Every year, the battle over Kaparot — a pre-Yom Kippur ritual involving a live chicken being swung over the head and then ritually slaughtered — pits animals rights groups against traditionalists.
This year, the Israeli Agricultural Ministry is weighing in on the debate with a series of humorous YouTube videos aimed at discouraging the practice.
Ag Minister Uri Ariel says that he understands that a minhag is a minhag but insists that there are halakhic ways to carry on the tradition without involving animal suffering.
“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,” the Ag Minister said.
He added that given the fact a big part of the kaparot tradition is giving to the poor, there is a perfectly good, kosher substitute of using a live chicken.
“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,” Ariel stressed.
Realizing that many communities will continue the live chicken practice, the Ag Ministry is also working with rabbinical authorities to get the word out that the animals used for kaparot must be treated humanely and in accordance to tza’ar ba’alei chayim (prevention of cruelty to animals).
“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,” a notice just re-issued by Agudath Israel of America reads.
“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.”
The notice holds special importance because just two years ago in Brooklyn thousands of chickens suffocated in the heat and kaparot services were called off after the animals were mistreated and left to die in the sun.
Animal rights groups have also repeatedly protested and called for the end of the practice, especially on the streets of Jerusalem, where chickens often remain in crowded cages for hours or even days, often alongside dead birds, before waiting to be slaughtered in the pre-Yom Kippur rite.