A Charedi Orthodox man participating in the kapparot ritual in Ashdod, Israel. Photo by Dima Vazinovich/Flash90

Animal rights group appeals kapparot court ruling


Maryland-based animal rights organization, United Poultry Concerns, is appealing a recent federal court ruling that determined that Chabad of Irvine acted legally in its performance of kapparot, an ancient High Holy Day ritual involving the slaughtering of chickens.

The animal rights group is claiming that the use of the chickens violates California’s business code. However, Judge Andre Birotte Jr. of the Central District of California ruled on May 12 that the Chabad was not engaged in a “business act” because the ritual is supported by donations.

The case now goes to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

The case began last year when United Poultry Concerns argued that the Chabad was violating the Unfair Competition Law, which prohibits “intentional killing of an animal and does not contain an exception for religious sacrifice.” The group alleged that the Chabad group was engaging “in business practices for profit in which they charge a fee to kill and discard animals.”

The Chabad typically accepts donations of $18 from each participant of kapparot, according to Rabbi Alter Tenenbaum, Chabad of Irvine’s spiritual leader.

In an interview, Tenenbaum praised the judge’s decision.

“I think he saw through it — that this is nonsense, this whole case is nonsense. We do kapparot once a year with 100 chickens. That issue today of animal rights is bogus,” he said. “We do it legally.”

Tenenbaum said the organization has not been donating the chickens, as is customary, but that an organization picks them up and discards them.

Bryan Pease, the attorney for United Poultry Concerns, said that while the judge determined that the practice failed to meet the criteria of an unfair business act, he did not address the legality of slaughtering chickens without the intention of eating or donating them.

“We’re charting legal territory here that hasn’t been covered — whether an institution accepting donations for this kind of ritual is considered a business practice,” Pease said. “It’s appropriate for the Ninth Circuit to weigh in.”

Tenenbaum defended the practice as comporting with thousands of years of Jewish history.

“It is a service we are offering people,” he said. “If people want to do it the right way, the original way, they have the ability to do it, and I don’t think it’s the government or any agency to tell us how we practice religion, as long as we are staying within the confines of law.”

Performed annually around the time of Yom Kippur, when community members atone for their sins, kapparot is an ancient ritual that involves transferring one’s sins to a slaughtered chicken. The atoning person waves a live chicken around his or her head, and the chicken is slaughtered afterward in accordance with kosher laws. According to Chabad.org, “its monetary worth [is] given to the poor, or, as is more popular today, the chicken itself is donated to a charitable cause.”

The practice has become problematic with animal rights organizations, prompting some Jews to perform the ritual by waving a bag of coins around their heads instead of using live chickens.

Those opposed to it include progressive faith-based organizations. Clergy & Laity United for Economic Justice (CLUE) has long opposed kapparot. Rabbi Jonathan Klein, executive director at CLUE, said he was disappointed over the federal judge’s decision in the Irvine case. He said his organization would continue to fight against the practice.

“I don’t think it’ll change the momentum or the desire to stop it. So in terms of organizing, it will not change much of anything,” he said. “I think it’s a disappointing decision — I’m not surprised by it — but nevertheless we will continue to really focus on just the audacity of the ritual in public spaces.”

PETA slams N.Y. kapparot ritual [VIDEO]



PETA anti-kapporot video

NEW YORK (JTA) — For the second year, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has complained about the High Holy Days ritual of swinging a chicken over one’s head, a sin-transference ceremony.

In a letter sent Monday to the New York agriculture department’s Kosher Law Enforcement division, PETA alleges that thousands of dead chickens were thrown away after the ritual last year in one Brooklyn center. The letter singles out the kapparot center run in Crown Heights by Rabbi Shea Hecht and asks the state to investigate whether consumer fraud occurred. Jews who bought chickens for the ritual expected the birds “to be processed for meat that would be distributed as tzedakah,” or charity, the letter states.

Last summer’s complaint to the state and city was more wide ranging, alleging a variety of health and safety violations as well as animal cruelty. It spurred a meeting of more than a dozen rabbis in Brooklyn, and they sent out directives to kapparot centers saying they needed full-time rabbinic supervision.

A related letter was submitted to the Kashrus Information Center, an independent association of more than 100 rabbis that monitors kosher affairs in Brooklyn. Rabbi Moshe Weiner, the Kashrus center’s rabbinic administrator, said that Hecht’s site and others operated by communal organizations are well run. While there have been problems in the past from “fly-by-night” kapparot centers, Weiner said proactive steps taken by rabbis last year significantly cut down on such problems.

Human Atonement or Animal Cruelty?


Early morning on the day before Yom Kippur, groups of Jews will be gathering to hold squawking chickens by the feet and twirl them over their head while chanting a prayer. After the twirling, the chickens will be ritually slaughtered and given to the poor.

Kaparos, literally atonements, which has been performed in Los Angeles at the Santa Monica Chabad House and at Yeshiva Ohr Elchonon Chabad, is one of the strangest-looking customs in Jewish liturgy. It is done to inspire repentance and to impress upon its adherents the seriousness of Yom Kippur. However, the practice has inspired the ire of animal rights groups, who consider it cruel to the chickens, and many are urging that Jews who practice this custom do so using money instead, which is an acceptable substitute.

Kaparos is not a mitzvah but a post-talmudic minhag (Jewish custom). It originated sometime during the middle ages. The idea was that since the Hebrew word for man (gever) and rooster were the same, a man’s sins — and his punishments — could be symbolically transferred to the rooster, in the same way that during the times of the Temple, people bought animal sacrifices as penance for their sins. Therefore, while slinging the chicken during kaparos, the person chants, "This is my exchange, this is my substitute, this is my atonement. This chicken shall go to its death, and I shall proceed to a good, long life and peace."

Today, some people perform kaparos by swinging a bag of money over their head and then donate that money to charity.

Yet, kaparos is not a substitute for repentance, and it should not be assumed that someone could achieve penance and absolution by having a chicken take the rap for all their transgressions.

"The chicken does not replace me," said Rabbi Shneur Zalman Schmukler, a shochet (ritual slaughterer) who arranges kaparos with chickens at Yeshivat Ohr Elchonon Chabad. "The chicken is an innocent chicken. The chicken will not take the sin away from me, but what the chicken does is impress upon me, that what is happening to the chicken [should be] happening to me and this will arouse in me feelings of teshuvah [repentance]. Watching the chicken get slaughtered awakens you to the physical gravity of Yom Kippur."

Schmukler said that using chickens for kaparos is a deep and mystical kabbalistic custom, that combines the maximizes the forces of chesed (lovingkindness) in the world.

"Early morning is a time when God’s middos hachesed [kind attributes] shine, and the reason we slaughter the chicken is to oppress the powers of gevurah [restrictions]," he said. "Blood is a symbol of anger, because when you are angry the blood goes to your face, and when we take the blood out a chicken, we make a tikkun [spiritual correction] and sweeten the energies of the world. This is what kaparos is on a spiritual level."

But animal rights activist feel that kaparos produces particularly sour physical energy. Los Angeles kaparos locales are often the site of protests and demonstrations against the way the chickens are handled. These activists say that the chickens are cooped up in cages that are too small, without enough air or water, and that chickens are often harmed before they are slaughtered in the general chaotic atmosphere of the kaparos ceremony.

"Typically, we get a whole lot of letters [protesting kaparos] from grass-roots animal-rights groups at this time of year," said Madeline Bernstein, president of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Los Angeles (SPCA), a law-enforcement organization. "The theory is if you swing the chickens around, then you can use the chickens to eat. But if the swinging around causes them injury and suffering, then they are no longer qualified for kosher slaughter…. People have found suffering chickens with their necks broken but still alive. We wish that it would stop. While we are constantly assured that they are swung gently, it doesn’t preclude accidents."

Karen Davis, president of United Poultry Concerns (UPC), a Virginia- based organization that, according to their Web site, is "dedicated to the compassionate and respectful treatment of domestic fowl," said that her organization has been lobbying the SPCA and rabbis for years to intervene and require some basic humane treatment of kaparos birds.

"It is great if people choose a compassionate alternative, and instead of twirling a chicken they toss up a coin instead," said Matt Prescott, campaign coordinator for the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

But Schmukler says that the really proper way to do kaparos is with chickens, and that the protesters are wasting their time.

"People slaughter and eat chickens all over the city," he said. "What is the difference [between us and them]? They should go to packing houses and demonstrate there."

Kaparos with chickens will take place at Yeshiva Ohr Elchonon Chabad, 7215 Waring Ave., Los Angeles, on Sunday, Oct. 5, 6 a.m.-noon. For more information, call (323) 937-3763.