California synagogue wins 11th-hour appeal to hold kapparot ritual
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California synagogue wins 11th-hour appeal to hold kapparot ritual

Case continues in US district court, with animal rights group arguing it is illegal to kill chickens that won't be eaten

Illustrative photo of an ultra-Orthodox Jewish man participating in a kapparot ritual, in which a chicken is swung over one's head in the belief that one transfers the sins from the past year into the chicken. (Dima Vazinovich/Flash90)
Illustrative photo of an ultra-Orthodox Jewish man participating in a kapparot ritual, in which a chicken is swung over one's head in the belief that one transfers the sins from the past year into the chicken. (Dima Vazinovich/Flash90)

A California synagogue successfully appealed to lift a restraining order against a Yom Kippur ritual called kapparot that an animal rights group says is inhumane to chickens.

US District Judge Andre Birotte Jr. issued the restraining order last week after the group United Poultry Concerns sued to stop Chabad Irvine of Orange County from carrying out kapparot with a live chicken.

The ritual, practiced in some Orthodox Jewish communities, involves swinging a chicken above one’s head in a bid to transfer one’s sins from the past year onto the animal, a belief similar to the Biblical ritual of the scapegoat.

Some Jews who practice the folk ritual use money wrapped in white cloth as a substitute for the chicken.

The ritual is typically done on the eve of Yom Kippur, which took place this week from Tuesday night until Wednesday night.

Chickens used in the ceremony were once given to the poor but are now generally disposed of because of food-handling laws.

United Poultry Concerns is a Virginia-based animal rights group that says it promotes “the compassionate and respectful treatment of domestic fowl.”

One of the group’s attorneys, Bryan Pease of San Diego, told the Orange County Register last week that his group is considering going after other Jewish groups that also use live chickens for kapparot.

“This is a first step in the ultimate goal to show that it is illegal in the state of California and most other states to intentionally kill an animal as punishment for your sins,” Pease said.

Judge Birotte’s restraining order would have prevented worshipers at Chabad Irvine from carrying out the practice, though it permitted that they do so at a slaughterhouse using chickens that were then slated to be killed for food. Some congregants reportedly carried out the ritual at a local slaughterhouse Tuesday, on the eve of Yom Kippur.

Birotte originally scheduled a hearing on the matter for Thursday, but moved it up to Tuesday afternoon after lawyers for Chabad Irvine said that was too late, as it would come after the holiday.

Rabbi Alter Tenenbaum from the Chabad of Irvine called kapparot “a cherished tradition of our faith.”

“For a court to order us to stop our religious practice because some refuse to tolerate our beliefs is deeply distressing,” Tenenbaum said in a statement.

Despite the lifting of the injunction, the case will continue to be heard by the district court.

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