If you were a goat this weekend, would you want to be Christian, Jewish or Muslim?
Answer: Definitely Christian – at least for today. And definitely not Muslim.
This year, the Muslim Festival of the Sacrifice (Eid al-Adha), Jewish Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), and Christian St. Francis Day (Blessing of the Animals) all fall on the same weekend. Here’s how they stack up for nonhuman animals.
At the Muslim festival, people ritually slaughter a goat or sheep and then hold a family feast. And with about 1.6 billion Muslims in the world, that’s a lot of goats and sheep. (7.5 million in Pakistan alone.)
To help meet the demand, millions of sheep have to be shipped all around the world. In Australia, they’re trucked from ranches to seaports to be shipped to destinations thousands of miles away. Many of them die along the way or in the sweltering heat of the docks in the Middle East. Animals Australia is among those working strenuously to ban this live export business altogether.
For Jews, Yom Kippur is a day to seek the forgiveness of sins. In Biblical times, you did this by offloading your sins onto a goat (hence the word scapegoat), and driving her out into the wilderness – preferably over a cliff to make sure she didn’t come back.
Jews don’t do that to goats these days, but many orthodox communities do it to chickens instead. The “kapparos” ceremony involves tying the legs of a live hen, swinging her around your head, and then killing her. This supposedly transfers your sins to the chicken, whom you then eat.
St. Francis Day gives some animals a bit of a break. Many churches hold a Blessing of the Animals, the most elaborate of which is at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City, where various animal sanctuaries bring all kinds of animals, from turtles to llamas, for the procession down the aisle.
Congregants can have their pets blessed, too. Of course, similar blessings will not have been available to the animals who are on the table for dinner later in the day.
What a bizarre species we are!