By Mary Frost
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
A group called the “Alliance to End Chickens as Kaporos” will be hosting two demonstrations in the Orthodox Jewish section of Crown Heights this Sunday and Monday to protest the overhead “swinging" and slaughtering of live chickens in Kaporos ceremonies the week before Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement.
While outcry against the practice is growing, many Orthodox Jews in Brooklyn still participate in the ceremonies in which chickens are ritually sacrificed by being waved over practitioners' heads and butchered in public. The Alliance calls the practice cruel and not in keeping with Jewish teaching.
Chickens used in Kaporos rituals are trucked in from farms and held in crates for days without food or water. Brooklyn resident and Alliance member Rina Deych said in a statement, "I live in the heart of Boro Park. Every year, I see chickens routinely thrown into dumpsters, the dead along with birds who are dying of dehydration, injury, exhaustion, and pain."
Videos taken by participants in Crown Heights show vast stacks of crates packed tightly with fluttering white chickens. Wings pinned, the chickens are dropped like inanimate objects into bins by men and boys wearing plastic aprons, then waved over the heads of smiling participants, including children, as prayers are recited.
A Midwood resident who did not wish to be identified told the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, “There are posters on poles, crowds gather in garages with lights on. Lots of youngsters are there ogling the events. For an outsider, a public butchering event is a little surprising.”
Those fighting the practice say the chickens aren’t necessary in the yearly ritual. Instead of chickens, observers can instead swing coins, which they then give to charity.
Kapparot, as the custom is also spelled, is a custom that began in medieval times and was based on the prevailing culture of the era, according to Rabbi Shlomo Segal, Rabbi of Beth Shalom of Kings Bay in Brooklyn.
In an email to the Brooklyn Eagle he said, “The chicken or money is held over a person's head and swung in a circle three times while reciting a prayer which essentially says, "This is my exchange, my substitute, my atonement.” The chicken or the money (presumably the monetary value of the chicken) is then donated to charity.
“The idea is that the individual performing the ritual redeems themselves through acts kindness and charity. As a result of their compassionate deed they are spared the severe penalty one must incur for their sins,” he said.
Rabbi Segal says he urges his congregants to use money instead of live animals. “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.”
Many Orthodox rabbis have spoken out against the practice. In 2010, Rabbi Steven Weil, CEO of the Orthodox Union of Rabbis in New York City, told the Alliance that the OU opposes using chickens as Kaporos due to the ritual's "insensitivity" to the birds and the lack of historical foundation.
Anti-kaporos sentiment is on the rise even in Israel, where Rabbi Avi Zarki, the Rav of North Tel Aviv and Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, Head of Jerusalem's Yeshivat Ateret Cohanim, recommended that participants use money instead of chickens.
Still, the yearly practice continues in Orthodox strongholds. The website of the Chabad-Lubavitch World headquarters located on Eastern Parkway in Crown Heights provides detailed instructions for performing the ritual with chickens (a man takes a rooster; a woman takes a hen; a pregnant woman takes both a hen and a rooster). The website adds, “Others perform the entire rite only with money, reciting the prescribed verses and giving the money to charity.”
The protests will take place Sunday, September 23 from 4-6 p.m., and Monday, September 24 from 6-8 p.m. on: Eastern Parkway, between Kingston and Albany Avenues, diagonally in front of the Brooklyn Jewish Children's Museum (792 Eastern Parkway).