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.”

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.

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.

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]