By Sruli Schochet – Los Angeles
I was happy to read the article by Eli Shechter about kaporos, as it is an important subject and warrants discussion. As the saying goes here in Los Angeles: the only things worse than everyone talking about you, is no one talking about you.
While I agree with some of his practical insights addressed in the article (making sure the chickens are in a proper shady location; making sure that water is provided at proper intervals, etc.), the author takes a sudden left, makes presumptions that are not based on fact or halacha and draws some very dangerous conclusions as a result.
Before I begin, I want to ask the author’s forgiveness in advance if I come across as harsh or condescending. It is not my intention to attack you personally in any way shape or form. However, when it comes to Minhag Yisroel Torah He, especially in a generation which is “Benai adom yoshev choshech” (children of man who sit in darkness), one needs to be very careful what one writes publicly, as you never know who you might, chas vesholom, negatively influence.
To start, I am perplexed at the notion that it takes the author several hours to kasher a chicken. I have watched the process done many times and it does not take nearly that long – unless one lacks major experience. But then again, if one lacks such experience, should they be professing to talk as an expert on the matter? That I will leave for the readers to decide.
In reality, the author should do kaporos on a chicken, slaughter it properly, do the halachic basics required to be done then and there (salting for blood removal etc.) and then he can finish the process after Yom Kippur if need be.
But to alter a Minhag Yisroel that goes back close to two millennia, simply because one “does not have the time,” and on Erev Yom Kippur no less, truly boggles the mind.
He goes on to make a claim how we “we have a responsibility to adapt the way we keep our minhagim.” The truth is, this is not a new argument. It was made by the Sadducees, the Haskalah movement, and it is the battle cry of every Reform, Conservative and Reconstructionist ‘rabbi’. Needless to say, we do not adapt our holy customs to the times. That is a slippery slope from where there is no coming back.
The worst part is, the entire premise leading up to that statement is based on a falsehood. The author claims that kaporos long ago was a calm and serene setting, whereas now it’s all-out chaos. However, nothing could be further from the truth.
In my article, I quoted the Chayei Adam (R’ Avraham Danzig 1748-1820) as the only source even mentioning the idea of using money instead of chickens (Chayei Adam 144:4). However, it’s important to note his reasoning why. He was worried that being that there are so many people there doing kaporos and the shochtim will be up all night slaughtering the chickens, he was concerned that it would lead to the ritual knives going bad and people potentially eating nevailot (a kosher animal not slaughtered properly) which is obviously a huge sin.
It’s important to note that the Mishnah Berurah (605:2) mentions this problem, but then gives several practical solutions to combat it (switching out the shochtim throughout the night; having many good knives prepared in advance; etc.).
The takeaway from those statements are twofold:
1. Kaporos was a treasured minhag to which people showed up en masse to participate in it, even centuries ago, thus triggering the concern of the Chayei Adam. This is in direct contrast to what the author wrote how today it is chaos so we need to adapt, as opposed to the days of old.
2. You would think that if there is a concern of the chickens going bad, then there is a concern of ba’al tashchis as well. Yet it is imperative to note that no one mentions the concern of ba’al tashchis as a reason not to do kaporos on chickens.
The reason is simple, and this brings me to my last point. The author completely misrepresents what the law of ba’al tashchis is all about. We read the origin for the prohibition of ba’al tashchis just a few weeks ago in Parshas Shoftim (Deuteronomy 20:19-20) where it discusses the prohibition of cutting down a fruit bearing tree. The Rabbis added to that the prohibition of needlessly wasting anything (Rambam Hilchas Melachim 6:10).
However, there is an important caveat there: to be in violation, it needs to be done with a destructive intent. If the destruction that is taking place serves a proper purpose, then it is not a violation of ba’al tashchis! That is why even though it’s a Rabbinic decree not to needlessly tear a garment, we tear our garments when in mourning. In fact, when a king or Nasi dies, out of respect, we may burn his bed and all his personal utensils (Rambam Hilchas Avel 14:26). Can you think of a bigger ba’al tashchis then that? What about giving it to charity or Goodwill?
However, halacha is clear that when something is being ‘destroyed’ for a reason and not just for the sake of destruction, it is not a violation of ba’al tashchis. These chickens being used for kaporos, even if they are thrown in the garbage –while not ideal, and certainly not mehadrin– does not constitute the Rabbinic prohibition of ba’al tashchis, since they are serving a real and important purpose.
In the merit of us all not being cowed by its detractors and for standing strong by our minhagim, may we all go L’chaim Tovim Aruchim U’Leshalom in the Yom Shekulo Aruch, with the coming of Moshiach Tzidkenu, speedily, Amen!