Knesset c'tee nixes Agriculture Ministry regulations for Yom Kippur chicken ritual

The custom of kapparot has become increasingly controversial as animal rights groups have argued that the ritual entails significant suffering to the birds.

Chicken (photo credit: INGIMAGE)
(photo credit: INGIMAGE)
The Knesset Economic Affairs Committee has rejected new directives issued by the Agriculture Ministry for regulating the custom of kapparot – a practice conducted before Yom Kippur in which a live chicken is ritually lifted over a person’s head before being slaughtered.
During the hearing on Wednesday MK Uri Mak - lev (United Torah Judaism) threatened that if the regulations were upheld his party would topple the government. Committee chairman Eitan Cabel (Zionist Union) said that the regulations were overly stringent and if implemented would prevent performance of the kapparot ritual.
The custom has become increasingly controversial in recent years due to arguments raised by animal rights groups that the ritual entails significant suffering to the birds, including being left for hours and even days in small cages, frequently without food and water, and often outside in the sun.
The ritual can also be per - formed by substituting the chickens with money that is then donated to charity.
Last year, the Agriculture Ministry issued strict guide - lines prohibiting the slaughter of chickens outside of permanent slaughterhouses, which led to vigorous opposition from parts of the haredi community that are accustomed to performing the kapparot custom.
To allow slaughter outside of a permanent slaughter - house, the ministry issued new guidelines that included strict regulations on transportation times for the chickens, mandated the presence of veterinarians and inspectors at slaughter sites, and introduced various stipulations to ensure that the chickens do not suffer during the process.
In addition, the head of the local municipal authority could chose to permit or disallow slaughter outside of slaughterhouses as long as the Veterinary Services Administration was satisfied that the regulations were being upheld.
According to attorney Simcha Rottman, who submit - ted a High Court of Justice petition last year against the Agriculture Ministry’s regulations, the current guide-lines require that a mobile slaughterhouse be erect - ed at every site, which he claimed would cost at least NIS 10,000. He also argued that the manpower required for inspection of the sites would be hard to supply and finance.
The chairman of the Israel Veterinary Association agreed with Rottman that the regulations essentially require a road-side slaughterhouse to be erected and that such a demand was not realistic.
Cabel said that he could not approve regulations that would turn people into criminals, but that a balance needed to be struck between allowing the custom to be performed and protecting animals from unnecessary suffering.
“I will not issue regulations that the public cannot uphold,” Cabel said, adding that giving the authority for banning or permitting slaughter outside of slaughterhouses to local municipal authorities was not desirable. He asked the ministry to formulate a different arrangement and provide the required inspection.
A representative of the ministry said, however, that it was not authorized to provide inspection outside of permanent slaughterhouses.
Maklev said that those wishing to organize and perform the ritual do want to uphold certain standards and regulations but that the current regulations would prevent the custom being performed in the open and that “Jews in Israel will be forced to do kapparot underground.”
The kapparot custom is not mentioned in the Torah or the Talmud. Several important rabbinic figures opposed performing the ritual with chickens, including the 12th-century Spanish sage Maimonides and Rabbi Yosef Karo, a 16th-century scholar who lived in Spain, Turkey and Israel and authored the central codification of Jewish law in use today.
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.
The animal rights group Anonymous for Animal Rights said following the hearing that the kapparot process involved suffering to the chickens and pointed out that rabbis such as Karo and others have opposed the custom.
“In the kapparot ritual, chickens are delivered in cramped cages during a period of many hours and wait for slaughter while in crowded conditions, scared, thirsty and hungry,” the group said.
“It’s cruel and unnecessary to harm chickens when it as possible to perform the custom with money and then donating it to the poor, a practice that expresses giving and mutual responsibility. On the day of self-accounting [Yom Kippur], it is appropriate that we think about our relation to society’s most vulnerable creatures: animals.”