Why are They Swinging Chickens Over Their Heads? : Kaporos

Today I witnessed first hand the horrors of Kaporos.  Kaporos is a Yom Kippur, Hasidic Jewish ritual where they grab a chicken by its feet or by its wings and swing the bird over their heads  while chanting verses about transferring their sins and punishment symbolically to the bird. The chant basically says: “This chicken is my atonement, my substitute. This chicken will die for my sins and I will go on to a happy and peaceful life.”    The bird’s throat is then cut by a rabbi, who thrusts the dying bird, head down, into a funnel to struggle and bleed to death over a bucket.  Source  What is most important to note is that the use of chickens is not required by Jewish law. It is not a mitzvah but a custom that originated in the middle ages. There are many rabbis that speak out against this practice. Here is one article written by a rabbi urging people to wave money and not chickens.

The neighborhood that I live in is a short walk from Boro Park, Brooklyn. Boro Park has one of the largest Hasidic Jew populations in the world next to Israel, so I figured that this practice must be happening there.  When I read an article this morning about the ceremony of Kaporos and that it is happening for the next two days, I decided to take a walk and see what I could find.  I didn’t know how I would react if I found a place that this cruel act was occurring in but I had to look and see this for my own eyes.  I prayed for strength and was on my way.  I walked about 10 blocks and I saw a school bus drive by with a poster with a chicken on it with all of the info for Kaporos.

IMG_0769The location was a not really close to where I was, so I kept my eyes open for other locations.  I followed my intuition and turned down a random street and sure enough there was a large sign with chickens on it and a blue tent  filled with yellow crates with hundreds of birds in them.  IMG_0764




I gained some courage and walked over there and had a look.  The birds were screaming in pain.  The smell was awful.  Many birds appeared to be covered in feces.  The feathers on their bellies were removed.  I don’t know if this was due to stress from their living conditions or if these birds feathers were used to make down coats or if this is somehow a part of the tradition.  Either way they did not look happy as they were being circled over people’s heads.



What struck me more that just seeing this act of animal cruelty was the reaction of the children.  There were several people that brought their families there to participate in this ritual.  Every single child was crying and screaming in horror while the parents tried to calm them down so that they could receive their “atonement” as well.  I even witnessed two children run down the street hysterically crying trying to escape having to participate in this ritual.  I wanted to comfort them and tell them that I agreed and that they were right, animal cruelty is worth being upset about.   I wondered how many of those parents had the same reactions when they were that age…I bet all of them.  Animal cruelty is not something that we are born endorsing.  We are taught it.   And too many times we tolerate, accept and condone it in the name of “tradition”.

I wanted to grab a crate and run away as fast as I could.  I just saw an article this morning however about someone getting arrested for a similar act and the birds were slaughtered anyway.  So I kept my cool and observed.   Thankfully I didn’t witness any birds being slaughtered during the time that I was there. I don’t think I could’ve handled that.  I kept hoping that one would get loose or that a crate would break and I could grab them and take them away.  That never happened though.  I felt so guilty as I walked away, not being able to save any of them and I didn’t know what I could do or who would listen.   I immediately went on search for what I actions I could take and found out about some wonderful things that are being done to help end this practice.  I urge you to read about and participate in as many of these as you can.

Lawyers file emergency order to shut down Kaporos. You can read the article here

You can sign this petition to help end Kaporos

If you live in the New York City area there is a peaceful protest that will be happening Oct 2nd from 6-8 in Brooklyn.  For details follow this link.

You can also follow the Alliance to End Chickens As Kaporos at www.endchickensaskaporos.com

Contact the media and the ASPCA to intervene.

Thankfully some of the chickens last year had happy endings.  Watch this beautiful video about rescued Kaporos chickens living happy lives at the Woodstock Farm Sanctuary.  Hopefully more will be saved this year and enough people will speak out and make this practice a thing of the past.


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