A New York judge has upheld the right to religious freedom on Monday, after animal rights activists attempted to have the annual Kapparot ritual banned.
Kapparot is a Jewish tradition believed to have originated in Europe several centuries ago, during which adherents wave a chicken over their heads while stating: "This is my substitute, this is my exchange, this is my atonement. This fowl will go to death, and I will be written in the book of life." Chickens are then slaughtered and the meat given to the poor.
The ritual is meant to symbolize the fact that Yom Kippur is the day upon which a person's judgement is sealed – and one's life or death decided – and inspire repentance.
The practice is a controversial one and has in fact been consistently opposed by many Jewish scholars, who have criticized it for everything from animal cruelty to resembling pagan rituals.
Over the past several decades, many Jews have increasingly used the monetary value of a chicken instead of a chicken itself to perform the ritual, then donated the money to charity – a practice deemed more acceptable by critics. But several communities – including haredi Jews in Brooklyn – still use chickens for the rite, out of sensitivity to tradition and the message.
50,000 chickens have already been ordered for this year's Kapparot, but the ritual was nearly stopped after a group calling itself The Alliance to End Chickens as Kaparos took the matter to the Manhattan Supreme Court, the New York Post reports.
Justice Debra James ruled Monday that, contrary to the group's claims, the ritual does not classify as a "public nuisance" and can continue as planned.
The ruling itself was handed down on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year and the beginning of the ten-day period of repentance, reflection, and worship leading up to Yom Kippur.
Locals cheered the news, saying that it upheld religious freedom, but activists for the group were "devastated."
“I’m beside myself right now,’’ attorney Nora Constance Marino lamented to the Post. “I’m devastated because this is an egregious event with respect to public-health issues, quality-of-life issues and animal-cruelty issues. To be forced to endure opening up your front door annually to a mass animal slaughter is just dumbfounding.”