The JTA reported today that for the second year in a row, PETA is calling for an investigation into the pre-Yom Kippur ritual of kapparot – the, shall we say, “quaint” rite in which the sins of a person are symbolically transferred to a chicken or rooster that is held over one’s head and swung in a circle three times before its throat is cut.
This isn’t the first time this practice has run afoul (sorry) of animal rights activists. Failed Messiah reported back in 2005 that the ASPCA seized more than 200 chickens from a Brooklyn kapparot lot:
The chickens were crammed into crates, stacked on top of one another and left out in the rain for days. These birds were encrusted with dried feces, urine and blood. Many suffered from severed toes, plucked out eyes and severe dehydration. ASPCA agents, sifted through the pile of discarded chickens and rescued the remaining live ones. An investigation into their death is underway.
In the more recent protest, PETA alleged in a letter to the New York State Agriculture Department that a lot in Brooklyn threw away thousands of dead chickens last year after they were slaughtered:
The letter singles out the kapporos center run in Crown Heights by Rabbi Shea Hecht, and asks the state to investigate whether consumer fraud occurred. Jews who bought chickens for the ritual expected the birds “to be processed for meat that would be distributed as tzedakah,” or charity, the letter states.
Beyond the animal cruelty politics of this issue, it should be noted that this practice has been criticized by important Jewish sages (e.g. the Rashba , Nachmanidies, and Rabbi Joseph Caro) for centuries. Many rabbinical authorities have long sanctioned giving the monetary value of the fowl as a proxy for kapparot, and yet somehow, the inexplicable attraction of this ritual endures. If someone can explain its appeal to me, I’m all ears. (It would seem to me that the sacred Jewish value of tza’ar ba’alei chayim – preventing cruelty to animals – would trump chicken fetishism by any reasonable standard).
No sooner does the world learn about the Jewish shame that is Agriprocessors, wouldn’t you know it there’s another shonde fur de goyim. I’d say that its time the Jewish community cried foul (sorry again) on this repulsive ritual once and for all…