Aug 31, 2017
First They Came for the Chickens...
Illustration photo: Mendi Toledano

Sruli Schochet responds to 4 popular claims why frum Jews should not be using chickens to do kaparos for Yom Kippur.

By Sruli Schochet - Los Angeles

This time of year always waxes nostalgic for me. The incessant electricity in the air that surrounds the High Holidays. I can vividly recall, as a young boy, being woken by my father a"h in the early morning hours of erev Yom Kippur, driving to a kosher slaughterhouse in downtown Toronto, to participate in the kaparos ritual. The shrieks of my sisters, when the chicken legs dangled too close to their hair, still rings in my ears. Needless to say, I have always made a point of doing kaparos with chickens with my own family.

However, this ancient and holy tradition is under attack. It has gotten much worse of late. What started off as some protesters holding signs, has ballooned into civil suits being filed in courts across the nation. Just this past year, a Federal judge in Los Angeles put an injunction in place, against Chabad of Irvine, from doing kaparos with chickens until a hearing, taking place the day after Yom Kippur, was held.

To make matters worse, many Jews, under the pressure and guise of "what will the nations say," have started applying pressure to do away with this holy custom as well. Last year, whilst taking my kids to a store, I observed a friend doing kaparos with his family in an alley-way, out of the back of a pickup truck, furtively glancing to and fro, like a modern day Marrano. But at least he was making the effort. Many people, in cities such as Los Angeles, have stopped doing kaparos with chickens altogether, emboldened by the encouragement of some contemporary Rabbis.

Upon perusing the myriad of articles as to why these organizations and some modern-day rabbis feel this custom should be banned, they tend to regurgitate the same basic arguments. It is important one understands the reasons for this important and holy custom and how to combat its detractors.

Claim #1:
Many scholars over the years, such as the Rashba, Ramban and R' Yosef Cairo, have all opposed the notion of kaparos, especially with chickens. We should finally listen to these holy Rabbis of old.

Answer: It's important to note that the source for kaparos pre-dates all those commentaries. The earliest source for kaparos can be found in Gaonic literature (Otzer HaGeonim, Yoma pg. 62-64). Furthermore, the custom appears to have originated in Ashkenazic circles and was widely accepted. Every single source quoted in opposition to kaparos was a Sephardic Rabbi. There are many customs that Sephardim and Ashkenazim differ on. To quote a Sephardic Rabbinic authority in order oppose an accepted Ashkenazic custom, is misleading at best.

Lastly, the Rashba in his responsa (sec. 395) opposing kaparos, notes that "he has heard from many high standing individuals who come from the land of Ashkenaz (Germany) that all the Rabbanim of that country observe the custom of kaparos."

In Judaism, there are often individual opinions opposing this or that. The Judaic judicial system is set up as such that we follow the majority. There is no dispute that the majority, if not all, of accepted halachic Ashkenazic Rabbanim were for and indeed practiced the kaparos ceremony. Furthermore, most Sephardim have adopted the practice of kaparos today as well.

Claim #2:
It appears like we are conducting "magic" and it smacks of darkei emori (the way of the pagans).

Answer: I always find it ironic that the very same modern day Rabbis opposing kaparos for its pseudo-magical implications, have no issue with doing mass Tashlich ceremonies with their communities. Tashlich cannot even be found in the literature of the Rishonim and has its earliest known source in the customs of the Maharil (Rabbi Yaakov Moelin, Germany, 1365-1427). Somehow, this holy custom of Tashlich, with it's no less "magical appearance" of casting our sins into water containing fish, does not offend their sensitive proclivities. The real reason is simple: it's not about the seemingly peculiarity of the custom, but rather the ostensibly innocuous way it is carried out. In Judaism, we don't refrain from following our millennia old holy customs simply because of concerns of how it may look to outsiders.

Claim #3:
There are alternatives to using chickens. Why don't we just use fish or money and this way everyone is happy?

Answer: It's important to note that in Shulchan Aruch (sec. 605) it does not mention using anything but a chicken or rooster. In Kitzur Shulchan Aruch (sec. 131) and the Alter Rebbe's Shulcahn Aruch (sec. 605:1) it brings down that IF you cannot acquire a chicken, then you can use other living creature that were not used for sacrifices in the Temple, such as a goose and some say even a fish. The only time money is mentioned is with regard to redeeming the chicken for money and giving the money to poor people (to avoid embarrassing them- since money can be distributed in a more subtle manner). The Chayei Adam (143:4) is basically the only contemporary halachic source that mentions just using money outright, but also mentions that the appropriate custom is to use a chicken.

The necessity for a chicken is directly tied into the symbolism of the entire ceremony. The Hebrew word "gever" can mean both "man" and "rooster." There are kabalistic connotations and connections between the two that takes place during kaparos.

Furthermore, just as a sin offering in the Temple was to serve as a reminder that if one is not careful, it can be them that is put to death, G-d forbid, thereby inspiring the person to repent, the kaparos serves as a reminder that through repenting, G-d will bestow his mercy upon us (Mishna Berurah, sec. 605:2).

Lastly, kaparos with a chicken symbolizes the four methods of capital punishment that a Jewish court can implement. The chickens neck is pulled back (strangulation); the neck is cut (decapitation); the chicken is cast on the floor (stoning); the chicken is cooked (burning). Needless to say, using fish or money negates many of the symbolic lessons of kaparos. To accomplish all the proper spiritual implications and ramifications, using a chicken is a sine quo non of kaparos.

Claim #4:
Many of the chickens are not treated well and after slaughter end up in the garbage. This is both cruelty to animals and ba'al tashchis (needless waste).

Answer: There is no question that animals needs to be treated in a humane manner. It is a very important principle and fundamental tenant of our Torah. However, using this as an excuse is just a red herring. We eat chicken on a regular basis with nary a thought of how it got there. So long as it comes neatly packed in the freezer section of our kosher store, we are content. Our sensitivities were not offended, because we didn't need to watch the process required to get it there. However, take a moment to see what a kosher chicken slaughterhouse looks like. Then take a look at a non-kosher one. The process at either location is gory at best. It is not a pretty picture any way you slice it (no pun intended).

However, the manner in which the livestock are treated at a kosher slaughterhouse is light years better than their non-kosher counterparts. The way chickens are treated at kaparos is no better or worse then what happens at any chicken slaughterhouse on a daily basis.

Yet, we smile with satiated delight when we eat our delicious shabbos chicken, without giving it a second thought, but somehow kaparos is the guilty one. In this regard, at least PETA is more intellectually honest and consistent than these Rabbis opposing kaparos - they don't ever eat chicken!

While Judaism disagrees fundamentally with the philosophy of organizations such as PETA, one can at least respect their consistent stance. But if you are not vegan or vegetarian, then every "humane" excuse for not doing kaparos just went out the window.

What about the waste? What of the fact that many places throw out the chickens? To be sure, there is no question that it is better that the chicken gets kashered and used. However, as noted above, Shulchan Aruch discusses how it's better to redeem the chicken for money and distribute that money to the poor. Thus, if the chicken get thrown out but the money goes to a charitable cause, the proper process of kaparos is fulfilled.

Here in Los Angeles, there is really no excuse not to do kaparos with a chicken. Chabad of S. Monica provides community kaparos annually, and kashers every single chicken. You can even watch them do it! Not only do you get to conduct this holy and special custom with your family, but it's a great educational experience to teach your children about real kashrus and how it works. The chickens get used by the Chabad House throughout the year and do not go to waste.

Furthermore, the last few years they have used an area that is zoned to house and slaughter chickens, so there are no legal issues either - except by those that are always looking to disrupt our holy traditions.

The real claim (goal)

My friends, this is not just about kaparos. When a Jewish custom is under attack, even something as innocuous as the color of our shoelaces - if challenged on a religious level - one needs to even give up one's life defending it (Sanhedrin 74a). The same people that want to do away with kaparos, want to do away with shechita, with circumcision, with anything that they feel offends their concept of "humane."

If we don't take prophylactic measures now to fight this, unify in a mass showing of attending kaparos, ensuring that our holy traditions will not be pushed aside, we may G-d forbid be sitting around in twenty years wondering how we let things get this far.

Martin Niemöller a German anti-Nazi theologian and Lutheran pastor may have said it best:

When the Nazis came for the communists, I remained silent; I was not a communist.
When they locked up the social democrats, I remained silent; I was not a social democrat.
When they came for the trade unionists, I did not speak out; I was not a trade unionist.
When they came for the Jews, I remained silent; I wasn't a Jew.
When they came for me, there was no one left to speak out.

We need to draw our line in the sand: we don't march to the beat of people who put humans and animals on the same pedestal. Our holy Torah tells us (Genesis 1:26): "And God said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness, and they shall rule over the fish of the sea and over the fowl of the heaven and over the animals and over all the earth and over all the creeping things that creep upon the earth." We follow our holy Torah and its ancient traditions, those passed down to us by our righteous Rabbis. If we don't unify now, who will be there to defend it for our children and grandchildren?

Just as the Almighty gave the rooster the "understanding to differentiate between day and night" may He bestow His understanding and wisdom upon us to make the right choices, fight the proper battles, until the ultimate triumph of good over evil, with the coming of Moshiach, speedily, Amen.

Most Read Most Comments

Opinions and Comments
Well said
Well said. Thank you. Especially your conclusion.
(8/31/2017 7:24:35 PM)
Thank you for the Torah laws and instructions,
Schoyach, very well said. K'siva V'Chasima Tova L'Shana Tova U'mesuka!
(8/31/2017 7:44:55 PM)
claim #5
what gives you the right to kill a living creature at all, and especially since you're not gong to eat it?
Yes, this question could be about the chicken you buy and eat from your grocery too. The fact that you're "allowed" to doesn't mean you should. Control your religious and physical desires and spare the life of another living thing.
(8/31/2017 7:55:56 PM)
Yasher Koach
Well explaind,
Please translate into Hebrew for those that do not understand otherwise and post to
Kesiva vaChasimo Tiovo
(8/31/2017 8:16:01 PM)
Jacob Immanuel lives on.
(8/31/2017 8:20:42 PM)
BS"D Excellent article can't wait for the critics to pop up
(8/31/2017 8:23:12 PM)
Well said. Thanks
(8/31/2017 8:25:44 PM)
The origin of this custom
Is in . It is not mentioned in the Torah and not in the Gmara. The Shulchan Aruch prohibits it and calls it a nonsensical minhag.
(8/31/2017 8:43:45 PM)
Ch chasid
I heard in crown hieghts a Kaporos was shut down this year because someone is afraid of peta . Ha ha. He must not be afraid of Hakadosh Barouch hu
(8/31/2017 8:44:03 PM)
Thank you so much for such informative article.
One more point you left out in the general vegan discussion is how Hashem commanded/allowed Noach to slaughter and eat animals after the mabul. Until then they only ate vegetables, etc...But now it's part of o our Torah. Karbanos, meat and fish on Shabbos and Yom tov are mitzvos and we aren't being cruel by slaughtering them (in the Jewish way which is most humane way to kill them)
Like you mentioned, it becomes a problem when we start equating people with animals
Basic Torah/ chassidus 4/5 levels of
creation. Man is not equal to animals but above as we have freedom of choice (when we act like people sms not act like animals) (domem,tzomeiach , chai, medaber/ yehudi)
Ksiva Vachasima Tova L'shana Tova Umesuka
(8/31/2017 8:44:04 PM)
To #3
"Control your religious and physical desires and spare the life of another living thing." - what gives life any validity or value is the fact that it is G-dly life, that is from G-d. The same G-d that tells us what desires are appropriate and which aren't.
(8/31/2017 8:44:11 PM)
It's really a matter of faith
Nice and long explanation for a ritual that is completely illogical and based on a belief
(8/31/2017 8:47:54 PM)
Thank you!
Thank you for taking the tine to explain this so well!
(8/31/2017 9:08:50 PM)
Great article!
I have to admit that for the past few years I've done it with money simply because I couldn't find what I considered a humane enough place for kapporos, but your article was so well thought out and with such strong sources that even if it may bother me in the short term, it really is a holy tradition that must be preserved. I think, however, that those who do go to kapporos and encounter peta activists or even ch"v Jewish activists and opponents to kapporos need to avoid falling into their argumentative trap. They only want to agitate you so if they get you red faced and screaming, then they'll take a video of you and use you as fodder for the masses consuming their YouTube channels. Best to stay quiet and show them with derech eretz. Besides, they already have this misconception of us as being crazed zealots, better to prove them wrong.
(8/31/2017 9:09:28 PM)
Chicken man
Having raised and hatched chickens for many years now. I can say putting chickens in crates for hours on end without water is tzar bal a chaim. Chickens will and do die as a result.
(8/31/2017 9:16:11 PM)
Such a nice article
Thank you for taking the time to write this and include your sources. It is very well written and expresses a very positive and thorough message. It's definitely inspiring me to have a different attitude this year towards kaparos. I just hope that the police will help us to be strong and not let any of the PETA people shove us and push us this year. Better yet we should celebrate all the holidays in Jerusalem.
(8/31/2017 9:18:18 PM)
Very good article but..
Very good article but the way the chickens are stored in the crates and left on trucks doesn't look too comfortable for the chickens. Is there a more humane way to transport them?
(8/31/2017 9:22:26 PM)
To num 3
Whichever chickens from kaparos get kashered will get eaten. G-d created chickens (n all kosher animals) to be eaten to be elevated
(8/31/2017 9:25:27 PM)
to # 18
Humans being bred the chickens in awful conditions for human consumption without giving a darn for tzaar baalei chaim, which according to many, many poskim is min haTorah. Let's be careful how much we mix G-d in to the modern production of chickens.
(8/31/2017 9:51:40 PM)
Big Z Schapiro
Beautiful job well done thank you very much for sharing with us
(8/31/2017 9:53:38 PM)
To # 18
That's eaten by a Yid with appropriate blessings brings its elevation. This is the kosher animal's best ultimate purpose!
(8/31/2017 9:57:25 PM)
here we go again...
The Rebbe did it, we do it! We're chassidim of our Rebbe, we follow what our Rebbe did...
(8/31/2017 10:16:04 PM)
To #12 is the case with all of the Mitzvos. And may I point out that seemingly the correct term is not "illogical" but rather "transcends logic". I.e. it is Divine "logic" which doesn't necessarily make sense to us unless G-d decides that it should.

Ksiva vachasima tova lshana tova umesuka!
(8/31/2017 10:34:23 PM)
show a picture
Look at a picture of how the Rebbe held up the chicken!
Definitely, in a most human way with both legs together.
(8/31/2017 10:42:50 PM)
Excellent point
This gets down to the truth of the matter - that it's not about chickens and never was.
(8/31/2017 11:03:21 PM)
Chicken man
Chickens should be removed from the crates as soon as they arrive at the destination. They should be placed in a large fenced area with shade, waters and feed.
(8/31/2017 11:04:43 PM)
The Rebbe did it I do it. When your not a chosid you see it the way it fits for you nothing wrong with that
(8/31/2017 11:07:40 PM)
One thing missing in this article
This article does not address how treating chickens inhumanely (stuffing them into crates for days with nourishment, holding them by their wings etc.) is not a violation of the prohibition against . The essential argument of the article is that chickens are treated inhumanely everywhere, so we're not unique in that regard. The stark reality is that if you perform kaporos while simultaneously inflicting pain on the chicken, it is considered a . I suggest you take a look at how the rebbe held the chicken (it wasn't by the wings). Now, I'm not against kaporosnot at all. I'm merely stating that kaporos should be performed in a more humane manner, and arguing so does not make you a hypocrite etc.
(8/31/2017 11:09:44 PM)
(8/31/2017 11:22:30 PM)
Claim #4
That claim is spurious and should not feature
(9/1/2017 12:05:34 AM)
I never knew that this was originally an Ashkenazic minhag. Here in Israel, we see it very accepted by Sephardim.
(9/1/2017 12:39:33 AM)
I'm not chabad and I emphatically agree with this article!
(9/1/2017 1:07:15 AM)
For all those complaining about how chickens are "treated" by kapparos
They're always treated like that... just you only get to see it then
(9/1/2017 1:34:40 AM)
Thank you Sruli schochet!!
Very well written!
As someone who did kaporos his whole life, you gave me a whole new appreciation for it.
(9/1/2017 2:04:02 AM)
Convenient Judaism
The Rebbe taught us not to cut corners in Yiddishkiet . another basic issue is the convenience of doing kaporat with money . why bother getting up in middle of the night . get smelly . wait on line . etc when u can do it in the comfort of your home with a few dollars . all ideological arguments aside this is what u risk and its the next generation that will grow up with this type of yiddishkiet. Once a source or argument is found against a practice its used as an excuse for an easier way to do it . its all the american way of thinking ; be comfortable , don't go crazy relax ..etc etc. Amelak ...cooling us of. May Hashem give us the koach to follow yiddishkiet with the extreme and desire that Hashem desires and the Rebbe taught us do live and do .shono tova umasuka
(9/1/2017 7:36:11 AM)
Keep in mind that many of these PETA "activists" are rabid Israel-haters, and sympathize with the Arabs...
(9/2/2017 10:32:05 PM)
no more for me
(9/2/2017 10:38:27 PM)
# 33
Not politically correct but you are totally wrong
No governmental department in any democratic country would allow chickens in their facility to be treated other than human
We are taking one hopes of USA and UK Australia New Zealand and Canada the only true democratic free countries remaining
All by the way Commonwealth countries
Have to tell you that In certain European countries inspectors Were a pleasure to work with they too would not tolerate cruelty of any kind.
(9/3/2017 12:49:09 AM)
# 31.
Rishon LeTzion gave a beautiful dorosho on that point this week
Taking into account that Moron paskens in SA like the Rashba
Well worth reviewing it
(9/3/2017 12:51:39 AM)
Chasiva V'Chasima Tova
Wonderfully explained! Thank you.
(9/3/2017 1:35:36 AM)
Re number 3, and re Sefardim
In parshas Re'eh it states vechi saaveh le'echol bassar, When you will DESIRE to eat meat, . . . vezavachta kaasher tzivisicha then you should shecht it as you were commanded. So stop this bunk about not eating meat even though you are allowed to.

Zovchai adam agalim yishakun, says the navi Hosheia chap 13 vs 2, Those who kiss calves kill people. Not just PETA, the Nazis too, as was pointed out above. And this diseased thinking is as old as Biblical times.

Historical fact, Sefardim were already doing it before the Beis Yosef. When his Shulchan Aruch was first printed in a printing press (it was only invented in the 1450's in Italy, and he was born 1488) THE SEFARDIM WHO OVERSAW THE PRINTING in 1565 DELETED FROM THE TEXT THE BEIS YOSEF'S WORDS OPPOSING KAPAROS!!!!!! So report Rabbi Berel Wein in his audio History recordings! So, it is no wonder that until this day there are Sefardim who do it!
(9/3/2017 2:20:47 AM)
Not really
I am not sure what are the "raving" about this article is all about... the Author did NOT answer any of the claims...
Claim #1-
instead of addressing why so many sages opposed this minhag, the author's answer that the Rashba writes that some Ashkenz communities were practicing it... not addressing whatsoever the objections the Rashba had against this custom. The Rashba and the sages knew about the Ashkenaz custom and but still opposed it......
Claim # 2
Insted of addressing the Shulchan Aruch's clear objection of this custom because the source is Darchi Haemori....he attacks the Rabbais who fallow the custom of Tashlich....what is the connection??? Is Tashlich creates pain and suffering to any leaving creature?? These customs are symbolic, and there are other ways to do them without pain and suffering....
Claim #3-
conveniently, the author using the shulchan aruch as a source for using Chicken's as the only method....but fails again to address the sages and the shulchan aruch that rebukes this custom as darchi haemori... and he now is inserting "kabelistic" connection for this unfounded custom ....
Claim #4-
again, instead of addressing the real issue of tzar balei chaim, the author smears and attacks those who eat chickens and the LA community.... he clearly fails to comprehend the issue of doing a "holy custom" of caparos while causing a real avairah of tzar balei chaim... eating chickens has nothing to do with it. And the lame excuse that "all slaughter houses treat them the same way"......does he not see the difference??? They are not claiming to do mitzva at the expense of other leaving being !!!
To sum it up... it clearly seems like the author has grivings with the LA community, and his support arguments for using chickens for the Kaparos custom are off points, lame logically at the best and leavesmuch to be desired intellectually..
Ksiva vachasima tova !
(9/3/2017 11:51:50 PM)
I think #42 didn't read the article
Every question you ask is clearly and beautifully addressed in the article. It's almost like you read one line, made a conclusion and decided to attack.

It's people like this, that think they 'care' more about animals and mitzvos like tzar balei chayim, than the Geonim and Rishonim, thinking that they can argue with them like they are on par with them, is what leads to people shaving their beards ('I don't agree with the Tzemach Tzedek') or even taking off their yarmulkas when they work.

Vehamayvin yovin.

Kesiva v'chasima tovah.
(9/4/2017 9:54:28 AM)
tzar baalei chayim
we raise chickens and know quite a bit about them
let me tell you that stuffing chickens into overpacked, hot crates without water, it extremely stressful and often deadly for the chickens.
i commend the people in your community for making sure the chickens don't end up in the garbage.
but that does not negate the fact that in many other places, tons of chickens end up in the trash, there is not enough time or resources to get them all processed in time before yom kippur.
what makes the minhag of kappores, more important than the halachot of tzaar balei chayim , and baal taschis.
how can we ask a creature to give up it's life for us and then throw it out because we are too disorganized to properly prepare it afterwards as food.
(9/5/2017 6:08:35 AM)
Chabad of S Monica
I have been going to them for fifteen years now for kaporos. They kasher all the chickens. The last three years (I think?) they have been in a location that is in essence a chicken slaughter house. The chickens are indoors and taken care of like any other such places.
To #44, I think the author's point is that ever kosher chicken slaughter house houses the chickens in the same way you see at kaporos. So either one swears off chicken altogether in a form of protest, but if you eat kosher chicken, then obviously to be consistent you should not use it as a reason not to do kaporos.
(9/5/2017 12:47:54 PM)
i think 43 didn't read #42....
If you read again the response, you will see how all the points in the article are at the best "vague and off point"...
The comments "care about Tzar balei Chaim"...and "shaving beards" ...has nothing to do with the points made...
In fact, the person who argues with the Reshonim and Geonim is the author who didn't address the the strong objections the Geonim had for this minhag
(9/5/2017 2:24:36 PM)
I think #46 didn't read the Geonim
Please cite a SINGLE source in the Geonim against kaporos? The earliest source of kaporos are the Geonim. The only Rabbis against is were Sephardic rabbis from later on (mostly achronim) which can be for many reasons (they didn't have access to that Geonic literature/ they didn't have that mesorah etc.)
However, even a Rishon can't argue on the Geonim. Furthermore, almost all if not all Sephardim today do kaporos since they have access to all the Geonic (and kabbalistic) works.
Again, had #42 (aka #46) really read the article, all this would be clear.
As to the comment in #43 about shaving and yarmulka - hamayvin yovin
(9/6/2017 9:43:41 AM)
Think before you write
It is mere days before the holiest day of the year. The day when we will get judged by Hashem for all of our actions. Did some people here even stop for a second to think about what they are saying. They are attacking a fellow jew. Hashem cannot forgive us for things like this until we get forgiveness from the people we hurt. I hope that this message makes some people think about how much they may have hurt the author.

Kesiva v'chasima tovah.
(9/15/2017 1:07:03 PM)
re 12
just goes to show that opposition to kapporos is rooted in kefira. Yes they will go after bris mila and shechita just like in many european countries and these compromisers will find a way to do those things with money instead
(9/27/2017 11:32:05 AM)
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