NEW YORK – On certain nights this week, up to fifty protesters have gathered on corners in Brooklyn to petition members of the Jewish religious community to look more favorably on chickens.

Over the week between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, many members of the haredi community practice the ancient ritual of kapparot, a rite in which a person swings a live chicken or a bundle of coins over one’s head three times and believes that in doing so, they transfer their sins to the chicken or coins. If a chicken is used, it is then slaughtered.

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The group Alliance to End Chickens as Kaporos (kapparot) has articulated its disgust with the practice and to convince people to use money rather than chickens.

Karen Davis of United Poultry Concerns said her organization and the alliance are both meant “to promote the compassionate and respectful treatment of domestic fowl.”

The group is composed of both Jews and non-Jews.

In the early 1990s, Davis said, her organization started receiving phone calls from Brooklyn and the Bronx describing chickens sitting in transport crates for up to a week at a time. These chickens, used for the rituals, were unfed for a week and then slaughtered and thrown into dumpsters, Davis said.

“There is a deep concern, among societies for the prevention of cruelty to animals and other people concerned about animal cruelty, to do something to stop or change the ritual,” Davis said.

The slaughtering of chickens, Davis pointed out, is not mandated by Jewish law. Additionally, Davis said she believes that the chickens are treated deliberately cruelly as “punished objects.”

On Wednesday night, in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn, Davis said she talked to a man and woman who said several crates worth of chickens for kaparot had drowned in the rain the night before.

“They don’t respect animals or feel that animals are in any way worthy of our consideration at all,” Davis said. “They say the chicken is glad to die for our sins.”

Davis counted haredi children’s curiosity as among her greatest victories at the protests.

“The children are full of eager questions, wanting to understand why we were there and why we care about the chickens,” Davis said. “I think we are creating a situation where many practitioners realize that there is another dimension to this whole matter. I don’t think everyone is close-minded.”

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