Animal rights groups in Israel and Brooklyn are trying to put a stop to a pre-Yom Kippur custom observed primarily by ultra-religious Jews. According to the practice, on the day before Yom Kippur a chicken is waved over the heads of the repentant three times, symbolically transferring the sins from the person to the chicken. The chicken is then slaughtered and traditionally is given to the poor.
The Brooklyn based group, End Chickens as Karparos, estimates that in Brooklyn alone, 50,000 animals are involved each year, and many more die before being able to be used in the ritual.
“The chickens are treated poorly in the days leading up to, during, and after the kapparot ceremony,” the group writes on a website calling for the end of the practice. “In the US, Israel and elsewhere where the ritual is performed, the birds are crammed in crates, where they are typically kept in their own excrement, without food, water or shelter, for six days before the ‘shlug kaparos’ (swinging of the chickens) is performed on the eve of Yom Kippur.”
The group, together with Jews for Animal Rights and Concern for Helping Animals in Israel, is not opposed to the actual pre-Yom Kippur kapparot ritual, but believe it can be performed without inflicting pain and suffering on the fowl, a view shared by a growing number of Orthodox rabbis both in the US and Israel.
“People believe they can commit aveiros [sins] during the year and on erev Yom Kippur take a chicken and swing it around over their heads and they are done. This is nonsense,” Rabbi Avi Zarki told Kikar Shabbat in an interview prior to the start of this year’s holidays. Rabbi Zarki notes that there are many Halachic pitfalls to the practice and advised his religious audience, “It is preferable to give money to fulfill the mitzvah.”
The Orthodox Union also offers an alternative ‘virtual kapparot chicken’ which allows you to fulfill the ancient mystical mitzvah without inflecting harm on a live animal.