A Yom Kippur of Mercy or Cruelty?
Bringing an End to Kaporos!
Jewish Week Online Columnist
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Some Jews have a medieval custom to sacrifice a chicken before Yom Kippur, “kaporos.” One grabs the chicken’s legs while pinning its wings back and swings it around one’s head. These chickens are packed into crates before this procedure and then usually sent to be slaughtered after. Others are often just left in crates to die.

It would be difficult to claim that this practice actually enhances one’s moral and spiritual sensitivities in anticipation of the Day of Atonement. In fact, many Jewish legal authorities today agree that this practice is completely inappropriate.
Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Ateret Cohanim in Jerusalem and prominent Religious Zionist leader, spoke out against this cruel custom: "Since this is not a clear duty but rather a tradition, and in the light of the kashrut problems and cruelty to animals…it is recommended that one should prefer to conduct the atonement ceremony with money, thus also fulfilling the great mitzva of helping poor people."
Rabbi David Rosen, former Chief Rabbi of Ireland, wrote: "Beyond the objections…of the Ramban, Rashba and the Bet Yosef to the custom of 'kapparot,' and beyond the warnings of rabbinic authorities such as the Chayei Adam, Kaf HaChaim, Aruch HaShulchan and the Mishanah Brurah regarding the halachic infringements involved in using live fowl for this custom, the latter also desecrates the prohibition against ‘tzaar baalei chayim.’ Those who wish to fulfill this custom can do so fully and indeed in a far more halachically acceptable manner by using money as a substitute.”
The primary purpose of the Yamim Noraim (High Holidays) is to connect more deeply with G-d and to improve ourselves. Taking on a cruel practice and harming an innocent creature has no place in Jewish life. Tsa’ar ba’alei chaim (the prohibition of harming animals) is a Torah prohibition that requires that we cultivate virtue and that we prevent suffering.
Today, there is a substitute for harming animals. One can allocate money to the poor as an alternative to the sacrifice. Sacrifice ended with the destruction of the Second Temple 2,000 years ago, and there is no adequate justification for bringing it back in this context. 
At this time of year, we should be cultivating mercy for all those who suffer and not be perpetuating pain on sentient creatures it in the name of piety. Yom Kippur is a time for teshuva (growth and change).
The Midrash explains profoundly that teshuva was created before the world was created. Rabbi Joesph B. Soloveitchik explains that this demonstrates that free will and the possibility of profound self transformation exist before nature. We are not determined beings; we are free. When we engage in teshuva, we transcend our nature.
In this light, I would suggest that one reason to inflict pain on the animal in this custom is because some believe that the animal soul has won over in them and thus they must transfer their sin onto another animal creature. If we believe that we, on some level, are free, and not determined like an animal, and are spiritually beyond the strict confines of nature then we need not beat the animal instinct out of us. We consist of nature but we can transcend it. We need not beat the animal inside of us or outside of us to find freedom and improvement.
We need not be afraid to abandon a custom that some have taken on when a higher ethical sensitivity exists. For example, in the mid 20th century, observant Jews bought processed foods without hekhsherim (kosher certification). Today, most observant Jews have committed to purchasing only foods certified as kosher. We abandoned a looser custom since we have more options today. Another example of this is the absence of the customary sheep’s or fish’s head on the Rosh Hashanah table today. We remain content with carrots and fruit to fulfill the practice of eating certain foods as a good sign (siman) for the New Year.
This Yom Kippur, we must have the courage to reflect on our customs and practices to ensure they are promoting life and love and not just tradition for its own sake, without regard for its impact on others. 

Last Update:

10/02/2014 - 16:40

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I am an ethical vegan who has always had regard for kosher-keeping people for trying to minimize the pain and suffering that slaughtering animals causes and adherence to a switft and merciful death. This does not seem to be keeping in line with your practices. Stop. Now. Thank you.


I for one feel that God himself sees the suffering of 'his' creatures and wonders when we will once and for all see just how selfish and cruel we truly are. God himself never treated his creatures with disrespect, but for some reason man feels he has these rights. But then man feels he is above all and this is again wrong. Keep in mind that God creatured 'his creatures' frist and said it was good!

So it is time for those who live in the old times to look at what they are doing. God would not want this for 'his creatures' and it must be stopped.

I personally feel that one day those who continue to treat his creatures this way will one day for their sins.

By the way, God isn't a religion.

Excellent article, Shmuly. This is the sort of opinion that should be circulated throughout the Orthodox world. Hopefully, we can end this shameful practice.

We are called upon to be rachamim v'rachamim, "compassionate children of compassionate ancestors", and tzaar ba'alei chaim would appear to be included in that admonition.

Bravo to Rabbi Yanklowitz for urging that charitable donations should replace a cruel practice that violates the mandate of "tsa'ar ba'alei chayyim."

Chickens are stuffed into cramped cages and forced to sit in intense heat, in their own excrement, often for days before the ceremony. They are deprived of food, water and shelter and then often tossed in the trash by those who don't want to go to the trouble of giving them to the poor. There is no veterinary supervision and their suffering is completely ignored. In some places, their vocal chords are slit so they cannot even scream in pain and fear.

Acts of kindness and charity are more consistent with God's "delighting in life" on Rosh Hashanah since they don't cause the suffering and death of innocent animals.

Nina Natelson
Concern for Helping Animals in Israel (CHAI)

As president of Jewish Vegetarians of North America, I applaud this courageous, insightful article by Rabbi Yanklowitz.

Judaism has very powerful teachings about compassion to animals, including tsa'ar ba'alei chaim, the mandate to avoid causing unnecessary pain to animals.
Moses and King David were deemed fit to be leaders of the Jewish people because of their compassionate treatment of sheep in their care, according to a midrash. The Psalmist tells us that God's compassion is over ALL of his works (145:9), The book of Proverbs (12:10) indicates that the righteous person considers the life of his or her animals.

For more on thee Jewish teachings on animals and on the ritual of kaparos, please see my articles in the animals section at JewishVeg.cm/schwartz.

Kudos to Rabbi Yanklowitz excellent commentary on kaporos, a custom that arose during the Middle Ages. It is not mandated in the Torah or the Talmud. For those who choose to take part in this ritual, using money would be much more Halachically appropriate and representative of Judaism's promotion of compassion for animals.
We ask for mercy from HaShem. The chickens need mercy from us.
Please do a kind kaporos, with money, instead of chickens.
Shana Tova,
Rina Deych, RN
Alliance to End Chickens as Kaporos

Dear Rabbi Yanklowitz thank you for your beautiful column calling for an end to the use of chickens in kaporos ceremonies. I believe there is a growing sentiment of compassion and respect for animals in our society and that groups such as the Alliance to End Chickens as Kaporos and your own powerful testimony on behalf of mercy to animals and spiritual growth and change show this to be true.

The Alliance is an association of compassionate people whose common goal is to replace the unnecessary use of chickens in kaporos ceremonies with non-animal symbols of atonement. The suffering the chickens endure in kaporos ceremonies is well documented and pathetic to witness - from birds being trucked and stuffed in crates for days in all weathers without food, water or shelter, to being held with their wings pinned painfully and injuriously backward even before the actual "swinging" takes place, and the throat-cutting and suffering of the birds being rammed into killing cones crying and struggling to death. In addition, as you point out, unused birds often are simply left in the crates when the ceremony is over, like garbage, and are even thrown into dumpsters both dead and dying. All of this violates the spirit of mercy and respect for life that Jewish teachings call for. Thank you for your column. We are deeply grateful to you and inspired by your words of support.

Karen Davis, PhD, president of United Poultry Concerns and member of the Alliance to End Chickens as Kaporos. www.upc-online.org and www.EndChickensAsKaporos.com

thank you for those out there that see the harm and the cruelty to which we treat God's creatures!!

Amen to that.

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