Kapparos: Wanton Killing of Animals in the Name of Religion

(Video from Dailymotion)

As the holiest period of the Simchat Torah comes to an end on Tuesday night, there are those who practice Hasidim that participate in an abusive and a blasphemous manner in which they conduct Kapparos.

By many, the ritual of Kapparos involves a live chicken being swung over a person’s head. According to those who practice this ritual, the act of circling a live chicken over the head is to transfer their sins to the chicken. While this ritual mostly takes place in the Hasidim community, this tradition is not sanctioned or mentioned in the Torah or the Talmud.

IMG_3172For the chicken, the ritual obviously causes pain, trauma, and often death to a creature, that many religions believe are made from G-D. According to those who practice and believe in this ritual, the chickens are supposed to be humanely slaughtered and given as food to the poor. As the images will show they are very often thrown into sanitation trucks and treated as garbage rather than as living, breathing animals. Some that try to get away and are run over by sanitation trucks or other vehicles. Activists have documented them dead in dumpsters along the Eastern Parkway or abandoned and still alive in crates.

To me the only word that can describe this is the Hebrew word Shonda (Sin).

David Karopkin, J.D., Founder and Director of Goose Watch NYC

David Karopkin, J.D., Founder and Director of Goose Watch NYC

Last week a judge declined to block this year’s kapparot rituals, but the suit is ongoing. In 2013, thousands of birds left out in the elements around Brooklyn died during a heatwave. Just prior to Yom Kippur, David Karopkin, founder of GooseWatch NYC, came across a stack of crates that he says contained about 1,000 birds in a locked lot at 43rd Street in Borough Park. Karopkin says he and a friend watched for 15 hours as no food or water was delivered. Twice, he says, police from the 66th Precinct came out and both times they refused to file a report.

Video he shot shows several chickens pecking at the flesh of a dead bird in their crate. He stayed until a private investigator took over his vigil but no one showed up at the lot until it was time for the slaughter one day later. “It’s not just cruel—it’s illegal,” Karopkin said, noting that even if just animal cruelty was considered, the people responsible could face as much as a year per count.

“I’m not saying [kapparos practitioners] should be thrown in jail. I’m just saying someone should at least recognize that there’s crimes being committed here.”

IMG_3168Many Jewish scholars and Rabbis condemn this act of animal abuse. “Kapparot is not consistent with Jewish teachings and law. Repentance and charity can be better accomplished by using money instead of a slaughtered chicken.” stated Former Israeli Chief, Rabbi Shlomo Goren. Coins representing charity can be used instead of animals.

Chasidic Rabbi Yonassan Gershon explained his experience living on a farm and handling chickens, “People have been told that holding a chicken by its wings that way will make the bird calm and relaxed. This is not true! The bird is terrified, it is playing dead, the way it does if it is grabbed by a dog or a wolf. It is hoping you will let go so it can escape.” He went on to relate the experience if it was done to a human, “Imagine somebody pulling your arms back, then hanging you up by the elbows. You would stop struggling, but you would NOT be calm or relaxed! You would be in terrible fear and pain, the same as these poor chickens are now:

“Please do not torture a bird this way – this is not a mitzvah, our Torah does not require this, it will not cancel your sins. I beg you, please give money, instead of hurting one of God’s living creatures.” said Rabbi Gershon.

Action has to be taken, not just against Kapparos but the use of chickens in this ritual. It is quite disappointing that no elected officials have spoken out against this inhumane and unhealthy practice even though there have been plenty who have publicly addressed issues like horse drawn carriages, pet shops, and circus animals.

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