Ancient Yom Kippur ritual of kapparot conspicuously absent on streets of Jerusalem

A live chicken is taken and ritually lofted over a person’s head before it is slaughtered.

A man performs the ancient Jewish ritual of kaparot (photo credit: REUTERS)
A man performs the ancient Jewish ritual of kaparot
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The custom of Kapparot, where a live chicken is ritually lofted over a person’s head before it is slaughtered, has been absent so far this year from the streets of Jerusalem and other locations where the practice is commonly observed, due to strict regulations from the Agriculture Ministry, it was claimed on Wednesday.
However, it is thought that arrangements that will enable the rite to be performed on Thursday are in place.
The Kapparot ritual, which means “atonement,” is traditionally done before Yom Kippur and is meant to symbolically transfer the sins of the person performing the ceremony to the chicken.
Once slaughtered, the chicken is usually given to a charity for use in the preparation of meals for the needy.
The ritual can be performed by substituting the chickens with money that is donated to charity afterwards.
It is a controversial practice, which is not mentioned in the Torah and the Talmud, and concerns are frequently expressed about suffering caused to the birds before and during the ritual. Chief Rabbi David Lau spoke out against the practice last year.
The hard-line Eda Haredit organization and others claimed this week that the Agriculture Ministry had issued strict animal welfare guidelines to farms and delivery companies for the chickens being used in the custom, designed to all but prevent the practice from taking place.
According to the claims, the ministry’s guidelines have scared off suppliers from delivering chickens for fear of falling foul to heavy fines if the animal welfare standards are not met.
A source in Eda Haredit claimed that the terms for Kapparot were designed to be so strict as to prevent the practice from taking place and said it was a gross infringement on freedom of religion.
A public notice that appeared in Jerusalem on Wednesday said that “since the evil regime forbade the people of God the haredim [ultra-Orthodox] from fulfilling the custom of Kapparot with live birds in accordance with the customs of our fathers, we announce that anyone who can fulfill the custom with chickens should do so, and anyone who cannot because of the decrees of the government should fulfill the custom this year with money and donate it to charity.”
The haredi daily newspaper Hapeles reported on Wednesday that “rabbis” had expressed their sorrow for the ministry’s behavior and told the newspaper that “the State of Israel is joining an ‘honorable’ list of countries that forbid the fulfillment of religious commandments in public under ‘humane’ excuses, and Jews will be forced to fulfill the ancient custom in secret and darkness.”
“No one should think that such obstacles would prevent Jews continuing the custom practiced by their fathers and great-grandfathers over hundreds of years,” it added.
At least two designated sites for Kapparot in Jerusalem were not in use on Wednesday, and the custom has been virtually impossible to fulfill during the past week, according to sources.
The Agriculture Ministry’s veterinary services did issue specific guidelines about the conduct of Kapparot over the summer, but denied that the practice had been banned, and said the regulations that were published were not new but had simply been made more coherent.
The guidelines stipulate that vehicles transporting the chickens must be authorized to transport livestock; that there must be a delivery supervisor during the period of transportation; that only specific locations can be used for the ceremony; that the chickens need to be brought directly from the farm to the Kapparot location and from there directly to the slaughterhouse without interim stops; that there should be shade from sun and shelter from rain for the birds and air flow for the cages; and a prohibition against slaughtering the chickens where the Kapparot takes place.
In addition, the birds must not be slaughtered more than eight hours after the performance of the ceremony, and the times of delivery to the Kapparot ceremony location and subsequently to the slaughterhouse must be recorded by the delivery supervisor.
At one site in Jerusalem designated for Kapparot, an agent said that despite the difficulties experienced so far he expected that birds would be supplied on Thursday and said that his site would be facilitating the ceremony all day long.
Animal rights organizations have frequently reported that the birds can be left for hours and even days in small cages, frequently without food and water, and often outside in the sun.
Several important rabbinic figures have opposed the practice with chickens, including the 12th-century Spanish sage Maimonides and Rabbi Yosef Karo, a 16th-century scholar who lived in Spain, Turkey and Israel.
Karo wrote that the tradition of using a chicken for Kapparot should be avoided, out of a concern that it was originally a non-Jewish practice.
Rabbinic authorities from Ashkenazi communities nevertheless approved of the custom and ruled that it should be continued.