The internationally prestigious quarterly Jewish magazine, B’nai B’rith, has an article in the Fall issue entitled “Questioning Kapparot,” by Senior Editor, Janet Lubman Rathner, on page 13. The article below is reprinted with permission from B’nai B’rith Magazine, Fall 2008 edition.
An animal rights organization is suggesting an alternative to the ancient High Holidays custom of Kapparot, a tradition that involves swinging a live chicken over one’s head while reciting psalms and prayers. The custom is a sin-cleansing exercise performed between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Observers are typically from ultra-Orthodox communities who are then supposed to donate the birds to charity.
The treatment of the birds in the days leading up to, during, and after Kapparot has attracted controversy. There have been several reports and photos of starving and abandoned chickens, hundreds of which were rescued by the ASPCA in New York City, after being found crated and abandoned in a garage and parking lot in 2005 and 2006.
United Poultry Concerns (UPC), a nonprofit dedicated to the compassionate treatment of domestic fowl, wants Kapparot practitioners to use money – swinging coins in a handkerchief – instead of birds, and then donate the proceeds.
“Kapparot is not required by the Torah, the Talmud, or any laws of religious practice. It is a symbolic gesture and any kind of object is acceptable,” says Karen Davis, founder and president of UPC. “We do not object to Kapparot. We just want it practiced in a humane way.”
Although the UPC’s 2007 request received no acknowledgement last year, Davis says the Rabbinical Council of America, which represents many Orthodox rabbis, will once again receive a letter from UPC asking for endorsement of the substitution.*
“We’re not asking that Kapparot be abandoned; just the use of chickens,” Davis says. “We don’t want to see any animal go through suffering when there is no requirement.”
Janet Lubman Rathner.
*UPC’s 2008 letter to the Rabbinical Council of America can be read at: www.upc-online.org/kaparos/90908kapparotletter.html & www.upc-online.org/kaparos/.
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B’nai B’rith Magazine
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Thank you for helping to promote a compassionate understanding and treatment of chickens as part of the worldwide effort to bring kindness to all living creature