Kaporos ("atonements") is a custom preceding Yom Kippur - the Jewish Day of Atonement - in which chickens are ritually sacrificed by many Orthodox Jews. The person "swings" the chicken, held by the legs or by pinning the bird's wings painfully backward, around his or her head while chanting about transferring one's sins symbolically to the bird. The chicken is then publicly slaughtered, and though claimed to be given to "the poor," thousands of Kaporos chickens are stuffed into garbage bags dead and alive and otherwise discarded as trash, as documented in Brooklyn and Los Angeles in 2012. Prior to the ceremony, the chickens are packed in transport crates, and unused birds have been found abandoned in their crates when the ceremony was over.
The Alliance to End Chickens as Kaporos seeks to replace chickens in kaporos rituals for 3 principal reasons:
The use of chickens as kaporos is cruel. They suffer in being held with their wings pinned painfully backward, in being waved over the heads of practitioners, and in being packed in crates for days without food, water or shelter leading up to the ritual, which violates tsa'ar ba'alei chaim, the mandate prohibiting cruelty to animals.
The use of chickens is not required by Jewish law. It is not a mitzvah but a custom that originated in the middle ages.
The use of money is a perfectly acceptable atonement that not only avoids animal cruelty but reduces poverty and shows compassion. Instead of chickens, a packet of money can be waved and chanted over by kaporos practitioners and donated directly to their favorite charities.
Eminent Orthodox Rabbis Oppose Using Chickens in Kaporos Rituals on Grounds of Religion, Morality, and Compassion for Animals
"Since this is not a clear duty but rather a tradition, and in the light of the kashrut problems and cruelty to animals, and in the light of all of what our aforementioned rabbis said, it is recommended that one should prefer to conduct the atonement ceremony with money, thus also fulfilling the great mitzva of helping poor people."
--Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, Head of Jerusalem's Yeshivat Ateret Cohanim and Rabbi of Beit El, in a letter to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Israel quoted in The Jerusalem Post, September 14, 2010. http://www.jpost.com/VideoArticles/Article.aspx?id=188106
"Beyond the objections of the Ramban, Rashba and the Bet Yosef to the custom of 'kapparot,' and beyond the warnings of rabbinic authorities such as the Chayei Adam, Kaf HaChaim, Aruch HaShulchan and the Mishanah Brurah regarding the halachic infringements involved in using live fowl for this custom, the latter also desecrates the prohibition against "tzaar baalei chayim" (causing cruelty to animals). Those who wish to fulfill this custom can do so fully and indeed in a far more halachically acceptable manner by using money as a substitute as proposed by the latter authorities mentioned above."
--Rabbi David Rosen, CBE, KSG, International Director of Interreligious Affairs, AJC, and Chief Rabbinate of Israel's Honorary Advisor on Interfaith Relations. Former Chief Rabbi of Ireland, August 25, 2011
"A custom must operate within the confines of Judaism's basic fundamental values. The Torah prohibits Jews from causing any unnecessary pain to living creatures, even psychological pain. It says in the Book of Proverbs, 'The righteous person considers the soul of his or her animal.' The pain caused to the chickens in the process of performing Kapparot is absolutely unnecessary. Giving money is not only a more humane method of performing the practice of Kapparot but it is also a more efficient way of ensuring that those who are in need will receive the requisite assistance."
--Rabbi Shlomo Segal, Rabbi of Beth Shalom of Kings Bay in Brooklyn, New York, August 25, 2011
If you agree, please sign our petition urging practitioners of kaporos to use money instead of chickens. Thank you for your support.
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I am writing to express my objection to the use of chickens in kaporos rituals, and to ask you respectfully to use your influence to encourage the use of money or other non-animal symbols of atonement instead of chickens in the observance of this ritual.
The swinging and slaughtering of chickens and the suffering they endure in the kaporos process is not required by Jewish law. It is a custom that no sentient creature is needed for. As renowned Orthodox Rabbi, David Rosen, stated on August 25, 2011, "using live fowl for this custom desecrates the prohibition against 'tsa'ar ba'alei chaim,'" the Jewish mandate not to cause harm to animals. I am deeply concerned that the chickens are locked in crates for days leading up to the ritual with no food or water, and that even shelter is denied them during this time. I am distressed by the callous manner in which practitioners hold the birds, with their wings pinned painfully backward and their legs hanging pitifully, as if they were inanimate objects, unworthy of kindness, mercy, or respect.
I believe that regarding these birds as symbolic recipients of practitioners' sins and punishment encourages the hurtful and dismissive treatment they receive, which is all the more distressing given that money can be used, and the funds raised can be given directly to charities that provide food for the poor and hungry throughout the year. In a letter to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Israel in 2010, Orthodox Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, head of Jerusalem's Yeshivat Ateret Cohanim, argued that in addition to avoiding kashrut problems and cruelty to animals, conducting the atonement ceremony with money instead of chickens also fulfills "the great mitzva of helping poor people."
The Jewish tradition is filled with concepts, prayers and actions during the Rosh Hashanah-Yom Kippur period stressing the importance of compassion and sensitivity, and the Talmud observes that the concept of tsa'ar ba'alei chaim includes the direction not only to avoid needlessly hurting animals, but to show them compassion.
I therefore respectfully urge you to encourage the replacement of chickens in kaporos rituals with money or other nonsentient symbols of atonement, given that animals are not needed to perform the ritual and that the use of money is perfectly acceptable under Jewish law. In the words of Orthodox Rabbi Shlomo Segal, Rabbi of Beth Shalom of Kings Bay in Brooklyn, "Giving money is not only a more humane method of performing the practice of Kapparot but it is also a more efficient way of ensuring that those who are in need will receive the requisite assistance."
Thank you for your attention.