A new relationship with animals, nature and each other.

Animal Sacrifice and the Day of Atonement

kapparot-090313Next week, just before the Day of Atonement, many orthodox Jews will be trying to make their peace with the Almighty by swinging chickens around their heads and then killing them.

The “custom” of Kapparot endures, right here at home, in the heart of major U.S. cities, despite the fact that animal sacrifice is considered unacceptable in the vast majority of modern societies.

A “tradition” that dates back about 700 years, the Kapparot involves taking a rooster and swinging him around your head in order, supposedly, to transfer your sins over to him. You then kill him as an expiation of those sins, and then usually donate the body to poor people.

Animal protection groups and enlightened rabbis are calling for an end to this horror – and to everything that goes along with it, like keeping the birds in cages, often on hot sidewalks, for days on end prior to being swung around and killed. (Some of them escape and wander around city neighborhoods, hungry and thirsty.)

Jewish scholars note that this medieval custom is not even a part of Jewish law, and that it’s entirely acceptable to swing a bag of coins instead and to donate the money to poor people.

This year, David Lau, Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi of Israel, is reminding his congregations that cruelty to animals is a sin. He writes:

“My prayer is that we will be able to fulfill [the precept that] anyone who is merciful toward God’s creations will himself merit the mercy of Him Who Dwells on High.”

Of course, for anyone of any faith to condemn the Kapparot while happily eating chickens who have spent their lives at a factory farm is, frankly, hypocritical. After all, life at a factory farm is arguably worse for any animal than even this weird Day of Atonement ritual.

The Pope is now becoming embroiled in the whole issue of ritual slaughter by Jews and Muslims.

But this year it’s all getting even more complicated, with the Pope now becoming embroiled in the whole issue of ritual slaughter by Jews and Muslims.

This comes about because a growing number of European countries are outlawing the kosher killing of farmed animals. Kosher killing involves slitting the throats of animals while they’re still alive and letting the blood drain out. Muslims follow a similar practice, known as halal, and wherever the ban has been instituted, orthodox Jews and Muslims have come together to cry religious intolerance. Strange bedfellows indeed.

One of the countries to outlaw kosher/halal killing is Poland, whose Constitutional Court has deemed it incompatible with animal-protection law. Poland has a predominantly Catholic population with a somewhat special relationship to the Vatican because of the late Pope John Paul II.

But when Ronald Lauder, the President of the World Jewish Congress, visited Pope Francis on Monday to exchange Jewish New Year greetings, he apparently told him that Jews in Poland are very upset by the ban. And shortly after Lauder emerged from his meeting, his organization announced that the Pope was indeed going to look into the ban on kosher killing in Poland:

“The pope specifically expressed concern about the bans on kosher slaughter in Poland and directed Cardinal Kurt Koch, the president of the Vatican’s Commission for Relations with the Jews, to investigate and host a follow-up meeting as early as next week.”

Trying to steer a diplomatic course between placating members of other religions (including both Jewish and Catholic Poles) after you’ve adopted the name of the patron saint of animals is tricky, to say the least. St. Francis, for sure, was more interested in caring for the animals than in sacrificing them to the cause of diplomatic relations.

But for the President of the World Jewish Congress to be bowing to a religious lobby on behalf of antiquated and cruel “traditions” is disgraceful. Jews and Muslims everywhere should be leading the way in calling for an end to cruelty to animals in any and every form.

And for anyone who doesn’t want to violate ancient rituals like the kosher and halal slaughter of animals, there’s a really simple solution: Stop eating them.