Just before Yom Kippur begins, some Ultra-Orthodox Jewish people practice a ritual called “Kapparot” (also spelled “Kaparot” or “Kaparos”) in which they swing a live chicken around their heads three times in order to transfer their sins to it. Because logic. Afterwards, they slaughter the chicken. It’s sometimes donated to the poor, though it’s frequently just tossed away.
I know I may seem biased as a vegetarian, but the slaughter seems unnecessarily cruel, in large part because the swinging of the chickens arguably causes them pain. As this video suggests to those practicing the ritual, “You have been told that holding a chicken by its wings that way will make the bird calm and relaxed. This is not true! The bird is terrified…”
Making matters even more complicated, all of this is optional. There’s a way to use a small bag of coins instead of a chicken… and yet, they use chickens.
For years now, there’s been a group working to end the use of chickens in this ritual, appropriately called the Alliance to End Chickens as Kaporos (which is part of a larger organization called United Poultry Concerns). In 2014, they filed a legal motion to prevent Brooklyn residents from “organizing, conducting or participating in the kaporos events involving chickens…,” saying that the practice violated public nuisance, safety, and health codes. It was never going to be easy. Brooklyn Assemblyman Dov Hikind even defended the practice, asking critics to “respect those cultural differences.”
In a decision on Tuesday (June 6), five New York Supreme Court justices said they could not compel police to enforce laws that require the discretion and personal judgment of officers.
They also reinforced the religious rights of those who practice kaporot.
“(A)lthough they may be upsetting to nonadherents of such (a) practice, the United States Supreme Court has recognized animal sacrifice as a religious sacrament and decided that it is protected under the Free Exercise Clause of the Constitution,” the decision states.
It’s worth noting just how barbaric this practice is, as written in the dissenting opinion:
Plaintiffs claim that, for as many as four days before Yom Kippur, truckloads of crates overcrowded with live and some dead chickens are left on the streets of Brooklyn, with as many as 16 birds per crate, stacked up to 10 crates high. In the days before the birds are slaughtered, they remain crammed into their cages, are not given food or water, are not protected from the elements or from feces and urine falling from the crates above, and sometimes fall out of the crates onto the public street. Birds are injured during the ritual, and their throats are frequently cut incorrectly, to the extent that the carotid artery is not completely severed and the birds die an unnecessarily slow and painful death. The slaughter takes place on public streets in makeshift open-air slaughterhouses, and dead and nearly dead birds, blood, excrement, used tarps and gloves, and other by-products of the slaughter are left on the street for days afterwards. This creates an unbearable stench and a health hazard both before and after the ritual. Children are present during, and sometimes assist in, the slaughter. Plaintiffs’ toxicology expert states in his affidavit that these conditions create a risk of public exposure to, and spreading of, Salmonella, Campylobacter, strains of influenza, and other pathogens, toxins, and biohazards, which can cause respiratory complications, dermatitis, and infectious diseases in humans. The non-City defendants do not seek or obtain required permits, and there is no oversight and no system for cleanup. At the time the matter was argued before the motion court, the non-City defendants had purchased 50,000 live chickens for the approaching holiday.
But it’s all done in the name of religion, said the majority.
So it will continue.
The Alliance to End Chickens as Kaporos says they will appeal the decision to the New York Supreme Court.
(Image via Shutterstock. Portions of this article were published earlier)