Kapores: Now That’s Some Funky Chicken

Some Jews’ hideous treatment of animals is receiving yet more negative attention, this time surrounding the mysterious ritual of kapores, the custom of swinging a live chicken ’round one’s head the day before Yom Kippur. JTA reports that dumpsters full of rotting chickens were discovered after the High Holy Days in Brooklyn last year – the trash bags numbering into the hundreds.

This constitutes consumer fraud, according to a complaint that PETA has lodged against one kapporot center in Crown Heights. Since those who participate in the custom expect that the chickens will be donated to charity, and “the center knew it was selling and killing more chickens than it could process, its actions constituted deceptive advertising and consumer fraud, as well as a violation of the principle of ‘ba’al tashchit,’ or wasteful, wanton destruction.”

The idea is that one’s sins are transferred to the fowl while it’s dizzily squawking. But even Maimonides criticized this voodoo-esque ritual as “superstitious” back in the 11th century, and Chabad’s explanation doesn’t seem too complimentary:

The reality is that there is no magic in kapores which transfers a person’s sins to the chicken. Even in the days of the Temple, sins were not magically transferred to an animal. The entire purpose of kapores is to create an experience that inspires a person to teshuvah, that is to return to G-d and to repent. All the sacrifices — and chickens — in the world will not result in forgiveness, unless teshuvah takes place.

The whole business seems pretty freakin’ nasty. I had never even heard of kapores until I started this blog and fell into the giant Jewish portal of the many Torah education sites – there just wasn’t too much chicken-swinging happening in Arizona suburbs in the 80s. But even as I inch my way ever-so-slowly towards a more halachic life, I can guarantee the Yenta Family will always sit this one out.

The good news is that according to some, you can fulfill the terms of kapores by waving money, reciting a few pslams and sticking the cash in the tzedakeh box. Way more humane and smells better.

5 thoughts on “Kapores: Now That’s Some Funky Chicken

  1. Did you ever read J A Jacobs Walking the Bible. That’s what introduced me to kapores. And I don’t think you said you would wave a check. Cash is what you wrote. How about waving a Wal-Mart gift card? Would that work?

  2. There is something very powerful about holding a live chicken in your hands while you recite the Bnei Adam prayer before you (not swing but) circle the head and body three times, saying “Zeh Chalifasi”. The chicken, a warm, living, breathing creature, becomes symbolic of your own self and knowing that it will afterwards be killed and its blood spilled on the ground (then covered while reciting another prayer)is very intense and makes you hideously aware of your mortality.

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