The Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Israel has received a
significant halachic backing for this year’s annual campaign against the cruel
use of chickens in the kapparot (atonement) ritual.
Rabbi Shlomo Aviner,
head of the capital’s Yeshivat Ateret Cohanim and rabbi of Beit El, not only
provided SPCA Israel with a letter last week showing the faultiness of the rite,
basing his arguments on some of the greatest arbitrators, but went on video to
expound on the halachic traditions proving why it’s wrong to inflict such
cruelty on God’s creations, especially when the underlying motivation is
absolution of one’s sins before the same God, as Aviner quotes former Tel Aviv
Rabbi Chaim David Halevi.
Chicken ritual is foul, animal rights groups
Since the sixth century, the ceremony of
transubstantiating one’s sins into the body of a chicken and then slaughtering
it, which traditionally is acted out in the days leading up to Yom Kippur, has
prevailed among Jewish communities.
Over the centuries, halachic disputes
emerged around the rite, with Rabbi Yosef Karo (who wrote the Shulhan Aruch),
the Rashba and Nahmanides among those objecting it for various reasons,
including the potentially problematic slaughtering, the non- Jewish
superstitious character of it, and the unnecessary cruelty inflicted on the
animals at a time of year that ought to be marked by mercy and
Alternatives to the fowl were put forth, such as the use of
grain or giving charity to the poor.
Before the actual slaughtering,
which at times leaves the birds floundering for long minutes in a bloody
near-death, the chickens are cooped up in small cages, many times out in the sun
for long hours.
The kapparot rite involves swinging the bird over the
atoning one’s head, much to the discontent of the animal.
observant people to choose a non-fowl object of atonement, SPCA Israel sent out
requests to many of the country’s leading rabbis, and was happy to receive a
clear voice of support from Aviner, one of the most influential rabbis and
educators in the national-religious sector.
Under the headline beginning
with a pertinent citation from Psalms, “and His mercy is over all his works,”
Aviner leads the reader through the halachic discontent over the use of chickens
in the kapparot, beginning with Rabbi Karo, the ultimate halachic source for
Sephardi Jewry, who called it “the custom of the Amorite – simply put, a
Aviner cited the late kabbalist Rabbi Yitzchak Kadourie,
who said that you should abstain from using chickens due to “the cruelty to
animals, which is prohibited by the Torah, and kashrut problems.”
mentions Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (1910- 1995), who over the years stopped
using animals for kapparot, giving charity instead.
“Since this is not a
clear duty but rather a tradition, and in the light of the kashrut problems and
cruelty to animals, and in the light of all of what our aforementioned rabbis
said, it is recommended that one should prefer to conduct the atonement ceremony
with money, thus also fulfilling the great mitzva of helping poor people,”
Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi Yona Metzger also responded to
SPCA Israel’s request for rabbinic support, and issued orders to ensure that the
chickens facing the ceremony will be treated in a way that would reduce the
unnecessary suffering to a minimum, in accordance to the Jewish tradition that
stresses the need to show compassion to animals.
“We must treat these
animals with the same mercy we hope our Creator would treat us,” Metzger
Richard Schwartz, president of Jewish Vegetarians of North America,
said on Monday that he was “very happy about Rabbi Shlomo Aviner’s
Using and donating money for the kapparot ritual rather than
using chickens is consistent with our mission to be rachmanim b’nei rachmanim
(compassionate children of compassionate ancestors) and with the Torah mitzva of
tsa’ar ba’alei chaim (the prohibition against causing unnecessary harm to
animals). It is also consistent with the Jewish teachings that ‘God’s compassion
is over all of His works’ (Psalms 145:9) and ‘the righteous person considers the
life of his animals’ (Proverbs 12:10).”
Schwartz also said that
“substituting money for chickens supports the urgent need to make dietary
changes at a time when the production and consumption of meat and other animal
products is causing an epidemic of diseases and contributing substantially to
climate change and many environmental problems that threaten all of humanity.
Animal- based diets are arguably inconsistent with Jewish mandates to preserve
our health, treat animals with compassion, protect the environment, conserve
natural resources and help hungry people.”
SPCA Israel members toured
Shuk Hatikva in south Tel Aviv on Tuesday dressed in blood-red shirts and
bearing harsh pictures of slaughtered chickens, to try to encourage a change of
heart among those planning to use fowl in the kapparot ritual with the help of
explanatory pamphlets and Aviner's letter, which might bring some to substitute
the bird with charitable money.
The chicken slaughterers in the market
did not appreciate the initiative, and harsh words were exchanged between the
sides. There was, however, more receptiveness to SPCA Israel's agenda among some
of the market-goers, while others maintained it was a religious ceremony to be
adhered to, regardless of the halachic content of Aviner's letter.