My Greek Orthodox, Yom Kippur, Kaparot Weekend

September 16, 2013

It was a memorable interfaith weekend for my LDS congregation in Koreatown. On Saturday we visited St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Church, whose dean, Fr. John Bakas, is one of the city’s leading religious figures. My wife was raised in the Romanian Orthodox Church, and retains a great deal of affection and respect for the Orthodox faith. I am a lover of icons, and enjoyed viewing the church’s impressive iconostasis. Our docent, church sexton Jimmy Karatsikis, was very informative and charming. He told us that in the 20 years that he has led tours of the cathedral, we were his first LDS group. Mormons who are familiar with LDS temples and Orthodox churches find many interesting parallels between the structures, and everyone in the group came away with a positive impression of the cathedral and Greek Orthodoxy.

During our sacrament service today, the last speaker ended early. I took the opportunity to stand up and remind the members of the congregation that this weekend is the holiest one of the year for their Jewish friends and neighbors. I then invited them to conduct a heshbon nefesh (accounting of the soul), asking for forgiveness from anyone whom they may have offended in the past year, month or week. Mormons fast every month, abstaining from both food and drink, so they’re not usually too blown away by the Jews’ annual Yom Kippur fast. However, the searching of one’s soul is a healthy exercise for any religious person. Several members of the congregation promised to do this. 

This weekend was a fortunate denouement to a week in which I read that my friend Rabbi Jonathan Klein, co-founder of the group Faith Action for Animals, participated in a demonstration against kaparot ceremonies in an Orthodox neighborhood in Los Angeles. As a non-Jew, I don’t have an opinion on whether Jews should be twirling chickens around their heads and then slicing their necks as part of a religious ceremony. Although it sounds a little bizarre to outsiders, temple worship in ancient Israel did involve animal sacrifices, and there are certainly practices in every religion (including my own) that raise the eyebrows of non-believers.

That said, I was greatly disturbed by signs held by the protesters that included slogans like “Genocide is wrong whether against Jews or against chickens.” I grew up with three dogs and three cats, and hate to see unnecessary suffering inflicted on animals. However, there is no comparison at all between killing chickens in a religious ceremony and the gassing of millions of human beings. I don’t believe that Rabbi Klein supports the idea that Holocaust victims had the same intrinsic worth as chickens (if he does, he is unworthy of the title “rabbi”), and I regret very much that a rabbi has allowed his name to be  associated with a group of fanatical animal rights activists. If they don’t want chickens killed, that’s fine. All I ask is that they not cheapen the sacrifices of Holocaust victims by comparing them to unfortunate chickens. As far as I know, Judaism teaches that human beings, not chickens, are created in the image of God.

I wish all of my Jewish readers a hatima tova and a meaningful heshbon nefesh.

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