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Animal Rights Activists Protest Religious Ritual "Kaparos"
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Animal Rights Activists Protest Religious Ritual "Kaparos"

Animal cruelty was on display recently with the annual Jewish rite of Kaparot, or "Kaparos". Practiced mainly by Ultra-Orthodox and Hasidic Jews, the controversial custom has Rabbis slaughter chickens in order to "atone" for the sins of the parishioners in the prelude before Yom Kippur. While animal rights advocates protested and rescued as many of these unfortunate chickens, once again we are reminded that there is no defense of unnecessary killing in the name of religious sacrifice.

Brief history of "Kaparos"

Originating from the Babylonian exile in fifth century BC, the custom involves a Rabbi whirling a chicken over the head of a parishioner to atone for their sins. The chicken is subsequently slaughtered by the Rabbi and traditionally donated to feed the poor.

An unnecessary religious tradition

The controversial practice is not widely observed and has been criticized within the Jewish community for centuries. As stated by Rabbi Gil Student of "torahmusings.com", "Great authorities like the Ramban and Rashba attempted to end this practice that they found religiously objectionable, even pagan." The "Jewish Outreach Institute" states that "Kaparos" is a "custom, not a commandment."

Most disturbing is that many others, including the Jewish Outreach Institute and HuffPost Blogger Rabbi Yohah Bookstein acknowledge that giving to charity is an acceptable practice instead of sacrificing chickens.

No defense of "Kaparos"

But yet, people still defend such an abhorrent ritual. As reported Scott Heins of "Gothamist", Hasidic Rabbi Berel Sansokin claimed "The whole idea of atonement is to bring your heart. And when you do this, and a live being is going to die instead of your heart, it makes you more passionate. That's why we use the animal." Frankly, how can any religious activity which harms another animal to be "more passionate"? Eliyahu Federman, in an op-ed for the "New York Daily News", argued that protestors should "worry about factory farms instead" of the "few thousand birds" killed in the "Kaparos" ritual. Most absurdly, Federman opined that that there is "little fuss" that the Humane Society kills "3 - 4 million" cats and dogs.

Federman's argument glosses over multiple facts about animal rights advocates. For starters, to assert that that animal advocates are not protesting factory farms is factually inaccurate; days prior to this event, four advocates were prosecuted for taking photos of a factory farm in Utah under Ag-Gag laws, according to Will Potter for "Green is the New Red". Federman's claim about the "little fuss" concerning the euthanizing of cats and dogs thoughtlessly neglects the thousands of organizations and volunteers who tirelessly strive to rescue animals from this situation.

No excuse for torture

Animal rescue organizations and advocacy groups understand that a religious tradition is no reason to kill an animal. Many were on hand to rescue the chickens they could. Many birds were not saved, killed needlessly in the name of "tradition". Some people still do not find the fault in sacrificing chickens; so what if chickens need to be killed so that a human feels "more passionate" about atoning for their sins. To argue that this ritual should be allowed because of worse atrocities does not absolve one's participation in the practice. Simply put, the "Kaporas" chicken sacrifice ritual in unnecessary by its own religion's standards and indefensible in the name of religion.

Photo Credit: Dawn Ellsworth on 10/1/14 with permission

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  1. ChrissyJoubert
    Very interesting article. I am an animal rights advocate myself and had absolutely no idea this was going on. Look forward to reading more of your articles in the future!
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  2. Chicken Mom
    Thank you for this well written, very informative, article on the use of chickens as Kaporos. This is a barbaric practice, that needs to be stopped. Many sects of Hasidic jews, have adopted to using bags of money, to absolve their sins, as a compassionate alternative to using live birds. It is truly heart breaking! These are baby birds. They are still cheaping, have baby blue eyes, and many still have their down feathers. They cry out as they are brutally pulled from their cramped cages, covered on the feces that have fallen from the birds staked a least 20 high. Their wings are pinned behind their backs, as they are swung over the head of the participant, many children. After the religious ceremony has ended, these 6 week old babies, are slaughtered in the streets. Many carcasses are found in dumpsters, and in plastic bags left on the streets. This is in violation of many health codes. They are permitted to continue to practice this archaic ritual by hiding under the umbrella of religious freedom.
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  3. beachgurl
    OH my God I had no idea! I am appalled that this barbaric practice exists and it literally makes me ill. It's not as if there aren't enough inhumane atrocities already out there in the world. Sometimes I'm ashamed to be a member of the human race. Beautifully written article and I look forward to hearing more form you in the future.
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