By Eli Shechter
This is in response to the article from Sruli Schochet on COLlive.com titled “First They Came for the Chickens.”
I have lived in Crown Heights during all of my youth and have always done Kaparos with chickens. I am not opposed to Kaparos and I believe that everyone that is willing to do it on a chicken, should.
However, in the above-mentioned article, the writer attempted to address the concern that the claims of Tzar Bal Chayim and Baal Tashchis are not valid. I couldn’t disagree with him more.
As a certified shochet living in Eretz Yisroel, I have a small farm and I raise, shecht, pluck and clean my own chickens regularly. I know more than most of what it takes to care for chickens in their life and in their death.
All this being mentioned, please realize that what goes on in most of the kaporos is little more than Baal Tashchis.
As the Jewish people, we are meant to be a light onto the nations. This does not mean that their opinions should influence our minhagim, but our compassion, our G-dly qualities have to shine greater than the darkness.
This is highlighted in the instance of the Laws of Shechita where a knife cannot even have a slight scratch on it because the chicken may feel a tiny scrape. We are required to have extreme compassion to the point that it sometimes takes hours just to prepare the knife that will be used to kill the chicken.
The writer mentioned in his article that in his community (in Los Angeles) they make sure to process all the birds. In that case, I commend them and applaud them providing kaporos for their community.
However, while his kaporos may process hundreds or even thousands of chickens, this is nothing compared to the tens of thousands killed and trashed by other communities.
As a bochur, I helped kasher these kaporos chickens erev Yom Kippur. We gutted, cleaned and kashered up until an hour before the fast started. No matter how many we did, there were still great quantities that we didn’t finish. That was then. Now the quantities would have only increased.
The issue at hand is that this is an age old minhag. Clearly, the rabbonim of old did not have issues with this, so why do we? Well, the problem is that the scenario has changed.
Pre-1930’s if you wanted a chicken, you went to the store, purchase a live chicken, and the shochet slaughtered it on the spot and it was your pleasant job to clean and kasher the bird at home.
This was before refrigeration. Therefore, kaporos prior to 100 years ago was giving a meal to a poor person in the form of a freshly killed chicken. Now, no standard person is going to want a freshly killed chicken, feathers included. They want it washed and shrink wrapped.
In this age, we are practicing Baal Tashchis on a level that didn’t exist in the days of old. And this is what is going on in the many communities that do not have the manpower/facilities to process the birds.
I also agree with the writer when he said humans and animals are not equal and humans have been given the right to rule the animal kingdom. But with that right comes great responsibility, and we must accept responsibility for 2 things: the welfare of the animal while it is in our care, and we must have respect for the life taken, and make sure that the shechted animal is not wasted and thrown away.
WHERE I DISAGREE
Even a chicken should not die in vain, it should be turned into food. I, therefore, disagree with you when you say that as long as the money for the chicken goes to charity, it’s okay if it gets thrown out. That is disrespect to a life and a symptom of living in a disconnected society so far removed from where our food comes from, and the lives we take to feed our own.
Just as our world has changed and we happily adapted and accept conveniences like refrigerators in our homes and frozen chickens in our supermarkets, we have a responsibility to adapt the way we keep our minhagim to make sure we are not being cruel and wasting.
To those communities that want to provide kaporos for their members, I believe that it critical to the mitzvah that the full picture has to be presented.
Here are some thoughts and suggestions:
1. The live chickens have to be cared for in an appropriate manner. For instance, the trucks can be parked in the shade and the birds misted every few hours to prevent them from overheating.
2. Hire people to process the chickens. Instead of using bochurim, hire an experienced slaughterhouse worker and a crew of (even inexperienced) non-Jews who have no other responsibilities on erev Yom Kippur. That way, the job can be completed efficiently.
3) There has to be a guarantee that all the chickens killed will be cleaned and kashered.
I personally do kaporos on money each year. I obviously have the chickens at hand, but I don’t have the several hours needed to process them on Erev Yom Kippur. I don’t wish to go into Yom Kippur with such a terrible waste of life on my hands.
What good is symbolically taking the life of a bird (instead of our life), if we treat it as if it has no value!
With love from the Holy Land. Wishing you all a Ksiva vachasima tova.