Meet our kapparot chicks – Senior Rabbi Speaks Out Against Chicken Kapparot

 Roshashonna and Yom Kippur have just happened, and Kapparot, which has only come into my field of phenomenon in the last few months. “Kapparot” or in the Yiddish “Kaporis”. The meaning of the word is atonement. This refers to the custom of taking a white chicken or rooster on the day before Yom Kippur and swinging it over your head. The rooster is taken to the ritual slaughterer, the “shochet”. The shochet plucks several feathers from the neck of the rooster to make the slaughter easier and faster. He bends the roosters head up, and pulls the sharp knife across the neck. His body is hung upside down to allow the blood to drip out of the incision.   

In my previous post I said it was unclear as to why the guy who brought us Sunshine and Hannah, but over the week I started putting 2 and 2 together. A religious Jewish man brings me two white chickens a few days after Yom Kippur – his story does not exactly add up – where they were bought and why. Hannah has a broken leg (often – not always happens in the swinging of the chicken – may have happened in transportation – either way she did not get adequate medical attention).   

 I started to wonder of these were chickens used in a Kapparot ceremony – usually they get slaughtered at the end, but somehow this man felt it was better to bring them to us (thank heavens, and for this I thank him).  So, I decided to phone him and ask, and he confirmed that they had been used. This led me to do more research on Kapparot. Not all religious Jews are in favour of Kapparot. Kapparot seems to have come under scrutiny and criticism from animal welfare groups, but also some chief Rabbi’s. Often the handling of the chickens around Kapparot is neglectful, and although many articles tell you the chickens dies instantly, this is often not the case.  

 Senior Rabbi Speaks Out Against Chicken Kapparot    

Kabbalist Rabbi Yitzchak Kadouri said you should abstain from using chickens due to “the cruelty to animals, which is prohibited by the Torah, and kashrut problems.” For those reasons, Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach stopped using animals for kapparot, giving charity instead.  By JONAH MANDEL • Jerusalem Post

The Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Israel has received a significant halachic backing for this year’s annual campaign against the cruel use of chickens in the kapparot (atonement) ritual.  Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, head of the capital’s Yeshivat Ateret Cohanim and rabbi of Beit El, not only provided the SPCA with a letter last week showing the faultiness in the rite, basing his arguments on some of the greatest arbitrators, but went on video to expound on the halachic traditions proving why it’s wrong to inflict such cruelty on God’s creation, especially when the underlying motivation is absolution of ones sins before the same God, as Aviner quotes former Tel Aviv Rabbi Chaim David Halevi.   

Since the sixth century, the ceremony of transubstantiating one’s sins into the body of a chicken, and then slaughtering it, has prevailed among Jewish communities, acted out in the days leading up to Yom Kippur.  Over the centuries, halachic disputes emerged around the rite, with Rabbi Yosef Karo (who wrote the Shulchan Aruch), the Rashba and Nahmanides among those objecting it for various reasons, including the potentially problematic slaughtering, the non-Jewish superstitious character of it, and the unnecessary cruelty inflicted on the animals at a time of year that ought to be marked by mercy and benevolence. Alternatives to the fowl were put forth, such as the use of grain or giving charity to the poor.   

Before the actual slaughtering, which at times leaves the birds floundering for long minutes in a bloody near-death, the chickens are cooped up in small cages, many times out in the sun for long hours.  The kapparot rite involves swinging the bird over the atoned ones head, much to the discontent of the animal.  To encourage observant people to choose a non-fowl object of atonement, the SPCA sent out requests to many of the country’s leading rabbis, and was happy to receive a clear voice of support from Aviner, one of the most influential rabbis and educators in the national-religious sector.   

Under the headline beginning with a pertinent citation from Psalms, “and His mercy is over all his works,” Aviner leads the reader through the halachic discontent over the use of chickens in the kapparot, beginning with Rabbi Karo, the ultimate halachic source for Sephardic Jewry, who called it “the custom of the Amorite ­ – simply put, a superstition.” Aviner cited the late kabbalic Rabbi Yitzchak Kadouri, who said that you should abstain from using chickens due to “the cruelty to animals, which is prohibited by the Torah, and kashrut problems.” He also mentions Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (1910-1995), who over the years stopped using animals for kapparot, giving charity instead.   

“Since this is not a clear duty but rather a tradition, and in the light of the kashrut problems and cruelty to animals, and in the light of all of what our aforementioned rabbis said, it is recommended that one should prefer to conduct the atonement ceremony with money, thus also fulfilling the great mitzva of helping poor people,” Aviner summarized.  Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi Yona Metzger also responded to the SPCA’s request for rabbinic support, and issued orders to ensure that the chickens facing the ceremony will be treated in a way that would reduce the unnecessary suffering to a minimum, in accordance to the Jewish tradition that stresses the need to show compassion to animals.  “We must treat these animals with the same mercy we hope our Creator would treat us,” Metzger said.   

Richard Schwartz, president of Jewish Vegetarians of North America, said on Monday that he was “very happy about Rabbi Shlomo Aviner’s statement. Using and donating money for the kapparot ritual rather than using chickens is consistent with our mission to be rachmanim b’nei rachmanim (compassionate children of compassionate ancestors) and with the Torah mitzva of tsa’ar ba’alei chaim (the prohibition against causing unnecessary harm to animals).   

It is also consistent with the Jewish teachings that “God’s compassion is over all of His works” (Psalms 145:9) and “the righteous person considers the life of his animals” (Proverbs 12:10).  

Schwartz also said that “substituting money for chickens supports the urgent need to make dietary changes at a time when the production and consumption of meat and other animal products is causing an epidemic of diseases and contributing substantially to climate change and many environmental problems that threaten all of humanity. Animal-based diets are arguably inconsistent with Jewish mandates to preserve our health, treat animals with compassion, protect the environment, conserve natural resources and help hungry people.”  

 SPCA members will be touring the markets of Tel Aviv on Tuesday dressed in bloody red and bearing harsh pictures of slaughtered chickens, to try to incur a change of heart among those planning a fowl atonement ceremony with the help of Aviner’s letter, which might bring some to substitute the bird with charitable money.  

and another article……   

Rabbis cry ‘fowl’ on ritual use of chickens

  Rabbis, animal welfare organizations are calling for an end to the pre-Yom Kippur ritual of slaughtering chickens for Kapparot: ‘It is inconceivable that we seek to purify ourselves by slaughtering the helpless’  Neta Sela, Roi Mandel

Published:  09.28.06, 10:31 / Israel Jewish Scene

Sunday morning, a few hours before the Yom Kippur fast, many Jews will perform the Kapparot ritual and will wave a soon-to-be slaughtered chicken around their heads. This ancient Jewish custom, which is meant to transfer divine punishment to the soul of a chicken, has been around for generations. Recently however it has encountered opposition by animal welfare groups and even some rabbis.  First a few words about the practice and its purpose. According to tradition, the father of the house takes a male rooster and the wife takes a female chicken. Each of them holds the animal in his or her right hand and recites a number of verses.   Afterwards the chicken is transferred to the left hand and is waved around the head three times while the person recites: “This is my exchange, this is my substitute, this is my atonement. This rooster will go to its death while I enter and proceed to a good long life, and to peace.” The chicken, which is immediately slaughtered, symbolizes the man’s sins and dies instead of him.    

Demonstration in Tel Aviv (Photo: Tamar Hagai)    

Over the years, many Jews have adopted a substitute for the chicken- a piece of pottery that is then smashed or money that goes to charity. However there are still many that do not have mercy on the chickens. Rabbi Gilad Kariv, from the Reform Movement, claims that this custom bespeaks a lack of compassion and mercy, attributes that generally characterize the Jewish people.    

 “Slaughtering chickens is an unfit custom that goes against Jewish feelings regarding animals”, he explains. “Judaism has always emphasized that the concepts of atonement, soul searching and repentance are dependent on an inner spiritual endeavor that man undertakes to correct his ways. The concept of Kapparot shifts the emphasis to external ritualistic expressions”.    

 Kariv contends that the ritual slaughter of the chickens, and the hardships they encounter on the way, cause unjustified suffering. “Anyone who walks through the markets can see that the manner in which the chickens are held before the Kapparot is insufferable. There is no veterinary supervision and no concern for the feelings of these poor creatures.”    

 ‘Children who are exposed to this custom become cruel adults’    

Additional objections to the ritual killing of chickens come from animal welfare societies. Dozens of “Anonymous for Animal Rights” activists demonstrated at the Carmel market in Tel Aviv against this ‘cruel abuse’ of chickens.    

 “Save lives and not a life for a life” and “Don’t add another sin to your crimes” were just some of the placards waved at the demonstration. The demonstrators received a frosty reception from the vendors who threw water on them and asked them to disperse. An additional demonstration took place in Jerusalem.    


Ritual slaughter (Photo: Dudi Vaknin)    

 “Waving a slaughtered chicken around the head is a pagan custom that should be abolished. The slaughter poisons and hardens man’s heart. It is absurd that people are asking for life by taking the life of another creature, especially when Kapparot can be done with money”.    

 Vanderbrook, a social worker by profession, claims that in light of the welfare crisis in this country it is better to think of more efficient ways to practice Kapparot: “Needy people, who once received the slaughtered chicken, would today prefer a cooked and prepared chicken, and would always prefer money. In many cases the chickens are not given to poor people, but are cruelly tossed to the side.”    

 As a child, Vanderbrook experienced Kapparot and to this day, she claims that she will never forget the sights and sounds.    

 “We would buy chickens a few days before Yom Kippur and they would wander through our garden,” she retells, “Before Yom Kippur the butcher would arrive and I would go to my room and hide under the covers in order to not hear the cries of the chickens. It was a difficult and cruel experience. Children who are exposed to this custom either become cruel adults or are traumatized.    

 Vanderbrook agrees with Rabbi Kariv that it is not just the slaughter that is unacceptable, but also the manner in which the birds are treated.    

 “Next to my house in Jerusalem there are chicken cages scattered around without water,’ she tells ‘The chickens are brought to the slaughter in cramped cages without water in the broiling sun. Half of them die on the way. No one thinks that these poor creatures deserve to live on the way to their death.    

 “Unfortunately I think that it will be very hard to eradicate this custom in the Ultra-Orthodox community” Vanderbrook pessimistically summarizes, “But I am appealing to traditional people who customarily perform Kapparot and am asking them to stop. Greater rabbis than myself have requested to end this practice.    

 “Rabbi Yosef Karo, for example, wrote that this custom should be abolished. The Ramban expressed similar ideas and Rabbi Kaduri – who was a vegetarian-, said that it could be given up. Rabbi Aviner said that it is preferable to use money for Kapparot and that the slaughter is not kosher due to the treatment of the chickens.”    

Despite this many people will still choose to continue slaughtering the chickens. One can hope that they will try to prevent any abuse on the way to the slaughter. The chief Rabbi of Tzfat, Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, explains that Jewish ritual slaughter is the least painful way to kill chicken or cattle.    

 According to him, kosher Jewish slaughter is “ done in a way that the chicken feels no pain”. When it comes to the custom of Kapparot, Rabbi Eliyahu says that one must be very careful in how one handles the animals, and “that one should take extreme care not to harm them”.    

 “The Torah does not forbid the use of animals for work or for food, but the Torah does teach us to be considerate of them and forbids cruelty towards animals”, he stresses. “This is a very important commandment; Judaism preceded the world by 3000 years in regard to its concern for animals.”    

 Vanderbrook agrees with Rabbi Kariv that it is not just the slaughter that is unacceptable, but also the manner in which the birds are treated.    

 Venderbrook said she had similar ideas and Rabbi Kaduri – who was a vegetarian-, said that it could be given up. Rabbi Aviner said that it is preferable to use money for Kapparot and that the slaughter is not kosher due to the treatment of the chickens.”      

 Scientists Prove Animals Feel Pain After Shechita Cut    

 The pain originates from cutting throat nerves, not from the loss of blood, suggesting the severed nerves send pain signals until the time of death. Stunning animals 5 seconds after incision makes the pain signal disappear instantly.    

Andy Coghlan • New Scientist    

Brain signals have shown that calves do appear to feel pain when slaughtered according to Jewish and Muslim religious law, strengthening the case for adapting the practices to make them more humane.    

“I think our work is the best evidence yet that it’s painful,” says Craig Johnson, who led the study at Massey University in Palmerston North, New Zealand.    

Johnson summarised his results last week in London when receiving an award from the UK Humane Slaughter Association. His team also showed that if the animal is concussed through stunning, signals corresponding to pain disappear.    

The findings increase pressure on religious groups that practice slaughter without stunning to reconsider. “It provides further evidence, if it was needed, that slaughtering an animal without stunning it first is painful,” says Christopher Wathes of the UK Farm Animal Welfare Council, which has long argued for the practice to end.    

Stunning result    

In most western countries, animals must be stunned before they are slaughtered, but there is an exemption for religious practice, most prominently Jewish shechita and Muslim dhabiha. Animal welfare groups have long argued that on welfare grounds, the exemptions should be lifted, as they have been in Norway.    

Johnson’s work, funded by the UK and New Zealand agriculture ministries, builds on findings in human volunteers of specific patterns of brain electrical activity when they feel pain. Recorded with electroencephalograms, the patterns were reproducible in at least eight other mammal species known to be experiencing pain.    

Johnson developed a way of lightly anaesthetising animals so that although they experienced no pain, the same electrical pain signals could be reliably detected, showing they would have suffered pain if awake.    

The team first cut calves’ throats in a procedure matching that of Jewish and Muslim slaughter methods. They detected a pain signal lasting for up to 2 minutes after the incision. When their throats are cut, calves generally lose consciousness after 10 to 30 seconds, sometimes longer.    

Cut-throat practice    

The researchers then showed that the pain originates from cutting throat nerves, not from the loss of blood, suggesting the severed nerves send pain signals until the time of death. Finally, they stunned animals 5 seconds after incision and showed that this makes the pain signal disappear instantly.    

“It wasn’t a surprise to me, but in terms of the religious community, they are adamant animals don’t experience any pain, so the results might be a surprise to them,” says Johnson.    

He praised Muslim dhabiha practitioners in New Zealand and elsewhere who have already adopted stunning prior to slaughter. They use a form of electrical stunning which animals quickly recover from if not slaughtered, proving that the stunned animal is “healthy”, thereby qualifying as halal.
Pressure drop    

Representatives for both faiths responded by claiming that stunning itself hurts animals. A spokesman for Shechita UK says that the throat cut is so rapid that it serves as its own “stun”, adding that there is abundant evidence shechita is humane.    

“Shechita is instantaneous, and due to the immediate drop in blood pressure and [oxygen starvation] of the brain, the animal loses consciousness within 2 seconds,” he says. “It conforms to the statutory definition of stunning, in that it is a process which causes the immediate loss of consciousness which lasts until death.”    

Ahmed Ghanem, a halal slaughterman based in New Zealand, says that blood doesn’t drain properly from stunned animals, although this has been countered by recent research at the University of Bristol in the UK.    

Ghanem cites a 1978 study relying on EEG measurements led by Wilhelm Schulze of the University of Hanover, Germany, apparently concluding that halal slaughter was more humane than slaughter following stunning. But Schulze himself, who died in 2002, warned in his report that the stunning technique may not have functioned properly.    

Journal reference: New Zealand Veterinary Journal, vol 57, p 77    

Hannah and Sunshine have no idea the fate they have just escaped, but they do bear the marks of trauma and mishandling. They are at our sanctuary in Magaliesburg, and are both doing so well. Aa a rule we do not keep roosters, however we did relent and take one little man a few months ago (named Bolero by a friend of mine, and The Duke, by my father) – he came with some hens. They had been confiscated from a petting zoo (no constant access to water). It felt cruel to split them up. Chickens form very strong bonds and friendships.    

And now we have Sunshine. I feel so lucky that they both ended up with us. Sunshine is really beautiful, and has a wonderfully engaging and gentle temperament. he has integrated well with the other birds, but does spend much time with Hannah, who is limited in her moevement at present, and spend  a lot of her time resting , eating and drinking in a secluded area. Hannah is much better than she was when she came to us, and remarkably, has learned to trust us in such a short space of time. Sunshine, reminds me of a white leghorn rooster that I had as a pet when I was 6 years old. Holding him and burying my nose in his neck feathers is so comforting, and a re vist of my childhood pet.    

  Hannah and Sunshine are now

One thought on “Meet our kapparot chicks – Senior Rabbi Speaks Out Against Chicken Kapparot”

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