Addressing animal suffering during Kapparos

Photo: Suzanne Stein

Jewish culture and history are nothing short of amazing. Our traditions are thousands of years old, uniting different communities from the Diaspora. We even have Jewish laws and Halacha that dictate the importance of treating animals, Gd’s other creations, with kindness.

But each year, as Jews are getting ready for the holidays, non Jewish activists are getting ready to help chickens that suffer in our community during Kapparos.

In more concentrated Jewish areas, it’s not uncommon for tens of thousands of birds to be used during this seven day span. The activists that come into Jewish communities have said that someone needs to step up and address what is going on- and they’re right in that the Jewish community at large has not been doing that.

So what is the problem with chickens being used for Kapparos, otherwise known as Kapparot?

Part of the ritual requires that the chickens are killed, so that poor people can eat them. Besides the common situation that the chickens are simply dumped in the trash after being slaughtered, there is also no way they are all slaughtered properly with the large number of chickens that need to be slaughtered per hour.

Even if someone believes it is ok to kill animals, many who see how it is done during this ritual would be upset. In fact, there have been stories of chickens surviving having their throats slit. One chicken, later named Robin, was found in the trash still alive but with a slit throat and surrounded by dead chickens. You can watch the documentary about their story here.

If you have been to Kapparos before and know anything about chickens, you would hear that the screams from the chickens are because they are pain as they are held by the wings (which cause injury). These birds are also commonly left outside until they are used for the ritual without food or water, which can be days. These chickens are Cornish Crosses, typically sold for human consumption after being raised in factory farms. So not only are they experiencing the aforementioned things, they are also coming from industrialized sheds, crammed into crates on a truck, and bred to be so unnaturally large that they are continuously in pain.

This is not something can be reformed without both Halachic and animal wellbeing issues still being present.

There is a history of minhagim (customs) being changed when issues arise. Considering this and the fact that coins are a perfectly acceptable alternative, using chickens for Kapparos is not necessary. That means that the suffering going on during this time of year is unnecessary suffering, and violating the commandment of Tzaar Baalei Chaim (unnecessary animal suffering).

An additional problem that comes at these sites is the Jewish concept of not doing an aveira (sin) to fulfill a mitzvah. Meaning, harming chickens to do the ritual is not acceptable. Lastly, whether unintentionally or not, many who use chickens are led to believe the chickens will be going to a poor person to eat- while the garbage bags of dumped Kapparos chickens tell a different story.

This year, Jewish activists are preparing for a campaign that will address these issues and call on leaders to transition their communities to coins for the ritual. With an upcoming webinar for Jews to learn how they can get involved, the time is now to take a stand. Concerned members of the Jewish community with be gathering in Brooklyn, New York during Kapparos to help chickens, with more information here.

For anyone who would like to see a better future for these chickens, I will leave you with this question: will you be (part of) the change or wait for it to happen?

About the Author
Meira Geyser is the founder of the Jewish animal rights organization, Tikvah For Animals. Having experienced antisemitism in the movement, Meira now works to create change within the Jewish community & empower fellow Jews to speak up and take action.
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