Monday, November 30, 2009


Kapparos is an ancient Jewish ritual to save oneself from a harsh Heavenly decree by it being effected on another object. Vegetables, fish, money, and other objects have been used throughout the centuries, and this is done on the eve of Yom Kippur. The service is performed by grasping the object and moving it around one's head three times, symbolically transferring one's sins to the object. The object is then slaughtered or donated to the poor, preferably eaten at the pre-Yom Kippur feast. If one is using a chicken, preferably, a man should use a rooster, and a woman should use a hen for the ritual.

In modern times, Kapparos is performed in the traditional form mostly in Haredi communities. Members of other communities perform it with charity money substituted for the chicken, swung over one's head in similar fashion. Other Orthodox Jews simply prefer to not participate in the custom.

The ritual is preceded by the reading of Psalms 107:17-20 and Job 33:23-24.

As the object is swung about the head, the following paragraph is traditionally recited three times:

This is my exchange, this is my substitute, this is my atonement. (This rooster (hen) will go to its death / This money will go to charity), while I will enter and proceed to a good long life and to peace.
The custom has been strongly opposed by some rabbis, such as Maimonides, who generally considered sacrifice to be inferior to prayer and philosophical meditation. Other rabbis, such as Nahmanides, Solomon ben Adret, and Joseph Caro considered it a pagan ritual in conflict with the spirit of Judaism, which knows of no vicarious sacrifice. But it was approved by Asher ben Jehiel and by his son Jacob ben Asher. The ritual appealed especially to Kabbalists, such as Isaiah Horowitz and Isaac Luria, who recommended the selection of a white rooster as a reference to Isaiah 1:18, and who found other mystic allusions in the prescribed formulas. Consequently the practice became generally accepted among the Jews of eastern Europe.

Rabbi Yosef Karo, in his Shulchan Aruch (the major authority on Jewish law), discourages the practice, and the Mishnah Berurah explains his reasoning to be based on its similarity to polytheistic rites. Rabbi Moses Isserles' commentary to that section disagrees and encourages the practice. In Ashkenazi communities especially, Isserles' position came to be widely accepted. The late 19th century monumental work Kaf Hachaim approves of the custom for the Sefardic community as well.

Some Jews also oppose the use of chickens for kapparot on the grounds of tza'ar ba'alei chayim (unnecessary pain to animals). On erev Yom Kippur 2005, a number of caged chickens were abandoned in rainy weather as part of a kapparot operation in Brooklyn, NY; some of these starving and dehydrated chickens were subsequently rescued by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Jacob Kalish, an Orthodox Jewish man from Williamsburg, was charged with animal cruelty for the drowning deaths of 35 of these kapparot chickens. In response to such reports of the mistreatment of chickens, Jewish animal rights organizations have begun to picket public observances of kapparot, particularly in Israel.

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