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.”