Borough Park

Animal cruelty protests, legal actions continue over Jewish ‘Kapporos’ ritual

October 2, 2014 By Matthew Taub Special to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle from Brooklyn Brief
Protestors against Kapporos on Eastern Parkway.

Continuing protests and legal action over Kaporos a holiday ritual involving the use of live chickens, practiced by some observant Jewish communities took place in the courts and on the streets over the last few days.

On Eastern Parkway Wednesday morning, near the heart of the Chabad-Lubavitch community, a group called United Poultry Concerns protested the practice, which involves the raising of live chickens over participants’ heads to atone for their sins, then slaughtering the fowl.

“We are here to draw attention to the fact that chickens are needlessly being subjected to extreme cruelty by Kaporos practitioners, all while numerous health laws are being broken,” Karen Davis, president of United Poultry Concerns, told the crowd.

The protestors were outraged by the use of chickens against their will, their denial of food and water and confinement in the extended hours leading up to the ritual, the holding of body parts in a manner that caused the animals pain, and the slaughter of poultry in what they claimed was an illegal open-air market. 

A day earlier at the Brooklyn Supreme Court, a related group called The Alliance to End Chickens as Kaporos filed a request for an Order at the Supreme Court of Kings County to enjoin Brooklyn residents from organizing, conducting or participating in events involving chickens. Though an appearance was held, the Court has not yet indicated how the request was resolved.

In both instances, defenders of the Kaporos practice claimed that the protestors and litigants were religiously insensitive and that the tradition was not only harmless, but helped feed the poor, since the slaughtered birds were donated to soup kitchens. 

Assemblymember Hikind (D-Brooklyn) called the recent attacks on the community’s right to use chickens as kaporos “an attack on the First Amendment to the United States Constitution,” which prohibits interfering with the free exercise of religion.

“If there’s a problem — if the animals are treated cruelly — that’s a violation of our beliefs. And they are certainly of no use if they are starved and die before they can be used and properly schechted [ritually slaughtered], then donated to tzedaka [charity],” Hikind said. “When an unfortunate incident occurs, that is certainly no reason to attack the entire practice.”

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But Davis claimed many of the birds never make it to their claimed charitable donations, and instead are tied up in large garbage bags for the sanitation department to take away. 

“You’ve got fraud, you’ve got illegality, you’ve got animal cruelty,” Davis said.

Rabbi Shea Hecht, chairman of the board of the National Committee for the Furtherance of Jewish Education — along with his family and supporters — is considered the main reason the almost extinct practice was revived about four decades ago.

“If you believe God created this world, you believe he created man as superior to animals,” Rabbi Hecht said in a telephone interview. “We kill animals to eat, we use their skin for household goods, for the clothes we wear, for mezzuzot, to make phylacteries. Why can’t we use it for this sacrifice?” 

Nonetheless, the practice is not widespread in most Jewish communities and has even divided Orthodox and Hasidic enclaves, where participation is far from unanimous.

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