As most shuls opt for coins, Kapparot Still Observed in Woodland Hills


Hebrew Discovery Center is one of the remaining synagogues in Los Angeles County to observe kapparot, the ritual killing of chickens performed during the Days of Awe. On Wednesday and Thursday evening, September 27 and 28, the Center continued the ancient tradition, yet again- to the dismay of protesters who picketed, holding up signs, many of them written in Hebrew and Farsi.

“This is a holdout,” said Rabbi Jonathan Klein, co-founder of Faith Action for Animals. “This ritual has always been a questionable ritual within the Jewish community…there’s no shortcut to expiation of sin.”

Kapparot is not mentioned in the Torah or Talmud. Nobody knows for sure when kapparot started being practiced, but it’s first mentioned in the 9th century by Babylonian scholar Rav Amram Gaon, who said that kapparot is an old tradition. Yet, many rabbinic authorities have since denounced the ritual, including Ramban (Nachmanides) and Rabbi Joseph Karo, who banned the practice in his Jewish Code of Laws, the Shulchan Aruch.

Today some Orthodox circles still observe the custom…of course, not without backlash.

For Rabbi Netanel Louie of Hebrew Discovery Center, the controversy surrounding kapparot ignites his will to observe the ritual. To him, kapparot is a transference of sins. It cleanses the soul like ginger cleanses the palette.

“If they don’t like chickens being killed, they should protest a KFC,” said a 20-year-old who just observed kapparot with her friend at the Center. (Ironically, there’s an El Pollo Loco directly across the street.) This was her first time doing the ritual. Her friend, however, (donning a tichel, head wrap) said she’d been observing the custom her whole life. To her, kapparot means tradition.

The person observing kapparot will swing the fowl overhead three times while reciting a prayer before a shochet, ritual slaughterer, cuts the chicken’s neck with a ritual knife, a shechita. The blood is drained; the deed is done. 

According to Louie, there is a hierarchy of existence. There is man and, then, there is chicken.

Many local synagogues have given up the ritual in lieu of a sin-absolving alternative: coins are wrapped in cloth and swung over the head three times; the coins are then donated to charity. Down the block, Klein made sure to mention, Sephardic synagogue Haichal Moshe, gave up the practice and opted for using coins instead of chickens. “What kind of Jew chooses killing chickens over using coins?” one protester wrote on a sign.

Last year, everyone got a little too excited. There were some vandalisms. I think there’s a case that’s still going. Two people got convicted, it’s unfortunate,” said Lieutenant Warner Castillo, who was at the scene “to keep the peace.” Ten LAPD officers and three supervisors were also on-duty. Castillo said that The Animal Cruelty Task Force inspected the kapparot site earlier that day, “and they deemed it lawful and it is what it is.”

Kapparot takes place in the alley behind the Center. Israeli techno pounds through speakers as people filter in and out, taking turns observing the custom. The Center built a temporary structure to perform the ritual, which looks like a sukkah, a plywood edifice draped in blue tarp. Hours before the ritual took place, the chickens were fenced off in a coop, supplied with food and water.

About 30 protesters showed up Wednesday evening, one of whom was Israeli-born animal rights activist Ady Gil. “When you’re just stubborn and you just want to do it, of course it affects the neighborhood and it affects the people,” he said. Gil owns an animal conservation down the block. “It’s not even done correctly according to Jewish law because if you do it, you have to actually give the dead chicken to tzedakah, which is charity for food.”

Following Jewish tradition, the chickens, after kapparot is performed, are supposed to be donated to the needy. But since the slaughter conditions aren’t FDA approved, after the ritual is done, the city picks them up in sanitation trucks. Louie isn’t sure what happens after that, but he heard they become fish feed; he won’t disclose how they get their chickens, but he reasons that they slaughter chickens that no longer lay eggs- so they would’ve been killed anyway. To those protesters, that’s besides the point.

Sarah Chandler leads a twist on the kapparot ritual in which participants hug chickens rather than swinging them over their heads. Photo courtesy of Chandler

Hug a chicken and 4 other twists on traditional High Holy Days rituals


Picture services for the High Holy Days: What likely comes to mind is a roomful of congregants sitting with heavy books in their laps listening to a rabbi sermonize or a cantor chant.

Baking pizza? Embracing a chicken under a tree? Not so much.

But those are some of the things that Jewish clergy, educators and activists are doing to zetz up observance of the holiest days of the year.

Aside from attending synagogue or dipping apples in honey, the extensive body of High Holy Days traditions includes rituals that are participatory, intricate and even acrobatic — but also obscure, inaccessible and sometimes distasteful.

In recent years, Jewish educators have tried to reclaim these rituals — changing and innovating them to be more engaging, understandable and relevant.

Here are five ways Jews are getting creative with the High Holy Days this year.

Forgiveness is a warm chicken

If you walk into a haredi Orthodox neighborhood the day before Yom Kippur, don’t be surprised to see men swinging live chickens above their heads. The ritual, called kapparot, aims to symbolically transfer a person’s sins onto the chicken, who then is donated to the poor and slaughtered for food.

Some observant Jews, unable or unwilling to gain possession of a live chicken, now swing money over their heads that then goes to charity. Others have taken to protesting communities that still use chickens.

But at the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center in rural Connecticut, Sarah Chandler has a different response: Instead of grabbing the chicken and whipping it through the air, just give it a hug.

Chandler, who was ordained as a Hebrew priestess at the Kohenet Institute and also goes by Kohenet Shamira, will take a group to the center’s chicken coop on the Sunday before Yom Kippur and begin to recite the kapparot prayers. Then, if the chickens agree, the assembled will take them, retreat to a shaded area and individually embrace them while completing the prayers, confessing their sins or meditating.

At the end of the ritual, the worshippers will simply let the chickens walk free.

Although Chandler is a vegan, she appreciates the parts of ancient Jewish rituals that involve connecting to animals. This version of kapparot, she said, strengthens the relationships between people and animals while causing the animals no harm.

“How can we include these chickens in our Jewish life?” she asks. “I want the ritual to be so embraced that people really really believe that this chicken, and this moment looking into the chicken’s eyes, will help them be written in the Book of Life.”

The crowdsourced confession

Every year on Yom Kippur, no matter where he’s lived, David Zvi Kalman has joined other congregants at synagogue in standing through a long list of communal sins recited by the entire congregation. The confessional prayers, known as the Viddui (Hebrew for confession), all begin “For the sin we have sinned before you …”

The laundry list of transgressions, covering everything from eating impure foods to berating a friend, is a central piece of the day’s liturgy and is repeated eight times. Worshippers are supposed to gently beat their chests at each line.

Kalman had trouble identifying with the prayers, finding the confessions to be overly general and prescriptive. They’re the sins the liturgy says you should feel sorry for, not necessarily the ones you actually committed.

So in 2013, he created AtoneNet, a bare-bones Tumblr where people can anonymously post the sins they would like to confess and receive forgiveness for. While the response rate has tapered off in the four years since it launched, the past couple of weeks have seen a fresh batch of posts regarding “sins,” such as not giving enough charity or getting angry.

One post reads, “For caring more about being perceived as woke or the least racist than about the actual impact I have on the people of color around me.”

Or another: “For taking housemates’ food that isn’t mine without asking.”

Kalman prints out the entire site each year as a booklet and ships it to those who order it for use on Yom Kippur. He hopes the booklet allows them to atone for sins they feel are closer to their lived experience.

“A lot of people have specific regrets about the way they treated a family member in the time of illness,” said Kalman, a doctoral student in Near Eastern languages at the University of Pennsylvania. “You don’t see a recognition of that in the traditional confession.”

Cast your pizza crusts upon the waters

One of the more hands-on rituals of Rosh Hashanah is tashlich — literally, “cast away” — a ritual where people gather at a natural body of water and toss in bread, representing the casting away of their sins. (Sensing a theme here?)

Rabbi Jeremy Fine of the Conservative Temple of Aaron in St. Paul, Minnesota could never get people to come to the Mississippi River for the ritual after they had sat through a long service. So this year he’s involving the congregation’s kids.

The Sunday before Rosh Hashanah, about 100 Hebrew school students will come to the synagogue and bake pizza for lunch. Then they’ll eat the pizza, but not the crusts — they will go in bags marked with the kids’ names to be stored in the synagogue refrigerator. After services on the first day of the holiday, the kids will retrieve their crusts, head with their parents to the river and chuck them in.

Last year, Fine got about 50 worshippers to tashlich. This year he expects 150.

“If we just did a little piece of bread, we don’t know if it’s so important,” Fine said. “But when the kids see the crust cut off, it’s like there’s actually something we’re giving away.”

Yizkor for gun victims

Yizkor, the memorial service for deceased relatives, is among the most well-known and best attended parts of the High Holy Days service. But what to do if you live in a place where people are regularly getting killed?

That’s the challenge confronted by Tamar Manasseh, a rabbinical student and anti-gun violence activist on Chicago’s South Side. Manasseh runs Mothers Against Senseless Killing, a group of moms that patrols a street corner in the violence-plagued neighborhood of Englewood. Given the local strife affecting the largely non-Jewish neighborhood, Manasseh felt a service focused only on relatives who passed would be inadequate.

So last year, Manasseh organized a Yom Kippur service on her street corner for the community that along with a shofar blast and prayers included a reading of the names of Chicago’s gun violence victims that year. Just reading the list, she says, took 15 minutes — and she hopes to do it again this year.

“A lot of times the funeral is closure,” she said, regarding the families of victims. “It’s not like their loved ones are spoken of after that, and they’re definitely not prayed for.”

At the Yizkor service, she said, “You get to remember, you get to pray.”

Zen and the art of Noraa Kaplan

For Ashkenazi Jews, the kickoff to the High Holy Days happens this year on the Saturday night before Rosh Hashanah. That’s when congregations gather to begin saying selichot, or prayers of atonement. Depending on a congregation’s tradition, the prayers range from a lively call-and-response to long, complex poems muttered almost silently.

But this year, two people are doing it differently.

At Lab/Shul, an experimental Jewish congregation in Manhattan, Rabbi Amichai Lau-Lavie noted that Rosh Hashanah this year coincides with the beginning of the Muslim year — so the synagogue’s theme for the High Holy Days is interfaith worship.

The congregation will be praying with Muslims throughout the holidays, but for the Selichot service, it will partner with the New York Zen Center for Contemplative Care, a meditation space. The service will intersperse Selichot prayers from a range of traditions with meditation practices.

“It’s a way to begin the season by taking responsibility and accountability for who you are in front of God,” Lau-Lavie said. “The liturgy and the assumption of saying sorry to God feels a little challenging, so we feel that scaffolding and pairing [that] with introspection and the tools of meditation and contemplation are everyone-friendly. They don’t assume faith.”

Another take on Selichot is happening in Providence, Rhode Island, where musician Noraa Kaplan is turning the service into a concert. Kaplan has invited fellow musicians to perform, and is ending the night with a piece of performance art that challenges a range of Jewish rituals. It will include her parodying a bad bar mitzvah DJ, as well as swinging a rubber chicken over her head.

The event, at a concert venue she runs in Providence called “Al Dios No Conocido,” will be a benefit for charity, but Kaplan is going to let the crowd decide where the money goes at the end of the night. To her, there’s not a lot of difference between traditional Selichot and a weekend show.

“Selichot is supposed to happen in this late-night setting, and in many communities you see these Jewish people gathering at midnight or later,” she said. Playing a DJ, she plans to “ask people to clap their hands, and then ask them to clap their hands if they’ve ever wronged someone.”

How to do Kapparot With Money


It’s easy to do the ancient Kapparot ritual in the comfort of your own home. The ritual is performed between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. All you need is some cash and the ritual worksheet below which is adapted from the Machzor.

Before Yom Kippur, gather those who want to do the ritual — your children, your self, your spouse, and anyone else who is interested — and have enough cash per person to make it a significant donation. I recommend that you use the same amount that is spent on a chicken, usually $18 or more. After performing Kapparot, the money is given to tzedakah, ideally to help feed people in need in your community.

Below is a sheet you can print out and use at home.

Wishing you a sweet and healthy New Year!

DOWNLOAD YOUR KAPPAROT WITH MONEY GUIDE

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

Animal rights group sues police for not stopping Yom Kippur kapparot ritual


An animal rights group filed a lawsuit against two Southern California police departments for not enforcing animal cruelty laws by halting a pre-Yom Kippur ritual.

The lawsuit filed this week naming both the Irvine and Los Angeles police departments is aimed at stopping Chabad of Irvine’s kapparot ceremony in which a chicken is swung by its legs and then slaughtered. It is the second attempt in recent years by the San Diego-based Animal Protection and Rescue League to halt the ceremony.

The lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court in Santa Ana says both police departments protect the “illegal killing of animals” by not cracking down on the kapparot ceremonies, the Orange County Register reported.

A lawsuit filed by the group against Chabad in 2015 on the basis of animal cruelty said the chickens are crammed tightly into cages and mishandled, and are disposed of and not used for food.

A federal judge in May dismissed a lawsuit filed on behalf of the Virginia-based United Poultry Concerns claiming that the practice violates the state’s unfair competition law.

Kapparot is an ancient practice performed annually by some Jews between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. By performing kapparot, one’s sins are said to be symbolically transferred to the chicken as part of the process of atonement ahead of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. The meat of the chicken is then donated to charity.

Some Jews perform the ritual using money in place of a chicken.

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.”

At 11th hour, federal judge allows Southern California kapparot ritual


A Los Angeles federal court judge lifted a temporary injunction against performing kapparot, a Jewish pre-Yom Kippur ritual in which a chicken is swung by its legs and then slaughtered, shortly before the holiday.

On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Andre Birrote Jr. lifted the injunction before sundown and the start of Yom Kippur in order to allow Chabad of Irvine members to perform the ritual, the Orange County Register reported.

“We are grateful to Judge Birotte for taking emergency action to ensure that the Jewish synagogue members’ First Amendment rights were safeguarded during Yom Kippur,” Matthew Martens, an attorney for Chabad, said in a statement to the Orange County Register.

Birrote had granted the injunction several days earlier in response to a lawsuit filed in late September on behalf of the Virginia-based United Poultry Concerns against the Chabad.

Kapparot is an ancient practice performed annually by some Jews between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. By performing kapparot, a person’s sins are said to be symbolically transferred to the chicken and atoned for ahead of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. The meat of the chicken is then donated to charity. Some people perform the ritual using money in place of a chicken.

In its suit, United Poultry Concerns alleged that the chickens are crammed tightly into cages and mishandled, and are disposed of and not used for food.

Rabbi Dovid Eliezrie, the director of the North County Chabad Center in Orange County, told JTA earlier in the week that the lawsuit was frivolous and that kapparot had not been scheduled at the Chabad of Irvine this year, but that the practice would go on as scheduled elsewhere in the Los Angeles area.

Judge blocks kapparot pre-Yom Kippur chicken ritual in Southern California


A Los Angeles federal court judge ordered a preliminary injunction against performing kapparot, a Jewish pre-Yom Kippur ritual in which a chicken is swung by its legs and then slaughtered.

U.S. District Judge Andre Birrote Jr. granted the injunction Friday in response to a lawsuit filed late last month on behalf of the Virginia-based United Poultry Concerns against the Chabad of Irvine and an unnamed rabbi.

The judge set a hearing for Thursday at which Chabad Irvine is to have the chance to contest the injunction. Yom Kippur begins Tuesday evening and ends Wednesday night, so the ruling essentially prevents the ritual from being performed in honor of the holiday this year.

Rabbi Dovid Eliezrie, the director of the North County Chabad Center in Orange County, called the suit frivolous and suggested it would not have advanced had the injunction not come down on the eve of Shabbat.

“The whole lawsuit is a false lawsuit by an extremist, publicity-seeking organization from outside the state,” Eliezrie told JTA. “If there was a proper hearing on the other side, the judge would have seen that the suit has no basis in reality.”

Kapparot is an ancient practice performed annually by some Jews between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. By performing kapparot, a person’s sins are said to be symbolically transferred to the chicken and atoned for ahead of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. The meat of the chicken is then donated to charity. Some people perform the ritual using money in place of a chicken.

The lawsuit alleged that the chickens are crammed tightly into cages and mishandled, and that they are disposed of and not used for food.

An attorney for United Poultry Concerns told the Orange County Register that it is now considering action against other Jewish centers that use live chickens.

Eliezrie said kapparot had not been scheduled at the Chabad of Irvine this year, but the practice will go on as scheduled elsewhere in the Los Angeles area.

“Many Jews in Southern California will be going to a lot of locations to do kapporos, which is their religious right, and will be doing so in a humane and legal fashion,” he told JTA. 

A similar lawsuit filed on behalf of the San Diego-based Animal Protection and Rescue League is making its way through the state court system. A lawsuit calling for an emergency restraining order against the ritual was denied last year, according to the Register.

Lawsuits filed last year in suburban Detroit and New York City were decided in favor of holding the holiday ritual.

Anti-kapparot protest leads to at least one arrest


The Jewish ritual of kapparot for Yom Kippur is causing clashes in the local community between Jews who believe in the act of slaughtering chickens as a way of transferring one’s sins in advance of the holy day and animal rights activists who are opposed to the activity.

The fight is playing out in court and on the streets.

On Monday night, a protest took place outside the Hebrew Discovery Center, which held kapparot activities on Oct. 9 and 10, in Woodland Hills. Los Angeles Police Department officials were on the scene and at least one arrest of an anti-kapparot activist was made as approximately 30 people gathered in protest to the slaughtering of the chickens.

Inside the center, in the kitchen, sat three garbage bags filled with dead chickens, which were to be picked up in the morning by the city’s sanitation department, according to Rabbi Netanel Louie, spiritual leader of the Hebrew Discovery Center.

Rabbi Jonathan Klein, executive director of Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice (CLUE-LA), was among those demonstrating against the center.

Klein, who was not representing CLUE-LA at the protest, described kapparot as an “antiquated tradition, and people don’t need to do this.”

Kapparot is a ritual that takes place between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and involves an individual atoning for his sins by transferring those sins to a live chicken. This is accomplished by the live chicken being waved above one’s head before being slaughtered. The dead chicken is supposed to be donated to a charity so that the dead chicken does not go to waste.

“Coins not hens” was among the signs displayed at the protest, referring to the increasingly popular practice among those synagogue communities that perform kapparot – many are Orthodox and/or Sephardic –of using coins instead of live chickens for the ritual. Nessah Synagogue, an Iranian congregation in Beverly Hills, held a kapparot event on Oct. 9 with coins, and the synagogue donated the proceeds to charity, according to an event flyer posted in Pico-Robertson.

Demonstrations in the San Fernando Valley alleged that Hebrew Discovery Center was not donating the butchered chickens to charity, despite the custom. Louie acknowledged as much, and said U.S. Department of Agriculture regulations make it illegal for him to donate chickens slaughtered at the center to charity. The chickens would be used for fish food instead.

“Fish food?” Klein later said to the Journal. “Give me a break.”

The protest followed two recent lawsuits against local organizations that perform the kapparot ritual. “United Poultry Concerns vs. Bait Aaron, Inc.,” a state lawsuit that was filed in August 2015 against Hebrew Discovery Center, among others, was dismissed on June 29.

“Despite the fact that the plaintiffs lost the case, they are still actively protesting, as you saw… It’s a source of distress for the community. You win your case but still have the protestors, that’s just a fact of life,” G. Scott Sobel, an attorney for the defendants, said in an interview.

“United Poultry Concerns vs. Chabad of Irvine,” a federal lawsuit that was filed Sept. 29, resulted in the judge issuing a temporary restraining order against Chabad of Irvine’s kapparot activities, on Oct. 7.

Chabad of Irvine Rabbi Alter Tenenbaum could not be reached immediately for comment, however, Rabbi David Eliezrie of the North County Chabad Center in Yorba Linda, California denounced the lawsuit against Chabad of Irvine as one of a series of actions by activists attempting to advance political goals, specifically, the elimination of meat production as consumption, by targeting an ancient Jewish ritual.

They’re “using Jews as a target to advance the radical agenda to ban all slaughter in America and kosher slaughter in particular,” Eliezrie said in an interview.

Founded in 1990, United Poultry Concerns is an activist organization that, according to its website, “promotes the benefits of a vegan diet and lifestyle.” In 2010 it formed the project, The Alliance to End Chickens as Kaporos.

“The Alliance to End Chickens as Kaporos is an association of groups and individuals who seek to replace the use of chickens in Kaporos ceremonies with money or other non-animal symbols of atonement,” according to the group’s website. “The Alliance does not oppose Kaporos per se, only the cruel and unnecessary use of chickens in the ceremony.”

Bryan Pease, a San Diego-based public interest litigation lawyer, represented the plaintiff, United Poultry Concerns, in both lawsuits. He said kapparot in which the chickens are slaughtered in a manner that makes it possible for the chicken to be donated to charity are not the concern of the lawsuits.

“Well if it’s done legally, then it’s no different than people eating animals, which is a separate issue,” he said.

Eliezrie, whose synagogue community in Yorba Linda performed a kapparot ritual this year, echoed Pease’s sentiment.  

“This is a tradition I learned. Animal rights activists don’t like it? Let them go protest the kosher chicken being sold in Trader Joe’s. I want to go see them do that. Let them go stand in front of Trader Joe’s,” he said. “It’s not slaughtered any differently than the one I did yesterday.”

Letters to the editor: Peoplehood, kapparot, Joseph L. Young and more


Dealing with the Deal, Together

I am writing to say that I agree with what David Suissa said in his editorial (“Bubblehood vs. Peoplehood,” Sept. 11). But he forgot to mention something important. 

It was because we could not come together that we lost Jerusalem and the Temple fell. We Jews as a people are so isolated that it is dangerous for us to fight among ourselves. We need to pull together and say, “Although I don’t agree with the way you worship, I am your brother/sister and it is more important to love one another than to fight.” One of the reasons that we have flourished in the United States is the Freedom of Religion clause in our Constitution. As an American Jew, I am allowed to practice my religion and fundamentalists of all religions are allowed to practice theirs, but not to impose their beliefs on others. We Jews need to learn that we are more alike than we are different.  

I don’t know what to think about this Iran deal, I have heard passionate conversation on both sides. But I think we shouldn’t be fighting one another over it. There is little each individual Jew can do to impact that outcome. But we need to stand together and deal with whatever the consequences will be. 

Suzanne Gallant via email


Kapparot’s Suit

I don’t see how swinging a chicken in the air atones for one’s sins (“The Battle Over Kapparot Goes to Court,” Sept. 11). Maybe I have missed something. It seems more along the lines of hocus pocus and voodoo, and not anything that sane, intelligent people in a modern civilized society take part in. I feel quite certain that God does not approve of this ill treatment toward his creatures.

Cher Ami via jewishjournal.com

Thank you very much for your valuable coverage of the bicoastal campaigns to replace the use of chickens in the kapporos ritual with coins or other charitable objects that do not cause suffering to helpless creatures.

Karen Davis via jewishjournal.com


Amazing Joe Young

Joseph Young was my dad’s favorite and most famous first cousin (“Joseph L. Young: Jewish Knight of Religious Art,” Sept. 11). We always called him “Josie.” He and his wife, Mimi, were a very attractive couple, like out of the movies. When they came to visit us in Aliquippa, Pa., they were always laughing. I never saw him look serious, even though he was considered one of the best mosaic artists in the world. He was down to earth and never let fame go to his head, but you could tell he was a perfectionist.
What a terrific article. Hoping his work is an inspiration forever.

Jeffrey Joel Eger, Mesa, Ariz. 


Two Nickels and a Schimmel

Rob Eshman’s Yonah Schimmel story is not the one of the 1930s and ’40s that I remember (“Meditation on Yonah Schimmel,” Sept. 4). My uncle had a pharmacy on Forsythe Street, and on every visit he would take the hand of his nephew and march me around the corner to Yonah Schimmel’s on Houston Street. There, I would be hypnotized by the array of knishes. I usually selected one filled with kasha. If there wasn’t one in the display case, a dumbwaiter with shelves and on pulleys would rise from the depths of who knows where and be filled with kasha knishes.

For 10 cents — a nickel on the Third Avenue L train from the Bronx to Manhattan and a nickel for the knish, (my uncle paid) — this kid was in hog heaven (excuse the expression).

Jerry Baruch, Los Angeles


Fruits of Labor

Edmon Rodman’s “Deep-Seeded Connections” (Sept. 11) brought back memories. The name Toby caught my eye right away. In my 81 years, I have personally known only one Toby, but did know of another one from my former dermatologist, Dr. Paul Wolfish. He even showed me an old black-and-white photograph of himself and his future wife, Toby, taken while both were in kindergarten. 

Paul Wolfish was a real mensch. While in his office, he would even sing for me the latest haftarah from a recent temple service, and he told me of his daughter who was going to Oberlin College in Ohio. 

I believe the last time I saw him was at Trader Joe’s in West Hills, purchasing a bottle of wine. Thanks for helping me recall one special Jewish doctor. As for Toby’s pomegranates numbering in the hundreds from a single tree, so do my persimmons as of late, also from a single tree.

Samuel Kohn, Canoga Park


CORRECTIONS

An article in the Fall Preview issue, “The Broad Museum’s Long-Awaited Opening” (Sept. 11), incorrectly stated that the Broad Foundation would be moving from Santa Monica into the new museum. It is the Broad Art Foundation that will move.

Kapparot ritual allowed in New York


The Yom Kippur ritual of kapparot can proceed in New York, a state Supreme Court judge ruled.

Justice Debra James ruled Monday in Manhattan that there was not enough evidence to prove that the ritual is a public nuisance, the New York Post reported. The decision was in response to a lawsuit filed in July by The Alliance to End Chickens as Kaporos.

Kapparot involves swinging a live chicken over one’s head three times and reciting a prayer to cast sins to the bird. The chicken is then slaughtered and donated to the poor. In recent years, money has replaced the chicken in the rite for many Jewish groups.

The lawsuit, which named several rabbis, synagogues, the New York Police Department and New York City, accused the police and health departments of assisting the ritual by blocking off streets and sidewalks, and not enforcing city and state laws that regulate health and animal cruelty issues.

Some 50,000 chickens have been ordered in Brooklyn in preparation for this year’s kapparot, according to reports.

Animal commissioners express support for humane treatment of chickens used for kapparot


The city of Los Angeles Animal Services department “will be ready and available” to respond to animal cruelty calls about kapparot, Mark Salazar, director of field operations at L.A. Animal Services said on the evening of Sept. 8 at a Los Angeles Board of Animal Services Commissioners meeting.

In a public setting where the humane treatment of Los Angeles’ varied animal population is often on the agenda, the subject was chickens and how they are treated in preparation for the annual ritual of kapparot. For the ritual to expiate sins, practiced by some Orthodox Jews between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, a live chicken is swung overhead for each person, then slaughtered according to the laws of kashrut.

At Animal Services Commissioners meeting, held at the Best Friends Animal Society shelter in Mission Hills, Salazar, director of field operations at L.A. Animal Services, opened the discussion by detailing to the commissioners his department’s position on animal cruelty crimes.

Speaking of the city’s prosecution rates in humane mistreatment cases, he said, “We take it very seriously,” and added that some violators have received jail time.

Asked specifically about kapparot by Commissioner Jennifer Brent, Salazar said, “We respond to all types of humane violations the same, it doesn’t make a difference what activity is going on, or not. Our concern is for the animal.” Approximately 70 people attended the public meeting; about half came to hear how the city plans to enforce animal cruelty laws with regards to the religious ritual of kapparot.

During the public comment period after Salazar’s presentation, among the many who spoke about the cruelty to the chickens used in the kapparot ceremony, were Rabbi Jonathan Klein leader of Faith Action for Animals, and David Simon, who has filed a lawsuit against several defendants who practice kapparot with chickens.

Also speaking was Sherstin Rosenberg, a Jewish veterinarian who runs along with her daughter Zoe the Happy Hen Chicken Rescue in San Louis Obispo, which Zoe founded 2014 when she was only 11. “The hens that are used in the kapparot ceremony are taken from the egg industry,” Rosenberg told the commissioners. “These are spent hens” many of which she found to “suffer from severe osteoporosis,” she said.

During kapparot, when the hen’s wings are pulled back, and the hen swung around, she said, “most of these hens probably suffer multiple bone fractures. That constitutes extreme animal cruelty.”

Rosenberg said that in 2014 she rescued several hens that planned to be used in the annual ritual.

She has also rescued hundreds of hens from the egg industry, she said, but among the kapparot chickens, she “had never seen such stark terror,” she said.

Though the public comment period was open to anyone who attended, no one spoke in defense of kapparot.

Commissioner Larry Gross weighed in on the issue by citing the Chabad website. “It is of utmost importance to treat these chickens humanely and not cause them any pain or suffering,” he said.

He added he believes, “The First Amendment protects the actual ritual.” But the act of forcing chickens “to sit in transport crates and not providing food or water, any care at all, is not protected or condoned by the first amendment,” he said.

“The best way that we can honor the High Holy Days is by joining with these activists, and becoming involved,” said Gross, who along with commissioners Brent, Roger Wolfson, and David Zaft, expressed support for the position of the activists.

“The Day of Atonement should be about embracing and caring, a protective relationship with animals, not destroying them,” Gross said, reading from prepared remarks.

Compassionate kapparot: use coins, not chickens


How does one remove sin and guarantee one’s name in the Book of Life during the Ten Days of Repentance? Here’s one way that does not work: Take a factory-farmed white hen out of a battery cage in the sweltering heat, wave it over your head, say “This is my exchange, this is my substitute, this is my atonement.” Then summarily cut its throat and toss it in the trash to die. This, tragically, is the modern version of the High Holiday ritual of kapparot taking place in some parts of Jewish Los Angeles.

Since roughly the 12th century, this controversial blood ritual of Kapparot, performed between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, has had its proponents and plenty of opponents within the traditional Jewish world. Joseph Caro, author of the Shulchan Aruch, as well as Nachmanides, opposed this ritual, which infringes on the laws of tza’ar ba’alei chayim (animal cruelty), bal tashchit (wanton waste) and the creation of n’veilah (carcasses unfit for consumption). Some have objected because it too closely resembles ancient Temple practices, others due to a longstanding, nefarious anti-Semitic impression upon non-Jews that we are devil-worshippers offering up to Satan. Just search “satan” and “kapparot” on YouTube and you’ll be shocked. More basically, Jewish law teaches, “The law of the land is the law” (dina d’malchuta dina), which means that those who perform the ritual must follow legal statutes; in Los Angeles City, the municipal code itself outlaws animal sacrifice, effectively banning the ritual altogether.

Last year, a handful of entrepreneurs offered this ritual for $18 for one chicken on-site, or $26 per chicken with a minimum of two if performed at home or office. In at least one instance, they used factory-farmed hens for both men and women, contradicting Jewish custom of using hens for women, roosters for men. In at least three sites, they dumped the chickens into the trash, and one business even erected misleading signs to falsely suggest that they were giving the chickens to tzedakah. Having led a “Compassionate Kapparot” ceremony using money instead of chickens with some of my colleagues, I was even invited in to videotape a bucket of ice with chickens allegedly prepared for donation to a food bank, later verified to be entirely false.

Countless concerned Pico-Robertson neighbors and activists as well as the press documented the mockery of decency: While alive, these chickens endured horrific heat, without food, water or shade, feces and urine covering those on the bottom layer of the battery cages. After they were slaughtered, their carcasses were simply dumped and incinerated, never given to tzedakah nor a food bank (since these operations were unlicensed, no food bank could even accept the chickens due to the disregard for food safety laws). By the end of the week of kapparot protests, with countless calls to the sanitation department, the health department, Councilmember Paul Koretz’s office (who also sent a reminder to Jewish organizations in his district that the practice is against municipal code) and so many other agencies, the California Department of Food and Agriculture shut down these operations. 

This year the anti-cruelty momentum is growing. If we were in China, this new year might be The Year of the Chicken. In the face of agencies committed to enforcing the law, outspoken animal rights activists, a petition drive with more  than 7,000 signatures, overwhelming opposition in both the Jewish Journal and Los Angeles Times and even the attention of elected leaders, finally, the kapparot profiteers who were shut down last year are no longer offering this ritual publicly. Hundreds if not thousands of chickens will be saved, and Jewish compassion for all life finally honored communally. While some may continue to offer the ritual in select locations, contrary to the law, the most blatant disregard for compassion toward animals will not take place in 2014.

Most Jews eat chicken; few are “radical vegan rabbis,” as one disingenuous defender of this ritual who earns a pretty penny commercializing kapparot attempted to tar me last year. One need not be reduced to a caricature to oppose this practice. In fact, the tide of opposition to chicken-based kapparot has forced this defender’s operations underground this year, limited to home and business delivery. Virtually no one who opposed the protesters last year believed that the chickens were being dumped, but if they knew, most said they would oppose it. All it takes is the tiniest scintilla of rachmanut, compassion. The cruelty and undue suffering of these beautiful tossed birds makes this optional custom unfit for a 21st century Jewish community that prides itself on our collective deep regard for all life.  

As a people, we have always championed compassion, justice, and law. Kapparot with chickens is none of those three things. The ritual symbolizes atonement, but it does not actually create it; atonement ultimately comes from God. Even psychologists have long taught that violence toward animals desensitizes children to violence later in their lives; why should we allow our Jewish neighborhoods to be transformed into slaughterhouses and our dumpsters into morgues each year through this antiquated, largely abandoned custom? Despite attempts to distract from the core issues, this is not a matter of religious freedom; it is a matter of conscience and respect for life.

Meanwhile, on the morning before Yom Kippur, I will, indeed, practice a fully accepted alternative approach to kapparot, as provided in the most common Orthodox prayer book in America (Artscroll): I will wave a bag of coins over my head and say, “This is my exchange, this is my substitute, this is my atonement” and give them to tzedakah or to a homeless person in my neighborhood, with prayers that I can practice kindness and compassion toward all of Earth’s inhabitants, in this new year.


Rabbi Jonathan D. Klein is co-founder/director of Faith Action for Animals.

Thousands of kapparot chickens die in New York heat


Thousands of chickens designated for the pre-Yom Kippur kapparot ritual died in New York due to unseasonable heat.

An estimated 2,000 chickens died Wednesday in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Borough Park on Wednesday, when temperatures climbed into the mid-90s, the New York Daily News reported.

Chaim Singer, 32, told the newspaper that water and shade were provided for the animals. But activists have long claimed that thousands of chickens suffer and die unnecessarily during the kapparot ritual, in which a chicken is swung over the head in a symbolic transference of a person’s sins.

“I am horrified, I am upset, but I am not surprised,” said Rina Deych, 57, a member of the Alliance to End Chickens as Kaporos.

[Related: Atonement chickens — swung and tossed]

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