As the annual Jewish Day of Atonement approaches, more and more rabbis are calling for an end to the centuries-old tradition of “kaparot.”
This ritual of repentance involves swinging a live chicken over your head and then slaughtering the bird. The idea is that your sins of the past year are transferred to the chicken. The dead bird is often donated to a family in need.
Kaparot has long been controversial. It’s believed to have grown up in Eastern Europe in the Middle Ages, but even in the 16th Century there were rabbis who called it a pagan practice. Today it lives on mostly in ultra-orthodox communities, but in Jerusalem this year, Rabbi Meir Hirsch is calling on members of his small but influential sect to abandon the kaparot.
Yehuda Shein, a community activist in Jerusalem, is the founder of an ultra-Orthodox animal rights group, Behemla, or “in compassion.”
“People doing kaparot think only about holding onto the chicken, and they think they did a good deed of donating the chicken to charity. But they don’t understand the pain the animal endured,” he said.