April 2, 2020

Beheading My Pet Lamb and Chicken Kaparot.

I was eight years old when my father brought home our first pet.  Babai, an endearing name for a lamb in Iran, was cute, white, fluffy- all that a child wanted.

My father emptied the pool and placed Babai in it to roam.  Each day, before and after school, I would walk down the steps, take food and water to my pet friend to make sure he felt loved.  I was happy not to swim and my heart was full of joy.  Babai was small but ate nonstop.

On weekends, I would spend hours playing and talking with him.  I would recite a famous Persian poem about Moses, who while tending sheep, had ridiculed a lonely shephard seeking God- begging “Where is your dwelling place, that I could brush Your hair, set Your bed, clean Your house?”  In shame, the shephard had run away, and God told Moses “You are here to connect hearts, not created distances.”

On summer days, I imagined running free with Babai in an open field, under cooling clouds, birds singing atop apple trees.  Could that be heaven?  Then, guilt would set in.  What if we accidentally ran into his mother and she wanted him back? I wouldn’t want to give him up, and I hadn’t even given birth to him.

Days and months passed and Babai transformed from an innocent white lamb into a full grown handsome sheep, while I still remained a young boy.

One afternoon, school ended early, and I used all energy available to my childhood feet to get me to my best friend.  I ran home and noted the front door open.  It sounded like my uncles and aunts had been invited to a party without me.  There was a great smell of kabob.  I threw my bag on the floor and hopped toward the pool.  I heard unfamiliar prayers.  

The following moment took hours in my mind.  Babai was hung from one of my favorite trees, upside down; his legs tied, his head on the ground, his intestines hanging.  Some rabbi I had never met was murmuring some words and eating even faster.

I cried for many nights.  My parents even tried to feed me Babai.  I think they tried to explain the concept of animal sacrifice to me, but the pain is still too great to remember.

We harm our children in ways we don’t even realize at the time.  What is considered the norm can leave scars for a lifetime.

Friends have asked for my thoughts on chicken Kaparot, the much-criticized rite of “atonements” performed before Yom Kippur.   I am not a religious figure, so my thoughts are personal and spiritual.  I was traumatized as a child by the above story and am biased.  I have too much respect for life and realize as a physician my powers are limited and that I could not even come close to producing a single wing of a chicken, or a fly, and so I choose to remain humble and in awe of life- and out of respect not harm it.  The purpose of the sacrifice is to rid ourselves of sin and find our way back to God. Personally, killing an innocent animal distances me from God. I wish to create closeness, not distance, as per above poem.  I am not a vegetarian and so I realize the internal contradiction in my argument. I also believe that we were meant to be vegetarian but the laws of keeping kosher were given as a compromise. 

I see no sense in animal sacrifice.  A cash donation to the charity of your choice is a great alternative. MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger which feeds the hungry is great. 

3000 years ago, our tradition got rid of child sacrifice; it is time we got rid of animal sacrifice.

Today, my kids own a dog, bella, that resembles the baby lamb that once entered my childhood home, and I am proud to say there are no plans to offer her as a sacrifice… or for me to go to jail.

Wishing you a year of closeness, of love and of awe of all of God's creation.

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