacrifice is unconstitutional is that it specifically targets religion. Since the authorities can't enforce that, it seems they have mistakenly gone too far in believing they also cannot enforce neutral laws of general applicability, which they clearly can. If a non-religious entity were killing and discarding animals in the streets of LA, those individuals should be arrested, and these should be too.

Our past lawsuits have gone after the entities providing, killing and discarding chickens for Kapparot in exchange for a fee and argued this is a "business practice," as a means to use the unfair business practices statute to seek an injunction, since we can't enforce Penal Code section 597(a) directly. The courts have so far ruled this is not a business practice, and thus have not reached the issue of the application of Penal Code 597(a).

Bottom line is, the authorities should be enforcing Penal Code section 597(a). It would help for people to request private persons arrests of people killing and discarding chickens, and documenting (with names and badge numbers) police officers refusing to allow or take the arrest, which is the basis for our new lawsuit.

Rabbi Jonathan Klein
Director, Faith Action For Animals

Faith Action for Animals is a coalition of faith leaders and activists who advocate and take action on behalf of
animals who are exploited, abused, tortured and slaughtered for food, research, fashion and entertainment