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Crying fowl

Environment minister urges charity instead of ‘kapparot’ for Yom Kippur

Tamar Zandberg says practice of swinging live chicken around one’s head to absolve sin causes suffering, suggests continuing the tradition by instead giving money

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews perform the "kapparot" ceremony on October 3, 2022, in Jerusalem's Mea Shearim neighborhood. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Ultra-Orthodox Jews perform the "kapparot" ceremony on October 3, 2022, in Jerusalem's Mea Shearim neighborhood. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Environmental Protection Ministry on Monday issued a fresh call for religious Jews who practice the “kapparot” ceremony to instead donate money ahead of Yom Kippur, which begins the next evening.

The ritual involves reciting prayers while swinging a live chicken around one’s head three times in the belief that this transfers one’s sins to the chicken ahead of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement and the holiest day in the Jewish calendar.

The chicken is then slaughtered and donated to the poor. Traditionally, donations of money can replace the chicken in the rite and many Jewish groups have encouraged this method.

According to the ministry, roosters are kept in crowded cages and in substandard conditions before the holiday, which it said adds to abuse.

“It’s possible to observe the custom of atonement and to continue the tradition, but to do so by giving charity money to those in need,” said Environmental Protection Minister Tamar Zandberg, a longtime animal rights activist.

By not causing any suffering, a donation would increase the value of the deed, she added.

Illustrative image of an ultra-Orthodox Jewish man in a religious neighborhood in Ashdod performing ‘kapparot’ ritual before Yom Kippur. (Dima Vazinovich/Flash90)

Deputy Jerusalem Mayor Yossi Havilio also called for replacing live chickens with donations.

“I wish we could avoid the difficult sights every year in the kapparot compounds of chickens remaining for long hours in harsh conditions, without shade, water or food, before being slaughtered. There can be no honor, no dignity in a custom that involves cruelty to animals, and it is doubtful that there can be any atonement,” he wrote on his Facebook page.

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