Animal rights activists and members of a Petach Tikvah synagogue faced off Sunday, with the former protesting the upcoming kaparot ritual, which will be performed in earnest outside the city's main synagogue – and at many other locations in Israel – on Monday night, the eve of Yom Kippur. Protesters held signs and shouted at congregants as they emerged from evening services, with the latter singing and dancing, and generally ignoring the protesters.
Police were called in to prevent clashes, but none evolved. Police set up a perimeter to keep the two groups away from each other, and eventually dispersed the crowd.
For many people, kaparot – in which a chicken is used as a symbolic “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 possibility that the chicken itself will be rendered unkosher as harried ritual slaughterers (shochtim) try to keep up with a large demand for chickens in many communities.
With those issues in mind, the Agriculture Ministry this year organized a media campaign to convince Israelis to dispense with live chickens when performing the ritual of kaparot 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) 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 the poor.
Ariel has long been concerned about the matter, 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," he said, "that 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.
Agudath Israel of America warning
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 that the procedure and process takes place under strict rabbinical supervision.
“Halachic authorities have long pointed out the need for special care to be taken during the process that the chickens be slaughtered and processed properly, especially on Yom Kippur eve, when many shochtim spend long hours slaughtering large volumes of chickens,” the notice said. “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 the Torah’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 Kaporot centers and with kashruth supervisors to implement proper standards, and to oversee the centers to ensure that nothing improper transpires in the Kaporot process,” the notice adds.