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
Gallery: Jerusalem 'kapparot' rituals in full swing
Must one perform the 'kapparot’ ritual with a chicken?
The group Alliance to End Chickens as Kaporos (kapparot
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.
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
“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.”