United Poultry Concerns August 16, 2007

Letter to Rabbinical Council Regarding The Use Of Chickens In Kapparot Ceremonies

August 16, 2007

Karen Davis, PhD, President
United Poultry Concerns, Inc.
PO Box 150
Machipongo, VA 23405
Phone: 757-678-7875
Email: Karen@upc-online.org

Rabbi Shlomo Hochberg, President
Rabbinical Council of America
305 Seventh Avenue, 12th Floor
New York, NY 10001
Via email: office@rabbis.org

Dear Rabbi Hochberg:

I am writing to you on behalf of United Poultry Concerns, a nonprofit organization that promotes the compassionate and respectful treatment of domestic fowl, regarding the use of chickens in kapparot ceremonies.

For more than a decade, our organization has received complaints from people, including many members of the Jewish community, about the suffering, neglect and mistreatment of chickens used in kapparot rituals. Complaints have been made about the way the chickens are stacked in crates for days without food, water, or shelter, awaiting the slaughter, in Brooklyn, the Bronx, Chicago, and Los Angeles.

Last year, members of the Jewish community contacted us about the kapparot slaughter in an open lot in Los Angeles. They described the slitting of chickens’ throats, including their vocal chords, so that the chickens could not cry out. Chickens were described being thrown into plastic trash bags, writhing and alive, in a welter of blood.

In 2005 and 2006, the ASPCA in New York City confiscated hundreds of young chickens abandoned in a parking lot and a garage following kapparot. Both years, we adopted and helped to find homes for approximately one hundred of these abandoned birds. Hundreds more had to be euthanized by the ASPCA. We have in our possession photographs of chickens pitifully abandoned in the rain, in Brooklyn, in 2005, following the kapparot ceremony, including chickens in orange crates that had toppled over amongst crates stacked with birds inside them – birds left to die in those crates.

I am writing respectfully to you now to ask you, please, to advocate that the kapparot ceremony be carried out with money or other appropriate inanimate objects instead of with chickens. We understand that kapparot ceremonies in which chickens are used are conducted mainly by the ultra-Orthodox Hasidic Jewish community in the week before Yom Kippur. Disturbingly, an article in the August 7, 2007 online issue of The Yeshiva World, “Rabbonim Meet To Discuss Kapporos-Related Issues,” stated that the number of chickens being used in kapparot ceremonies is “ever-increasing.”

One concern expressed by the Rabbonim who met to discuss these issues on August 6th was said to be the potential of kapparot chickens to spread diseases to children and others. This is a legitimate concern, given that chickens raised and maintained commercially are generally kept in unsanitary conditions and are profoundly stressed by such conditions. Their stress, including fear, hunger, thirst and response to contamination, has been shown to increase significantly the bacterial load the chickens may be carrying. Chickens forced to sit in crates and cages, in their own excrement, for days without food, water or shelter from the elements, are enduring conditions that produce chronic stress, weakened immune systems and increased susceptibility to Salmonella, Campylobacter, and other pathogens.

Encouragingly, a concern of the Rabbonim who met on August 6th to discuss kapparot-related issues was said to be that “in the hubbub that tends to attend mass Kapporos gatherings, the prohibition of tzaar baalei chaim – causing unnecessary discomfort or pain to animals – might be compromised by vendors or participants.” In our experience, it appears that the suffering of chickens used in kapparot ceremonies is considerable, widespread, and generally ignored by participants.

We believe that, in addition to addressing legitimate concerns about the spreading of diseases among children and others exposed to chickens used in kapparot ceremonies, equal attention should be given to the exposure of children and others to the desensitized and desensitizing treatment of these birds. Sensitive children are likely to be traumatized by such experiences, and fearing ridicule and censure, are likely to be quiet about the horror they witnessed instead of speaking up. Less sensitive children are encouraged to be further hardened into callousness, and worse.

For all of these reasons, we respectfully urge the Rabbinical Council of America to advocate that kapparot be conducted with money or similarly appropriate inanimate objects, instead of with chickens or any other live animals, and that the many Jewish teachings that encourage compassion for animals be brought forth in opposition to the use of chickens in kapparot ceremonies.

This year, in response to the many complaints we’ve received, and concerns that we share, we published a brochure for distribution entitled “A Wing & A Prayer: The Kapparot Chicken-Swinging Ritual. It is available in print form and is posted on our Website at http://www.upc-online.org/kaparos/upckapparot.pdf.

Thank you for your attention. I look forward to your response.


Karen Davis, PhD, President
United Poultry Concerns, Inc.

United Poultry Concerns, Inc.
PO Box 150
Machipongo, VA 23405-0150
FAX: 757-678-5070
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