“Questioning Kapparot” in the Fall Edition of B’nai B’rith Magazine

The internationally prestigious quarterly Jewish magazine, B’nai B’rith, published the following article in the Fall edition on page 13. It is reprinted with kind permission from B’nai B’rith Magazine.

Photo by: Agence France-Presse
Chickens in Water
Kapparot practitioner performs
chicken-swinging ritual in Israel in 2003.
Questioning Kapparot

By Janet Lubman Rathner, Senior Editor

An animal rights organization is suggesting an alternative to the ancient High Holidays custom of Kapparot, a tradition that involves swinging a live chicken over one’s head while reciting psalms and prayers. The custom is a sin-cleansing exercise performed between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Observers are typically from ultra-Orthodox communities who are then supposed to donate the birds to charity.

The treatment of the birds in the days leading up to, during, and after Kapparot has attracted controversy. There have been several reports and photos of starving and abandoned chickens, hundreds of which were rescued by the ASPCA in New York City, after being found crated and abandoned in a garage and parking lot in 2005 and 2006.

United Poultry Concerns (UPC), a nonprofit dedicated to the compassionate treatment of domestic fowl, wants Kapparot practitioners to use money swinging coins in a handkerchief instead of birds, and then donate the proceeds.

Kapparot is not required by the Torah, the Talmud, or any laws of religious practice. It is a symbolic gesture and any kind of object is acceptable,” says Karen Davis, founder and president of UPC. “We do not object to Kapparot. We just want it practiced in a humane way.”

Although the UPC’s 2007 request received no acknowledgement last year, Davis says the Rabbinical Council of America, which represents many Orthodox rabbis, will once again receive a letter from UPC asking for endorsement of the substitution.*

“We’re not asking that Kapparot be abandoned; just the use of chickens,” Davis says. “We don’t want to see any animal go through suffering when there is no requirement.” Janet Lubman Rathner. Senior Editor

*UPC’s 2008 letter to the Rabbinical Council of America can be read at: www.upc-online.org/kaparos/90908kapparotletter.html & www.upc-online.org/kaparos/.

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  • A polite letter to the editor of B’nai B’rith Magazine thanking them for this informative and timely article may be sent to:

    Hiram M. Reisner
    Editorial Director/Letters Editor
    B’nai B’rith Magazine
    2020 K St. NW, 7th Floor
    Washington, DC 20006