Thursday, September 24, 2009

Animal rights activists posken against Kapparot


Animal activists from 'Let the Animals Live' collect halachic opinions from Rabbi Ovadia Yosef claiming that harm brought to chickens during Yom Kippur ceremony should be kept to minimum. Group asks chief rabbis to instruct public to convert chicken-swinging custom into alternative of giving charity

The animal rights organization Let the Animals Live petitioned Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger and Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar to instruct their followers to prevent the suffering of chickens used in the Yom Kippur holiday's Kapparot (atonement) custom and to give money to charity as a replacement for slaughtering the animals.

The letter from the organization to the rabbis read: "Every year we turn to the highest echelons of the religious leadership, but the abuse continues. It is our moral obligation, together with the rabbis, to take action to limit the great suffering of the chickens on the eve of the new year."


  1. This practice has no basis in Judaism.

    We're told quite clearly how we atone for our sins, and a chicken is no more of a substitute for our sins than Jesus.

    The practice was vehemently opposed by various rabbis throughout Jewish history. The Rashba (Solomon ben Aderet, 1235-1310) relates that he found the custom to resemble the forbidden rites of the Amorites, proscribed by the Torah. “I distanced myself from this custom greatly and instructed that it be nullified, and with grace from Heaven my words were heard and the practice no longer remains in our city,” he wrote.

    Rabbi Yosef Karo, in the Shulchan Aruch, his major work on Jewish law, wrote that the custom should not be performed and warned that it had parallels to polytheistic rites. Rabbi Moses Isserles, the Ramah, author of a major commentary on Karo’s work, disagrees, saying the practice is an ancient custom and should not be changed. Kabbalists such as Rabbi Yitzchak Luria of Tzfat were said to have embraced the custom and attached deep mystical significance to it. Other Kabbalists, such as the Ramban (Nachmanides), were opposed to the ritual as well.

    Most of the critics, and many of the ritual’s supporters as well, worried that people would misunderstand the significance of the ritual, thinking it involved a transfer of a person's sins to a bird to then be eradicated. The Mishna Berura reminds those who perform it to remember that it is no substitute for true repentance.

    Some Jews oppose the use of chickens on the grounds of the Biblical ban on tza'ar ba'alei chayim, causing pain to animals, but it is far from certain that the waved chickens are caused any more distress in the ritual than they would be prior to any slaughter.

    Furthermore, the chickens are usually then disposed of, rather than being used to feed poor people. I've seen this with my own eyes. Afterall, it's not exactly an FDA certified operation and huge numbers of volunteers would be needed to get the chickens ready for the tables of the poor quickly enough.

  2. b'zman hazeh, being overly worried about the "rights of animals" is darchei haEmori and we should b'davka do kaparos.

  3. This practice has no basis in Judaism.

    We're told quite clearly how we atone for our sins, and a chicken is no more of a substitute for our sins than Jesus.

    You contradict this statement yourself when you bring the Rama and the Ari. Considering the number of Gedolim that have upheld this custom until today(even R' Ovadiah Yosef who usually strictly follows the Mechaber(Karo)), it most certainly has a basis within Judaism.

    Actually I have never seen the chickens disposed of. They need not be given directly to the poor before Yom HaKippur, after will work just fine. The slaughter that I have always seen done is essentially the same as what happens in any kosher slaughterhoue. The FDA would not be concerned until the chicken began to be processed. According to Halacha we have three days from the time of the slaughter in which we must begin the koshering process(processing the chicken). While a day may be lost for Yom Kippur, considering the sheer volume of chickens any kosher plant handles within a given day, what is done for Kapparot is well within the abilities of the institutions already in place.

    Judging by the voice of the lady in the video, if her grandfather was a shochet, simply based on ages, the methods he employed were far less humane than what we have today.

  4. Rashi mentions a custom mentioned by the Geonim that "twenty two or fifteen days" before Rosh Hashono people would take baskets - one for each child - and plant legumes and the like, and before Rosh Hashono would wave them around their heads and say, "This should be instead of this [person], and it should be my exchange, and it should be my substitute." The baskets would then be thrown into the river. In this Rashi we find the concept of saving oneself from a harsh Heavenly decree by it being effected on another object.

    The Maharal writes that the Gemoro implies the same. The Gemoro brings the story of Rabbi Akiva who was travelling with a donkey, and rooster and a candle. Upon being refused entry to a certain city, Rabbi Akiva had no choice but to sleep overnight in the woods outside the city. During the night a lion killed the donkey, a cat devoured the rooster, and a wind extinguished the candle. The next morning he learned that the city had been attacked by murderous thieves and he had been miraculously saved. The Maharal explains that the same terrible fate that the townspeople had suffered, was to befall Rabbi Akiva as well. However, he was substituted by his donkey (representing his physical body), his rooster (instead of his soul) and the candle (instead of his intellect). The Maharal concludes that from this Gemoro we have an "absolute proof to take a chicken for a kaporo for the soul on erev Yom Kippur."

    The Remo brings this custom in Shulchon Oruch and writes that it is a custom of pious people and should not be disregarded.

    In addition to the afore-mentioned dimension of kaporos being a "substitute" for the individual (as the Mishna Berura writes that the individual should imagine that all that is transpiring to the chicken should in fact have happened to him), there is another reason which is brought down in Eliya Rabo, that the kaporos is an atonement for the sins of the person. This being the case, it is likened to an obligatory sacrifice that each individual has to bring. (The halachic implications of these opinions will later be discussed.)

    However the Kitzur Shulchon Oruch writes that the individual should not think that the chicken is literally his atonement. It should merely serve as a reminder that all of these things should have happened to him, thus arousing him to repent fully.

    It is obvious from the authorities that the main part of the custom of kaporos is the slaughtering of the chicken. Especially considering the abovementioned objective of kaporos, that the individual realise that everything happening to the chicken should have happened to him.

    Furthermore one of the criterion mentioned with regards to kaporos is that it should be conducted in the early morning. Both these points are evident in the words of the authorities.

    In Shulchan Aruch the mechaber writes that this which they are accustomed to do kaporos on the eve of Yom Kippur to slaughter a chicken etc. Similarly in the Mogen Avrohom in the name of the AriZal and the Shalo.

  5. The Rosh (Yoma 8:23), the Mordechai (at the beginning of his notes to Maseches Yoma), and the Tur (Orach Chaim 605) record this practice (mentioned in the aforementioned Rashi on Shabbos 81b) with approval. They, however, mention that the usual practice is to take a chicken and slaughter it. They also note that the ritual is performed on Erev Yom Kippur. The Rosh explains that the Gemara sometimes refers to a chicken as a Gever (see Yoma 20b), which also means man. Thus, a chicken is an appropriate substitute for man. He also offers a pragmatic explanation: that chickens are readily available and less expensive than larger animals such as a ram.

    The Chayei Adam (144:4) and Mishna Berura (605:2) explain that the idea of Kapparos is modeled after the idea of a Korban, as explained by the Ramban (Vayikra 1:9). The Ramban writes that fundamentally the individual who sinned deserves to have his life taken as punishment for violating Hashem’s Law. However, Hashem in His mercy permits us to substitute an animal. When presenting a Korban, one should feel that his blood deserves to be spilled and that his body deserves to be burned, had it not been for Hashem’s merciful permission to offer a Korban as a substitute. Thus, offering a Korban constitutes a reenactment of Akeidas Yitzchak. Similarly, the Chayei Adam and Mishna Berura write that during the Kapparos ritual, one should contemplate that one deserves to be slaughtered just as the Kapparos chicken is slaughtered and that the chicken is a substitute. See Kaf Hachaim (605:10) for other explanations for Kapparos.

    The Rashba does acknowledge that all of the Ashkenazic rabbis of his time practiced Kapparos and that the practice is recorded in the writings of Rav Hai Gaon. The Rama notes that this practice is recorded as early as the Geonic period and is the accepted practice in all Ashkenazic communities. The Rama regards the practice as a Minhag Vasikin, a venerated practice that one must not neglect. The practice recorded in the Rama is to slaughter a chicken for every family member.

    The Ben Ish Chai (Parshas Vayelech 2), Kaf Hachaim (605:8), and Rav Ovadia Yosef (Teshuvot Yechaveh Daat 2:71) record that Sephardic Jews have adopted this custom despite the opposition of Rav Yosef Karo, the author of the Shulchan Aruch. An explanation for this change is that the Ari zt"l enthusiastically embraced this practice (as noted by the Magen Avraham 605:1) based on his Kabbalistic approach. The Ari zt"l has an enormous impact on Sephardic practice in a wide variety of areas.

    The Mishna Berura cites the Pri Megadim who rules that Kapparos may be performed throughout the Aseres Yemai Teshuva. Indeed, Rashi records that this ritual is performed on Erev Rosh Hashanah. Accordingly, the Mishna Berura suggests that Kapparot be performed a day or two before Erev Yom Kippur to relieve the stress on the Shochtim. Rav Ovadia Yosef writes that Kapparos may be performed throughout the entire Aseres Yemai Teshuva.


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