A day before the Jewish Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, thousands of Jews in Israel ask for forgiveness from others and from God.
A common practice is to perform Kapparot, whereby one transfers his sins to something outside his or herself. The process is short but elaborate.The sinner first recites selections from the Tanakh or Jewish Bible, including from Isaiah 11:9, Psalms 107:10, 14, 17 to 21 and Job 33:23-24.Then, it is customary for a man to swing in a circle three times a rooster around his head – and a woman to swing a hen around hers – while reciting a prayer: “This is my exchange, this is my substitute, this is my expiation. This chicken shall go to death and I shall proceed to a good, long life and peace.”The chicken is then slaughter and is generally donated to the poor.In the most Orthodox neighborhoods of Israel, it remains common to use roosters and hens for Kapparot, while in most circles, fowl has today been replaced by giving money to charity. The Environmental Protection Ministry called on the public this year to refrain from swinging live chickens over their heads.A press release from the ministry warns that it’s cruel to spin anything living, but adds that the fowl are held in crowded cages in poor conditions, causing them even more discomfort.The ministry said that giving charity is not a new approach, and that one should realize that using fowl is not Jewish law but only tradition.As the chicken is usually slaughtered and made into a meal for the poor, it’s possible that past generations valued it as a way to feed those less fortunate in pre-modern society. However, one can replace the chicken with a sum of money and utter the blessing as well; the coins or notes “accept” the sins and the money can then be given to charity.Speaking to The Jerusalem Post in 2013, Rabbi Adam Frank said that “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.”
Kapparot (Courtesy Marc Israel Sellem)