Photo Credit: Nati Shohat/Flash90

A Hareidi man performs the Kaparos ceremony for his son, in Beitar.

The ritual, which some consider controversial, is performed before Yom Kippur, as part of the repentance process.

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A chicken is gently raised and waved over the head of a family member or yourself.

The person performing the ritual says the following statement (or a variation of it if you are performing it for someone else):

This is my exchange, this is my substitute, this is my atonement. This [chicken/rooster/hen] will go to its death (Alternative text: This money will go to charity), while I will enter and proceed to a good long life and to peace.

After which, the chicken is shechted (kosher slaughter) and given to a poor person so their family will have chicken to eat before Yom Kippur.

For those that don’t like chickens, money can be substituted, which is then donated to the poor in place of the chicken.

The ritual is first mentioned in by Natronai ben Hilai, Gaon of the Academy of Sura in Babylonia, in 853 C.E

Their are many reasons modern people consider the ritual controversial:

1) Animal activists don’t like that chickens are slaughtered for food. 2) Animal activists don’t like that people wave chickens over their heads. 3) Animal activists don’t like the way the chickens are stored while waiting for the kaparos ceremony (a valid concern in some cases). 4) The process is done publicly, and most people have never been to a slaughterhouse. The concept that chickens were actually once alive before reaching the freezer section of the supermarket can be shocking to some. 5) There is a concern that the person may not hold the chicken properly and will injure it during the ritual. 6) It’s kind of icky to hold a live chicken, not to mention the associated risks of holding a bird over your head.

There are also religious authorities that consider the ritual controversial.

There are questions as to the origin of this ritual, and some (Ranban, Rashba) consider it a foreign, pagan practice that snuck (not sneaked) into Judaism. Rav Yosef Karo (Shulchan Aruch) also objected to it.

On the other side, there are other leading rabbis (and kabbalists) who do approve of it.

Whatever your stance, for many Jews its simply a long-loved tradition they aren’t about to give up or change. .

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24 COMMENTS

  1. Time to put an end to these sort of rituals … they don’t belong in an enlightened era at all. Respect for all living things please and don’t use them for man-made rituals for whatever reason. If we don’t respect animals … we cannot possibly respect humans either. I’m a meat eater, not an animal rights activist, just an ordinary person who doesn’t like cruelty to any living thing. When animals kill another animal, they kill it because they are hungry and that’s all there is to it. They don’t kill or taunt an animal for ‘religious’ reasons, but simply for survival. Whereas humans … we are soooooooooo ed up!

  2. if the chicken takes the transgressions of that person on it then giving it to the poor would that not show that one despises the poor? why not eat it yourselves and buy a chicken for the poor people?

  3. if the chicken takes the transgressions of that person on it then giving it to the poor would that not show that one despises the poor? why not eat it yourselves and buy a chicken for the poor people?

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