Animal rights group appeals kapparot court ruling
A 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.”