Transferring sins onto a chicken? Rabbi questions kapparot ritual

Conservative Rabbi Adam Frank says pre-Yom Kippur ritual reduces people's respect for Jews and Judaism.

By HADAS PARUSH
September 13, 2013 09:09
2 minute read.
Israelis take part in Kapparot ceremony prior to Yom Kippur

Kapparot ceremony 370. (photo credit: Screenshot)

 
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"Christianity took the idea of sacrificing a live something for the sake of humanity and Judaism finds that an anathema, and yet kapparot is that very thing- transferring sins onto a chicken and sacrificing it."

Adam Frank, a rabbi for the conservative synagogue in Jerusalem and an activist with the animal rights organization, Hakol Chai, says that there is an extra level of mistreatment in the kapparot ceremony - with animals brought into communities, crammed in small cages, and sometimes left for days with no food or water. The rabbi also questions the religious value of the tradition.

"Judaism takes seriously the idea that we have to do the hard work, the painful, emotional toil of finding out what we did wrong in the past year and repairing it with people." Giving people an out by transferring sins onto something else, he says, is misleading and defeats the whole purpose.

A back alley in the market area of Jerusalem's Ultra Orthodox Mea Shearim neighborhood was filled with stacks of small plastic cages, cramming at least 5 chickens each, all for the purpose of the kapparot ceremony. Residents purchased the chickens, performed the ceremony in which the chicken is swirled over one's head while reciting "This is my exchange, my substitute, my atonement." The chickens are then given to the butchers at Yoalish Krois' butchery across the alleyway, to be later donated to charity.

Although Krois offers the service of slaughtering the kapparot chickens, he himself is not a supporter of the tradition.

"Personally, I do the kapparot with money for charity every year. I run the butchery as a service to the community. But if it were up to me, I would cancel the tradition."

Minister of Environmental protection, Amir Peretz, recently called on the public to end the use of live chickens in the ceremony. "I think that this tradition is one that needs to be stopped, because we are talking about a tradition of slaughter that also has a few acts of torture when people swirl the chicken over the head of a person," Peretz said, adding that performing kapparot through charity instead is a much more meaningful act.

While some ultra-Orthodox communities cannot be dissuaded from performing the ceremony, Rabbi Frank would suggest that it at least be kept away from the public eye.

This issue today is one that brings desecration of Judaism and God's name more so than ever before, not because the practice is any different, but because people are more aware of it." Rabbi Frank said. "This issue has become one that's in the public eye, and if it's an issue that reduces people's respect to Jews and Judaism, and it is not one that is mandated by Jewish law, which kapparot isn't, then it is something that needs to really go to the side of history and be reevaluated."

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