Kaparot in 2015: On bringing compassion into religious practices
Despite Kaparot not being formally referenced in the Old Testament or Talmud, it remains a common custom among observant Jews. Occurring between the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah and the Day of the Atonement — Yom Kippur — Kaparot is a last-ditch effort to be spiritually cleansed before the start of a new year. In order for the individual to be spiritually cleansed, his or her sins are transferred to a live chicken, who is then slaughtered and donated to the poor.
Unfortunately, the chickens used in Kaparot are often treated without any care or compassion. Packed into small cages, prior to a very public slaughtering, these chickens are treated much the same as those on a factory farm. Many of the chickens fail to even make it to slaughtering due to their harmful living conditions. This ritual has been opposed by many leading Jewish intellectuals because it defies Jewish laws such as: tza’ar ba’alei chayim (animal cruelty), bal tashchit (wastefulness) and the creation of n’veilah (carcasses unfit for consumption). For reasons such as these, renowned Judaic scholars such as The Rambam and Rabbi Joseph Caro, among others, have openly opposed this tradition and claim that it mistakenly made its way into the Jewish faith by way of Pagan influence.
Unbeknownst to many, sacrificing a chicken is not the only way in which a person can be cleansed for the New Year. Instead of sacrificing a chicken and donating either the chicken or its monetary equivalent to the poor, one can fulfill the custom by donating tzedakah (charity).
Upon donation, this charity can be given directly to the poor, circumventing the unnecessary slaughtering process. Furthermore, by donating this charity to the needy, the individual is transforming an unnecessarily harmful practice into a universally beneficial act.
Given our simple access to a non-invasive and arguably more efficient alternative, there is no excuse for this tradition to persist. There are countless non-profit organization such as Mercy For Animals, The Humane League and Animal Equality that will donate your Kaparot charity to protecting animal lives from unwarranted harm, such as this form of cruelty. This Jewish New Year, please join me in saying “no” to unnecessary cruelty. Grab your spare change and make Kaparot a custom of which you can be proud.
Lizzie Kirsch is a School of Environmental and Biological Sciences senior majoring in environmental policy, institutions and behavior with a minor in companion animal science.