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 the SPCA Israel with a letter last week showing the faultiness in 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 creation, especially when the underlying motivation is absolution of ones sins before the same God, as Aviner quotes from former Tel Aviv Rabbi Chaim David Halevi.Since the sixth century, the ceremony of transubstantiating one's sins into the body of a chicken, and then slaughtering it, has prevailed among Jewish communities, acted out in the days leading up to Yom Kippur.Over the centuries, halachic disputes emerged around the rite, with Rabbi Yosef Karo (who wrote the Shulchan Aruch), the Rashba and Nahmanides among those objecting to 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 benevolence. Alternatives to the fowl were put forth, such as the use of grain or giving charity to the poor.RELATED:Chicken ritual is foul, animal rights groups sayFowl accusations 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 hours. The kapparot rite involves swinging the bird over the atoned one's head, much to the discontent of the animal.To encourage observant people to choose a non-fowl object of atonement, the 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 Sephardic Jewry, who called it "the custom of the Amorite - simply put, a superstition." Aviner cited the late kabbalic Rabbi Yitzchak Kadouri, who said that you should abstain from using chickens due to "the cruelty to animals, which is prohibited by the Torah, and kashrut problems." He also 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," Aviner summarized.Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi Yona Metzger also responded to the 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 said.Richard Schwartz, president of Jewish Vegetarians of North America, said on Monday that he was "very happy about Rabbi Shlomo Aviner's statement. 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 incur a change of heart among those planning a fowl atonement ceremony 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.