By Bill Dyer
September 13, 2002
I drove to the Bais Yaakov High School (461 North La Brea Avenue, Los Angeles) last night to witness again the kaparot (kaparos, kaporus, kapparot, kaparot) ritual, a "custom in which the sins of a person are symbolically transferred to a fowl." A large crowd had gathered, including many children, in the backyard of the school. A truck with cages filled with chickens was parked in the back lot. Individuals were holding live chickens upside down, waving them over the heads of others, while pronouncing, "This is my substitute, my vicarious offering, my atonement; this cock (or hen, for women) shall meet death, but I shall find a long and pleasant life of peace." There is previous video of discarded chickens, with their throats improperly slit, flopping around in cardboard boxes.
Kaparos is not mentioned in the Torah or in the Talmud. The custom was first discussed by Jewish scholars in the ninth century. Some ceremonies substitute money, wrapped in a handkerchief, swung over the person's head. This substitution has been endorsed by many rabbis including the late Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv, Rabbi Chaim Dovid Halevy, who said, "It is not proper to demonstrate cruelty on the eve of the Day of Mercy."
Over the years I have brought this practice to the attention of the Los Angeles Police Department, Health Department, animal control, animal rights groups and others. The Health Department cited them once for "chicken carcasses, beaks, feathers, guts in alley" and told them to "discontinue slaughtering of chickens," but the Health Department never returned to see that their order had been ignored. Animal control came once and found nothing wrong, quoting Title 3, Barclays California Code of Regulations, #1245.16, which exempts "ritualistic slaughter" by the Jewish faith. Currently the ritual is taking place on the grounds of two schools, although Title 11, Health and Safety, Chapter 11.16.090 states: "A person shall not keep any animal, fowl or bird . . . within 100 feet of any school building."
During my visit last night I observed frightened chickens with half of their feathers gone running loose. Children screamed as the adults ran after the chickens. Thankfully, these children may never see the inner workings of a slaughterhouse, but at a Kaparos ritual they can witness their parents' insensitivity to other living creatures. Over the laughter and comradeship of this faithful sect observing Yom Kippur, the chickens too could be heard. But no one, no one, is hearing their cries.
Bill Dyer 9/13/02