The Agriculture Ministry is urging Israelis to stop using live chickens when performing the ritual of kaparot this year, and switch over to the use of money as their “stand-in” for the sins they seek to atone for.
The Ministry, led by Uri Ariel (Jewish Home) has issued a series of humorous Youtube videos in which indignant chickens frown at the idea of being used for atonement, preferring to be slaughtered to feed to the poor.
For many people, kaparot – in which a chicken is used as a “stand-in” for an individual and is slaughtered in lieu of a human being as punishment for sins – is one of the less endearing customs of the High Holiday season.
Besides the issues of animal cruelty that many people feel makes the custom questionable, there is strong a possibility the chicken itself will be rendered un-kosher as harried ritual slaughterers try to keep up with a large demand for chickens in many communities.
In fact, despite the practice's prevalence – particularly among parts of the haredi community – leading rabbis have repeatedly come out against it since its inception some time during the Middle Ages. Among them was Rabbi Yosef Cairo (famous for his codification of Jewish law, the Shulkhan Arukh) who in his work Beit Yosef slams the practice as being against the Torah prohibition of causing unnecessary suffering to animals. The author of the Mishna Brura, the Chafetz Chayim, branded the practice "paganistic."
Uri Ariel has now taken up the cause, and as Agriculture Minister has this year begun urging Israelis to dispense with the chickens, and instead use money for the ritual – a substitute which is perfectly “kosher” under Jewish law.
“I realize there are many people who feel they need to use chickens in order to properly carry out the custom, but as is well known there are numerous reasons to oppose use of chickens from a halachic point of view – such as cruelty to animals, as well as the likelihood that many of the chickens will be rendered non-kosher because the slaughterers do not have time to check their work before moving on to the next bird."
“Money is a much better way to fulfill this tradition, because unlike with chickens, the money used for this ritual is given to the poor,” said Ariel – citing the fact that the entire point of kaparot in previous generations was to donate the slaughtered chicken to the needy.
Ariel has tried several times to initiate legislation to regulate slaughtering of kaparot, most recently by instituting new bylaws to regulate slaughter of animals in public places. The bylaws have been challenged by several groups, and have not yet been authorized as legal.
Last year, Agudath Israel of America, the umbrella group for many Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox synagogues and schools in the US, reissued a notice (kol koreh) that was first published seven years ago warning those using actual chickens for the kaparot ritual to ensure the procedure takes place under strict rabbinical supervision.
“Halachic authorities have long pointed out the need for special care to be taken during the Kaporos process that the chickens be slaughtered and processed properly, especially on Yom Kippur eve, when many shochtim (ritual slaughterers) spend long hours slaughtering large volumes of chickens,” the notice says.
“In addition to ensure proper slaughtering, proper care is needed to ensure that “matters as health and safety concerns (both those that concern the well being of those who handle the chickens, as well as those that concern the safety of the food)” are followed, as well as “ scrupulous compliance with theTorah’s laws of tza’ar ba’alei chayim (prevention of cruelty to animals) throughout the entire process of storing, transporting and handling the chickens, which should be done by responsible adults, not children.”
“We have enlisted the assistance of a group of distinguished local Rabbis to work together with the proprietors and sponsors of Kaporos centers and with kashruth supervisors to implement proper standards, and to oversee the centers to ensure that nothing improper transpires in the Kaporos process,” the notice adds.