Kaparot: A postmortem production?

The much-criticized rite known as kaparot (“atonements” in Hebrew) is traditionally performed before Yom Kippur.

The Practice of Kaparot at Jerusalems Mahne Yehuda (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
The Practice of Kaparot at Jerusalems Mahne Yehuda
This week, observant Jews around the world will fling live chickens over their heads in hopes that harsh decrees intended for them instead will be given to the soon-tobe- slaughtered fowl.
That much-criticized rite, known as kaparot (“atonements” in Hebrew), traditionally is performed before Yom Kippur. The chickens often struggle during the ceremony, though they apparently are unaware of their imminent doom or their newly acquired sins.
After a chicken has its head cut off, it can still run around for a minute because its spinal nerves continue to send impulses to its muscles.
Perhaps inspired by such chickens, the Shas party held a mega event late Sunday night at the Payis Arena in Jerusalem, marking the 12-month anniversary of the death of the party’s mentor, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef.
Shas leader Arye Deri made sure to have buses come in from all over the country to fill the 15,000 seat arena and honor the rabbi’s memory.
He could not afford to have a poor showing like the one at a similar event last month.
Reserving such a large site was bold, not chicken.
It is indeed impressive if Deri managed to fill the arena despite the event being limited to men.
Women were sent to watch the event via satellite across town at the Jerusalem International Convention Center, far enough away to be absolutely sure that men and women would not come in contact with each other accidentally.
But filling the arena is no more proof that Shas continues to survive and thrive than the doomed dash of a decapitated chicken. When Yosef died, the party lost both its head and its heart.
Yosef was more than just a spiritual leader. He was a political rock star who could inspire respected Torah scholars at the top Torah institutions in Jerusalem and simple Sephardi folks in the periphery equally.
His replacement, Rabbi Shalom Cohen, is a great rosh yeshiva. But as former Shas spokesman Roy Lachmanovich pointed out on Sunday in an interview with VoiceofIsrael.com, hardly anyone even knows what the newly influential rabbi looks like.
In an article Cohen penned for Shas’s weekly synagogue flyer, Ma’ayan Hashavua, which uncoincidentally included Yosef’s picture and not his own, Cohen wrote that attending the memorial ceremony was a “holy obligation” that would “protect the people of Israel from all kinds of punishments in the world.”
Such a hopeful prophesy came from a man who was quoted as saying during Operation Protective Edge that, “The people of Israel do not require an army because the Holy One Blessed Be He fights on Israel’s behalf.”
Cohen’s associates explained later that he was referring to an ideal situation in which all of Israel kept all the commandments and not a practical prognosis.
But it was too late to prevent many potential Shas voters from being turned off.
Turning women away from the arena was also a sign that Shas is no longer the home of the non-ultra-Orthodox Sephardim who traditionally gave the party two-thirds of its seats. It is no wonder the party is faring poorly in the polls.
A split, which has become increasingly likely, could be a final blow to the party that was once the kingmaker in Israeli politics.
So Deri may have succeeded in putting on a show of strength for Shas for one night. But the only way for him to truly prove that the party is alive and well is to keep it together against all odds until the next election and do nearly as well as it did when Yosef was alive and well.
Only then would it be clear that harsh decrees against Shas have been canceled and that the party has received atonement from its voters.