I had the opportunity to spend a considerable amount of time this past week saving the lives of sixty-three chickens and protesting a despicable tradition which stems back millennia. Our protests throughout the week were heavily covered by various media outlets . We were featured on KTLA 5 (channel 5), CBS News (channel 2), the front page of The Los Angeles Times (twice — no, thrice, and one more time), Jewish Journal (twice — no, thrice), The Jerusalem Post, JTA, LA Weekly, LAist, MSN News, and KFI AM 640.
It is a ritual called Kapparot (also known as Kapparah, Kaporos, Kaparot, Kaporot and Kapores) that is part of the observance of the highest of Jewish holidays, Yom Kippur (The Day of Atonement). In this ritual a rabbi swings a live chicken over a person’s head to channel the sins of the human into the chicken. This is to ensure a good year for the human full of health and prosperity. A rooster is used for men and a hen is used for women. A few passages are read from the Torah (the “Old Testament”) and the following is recited three times:
“This is my exchange, this is my substitute, this is my atonement. This rooster (or hen) will go to its death, while I will enter and proceed to a good long life and to peace.”
The chicken is then killed with a sharp blade dragged across his or her throat.
Many Jews prefer to use money instead of chickens because of their acknowledgement that the use of chickens in the Kapparot ritual is animal cruelty. To many Jews, the use of chickens in Kapparot directly violates a principle which bans “unnecessary” animal cruelty, known by Jews as “Tza’ar ba’alei chayim” (literally translating to “the suffering of living creatures”). They say that because money is an acceptable alternative, it is not necessary to use chickens.
A week ago, I didn’t know about any of this. My father mentioned the ritual to me a long time ago, telling me how his grandfather used to practice the ceremony on him when he was a child and how much he hated seeing a chicken suffer in that way, but over time I forgot about it. I was invited to a protest against the use of chickens for Kapparot, organized by Rabbi Jonathan Klein and Gina Palencar, co-founders of Faith Action for Animals. Over one-hundred activists and locals (many of them Jews) showed up for the protest on Sunday.
We expected to be met with resistance. We expected to see chickens suffering. But we could never have expected what actually transpired.
A protest which originally was supposed to last one day stretched on to an entire week, beginning on Sunday, September 8th and ending Friday, September 13th. Whatever plans I had for this past week were forgotten. Protesting and rescuing became my entire existence. My life has been consumed by chanting, crying, laughing, screaming, hugging, supporting, driving, standing, walking, pacing, debating and trying to maintain my sanity. My garage has been the half-way house between misery and freedom for almost all the sixty-three chickens who were fortunate enough to make it out alive. Many of us have put in 12-hour days, having only enough time for one meal a day and three or four hours of restless sleep each night. My body feels like I got hit by a bus. The incredibly disturbing things we have seen, heard and smelled over the course of one week are enough to make anyone question their faith in humanity.
We witnessed firsthand horrifying cruelty and neglect. Chickens, who were crammed in cages, stepping on each other, bleeding, defecating and laying eggs over each other that would crack open and ooze through the wire cage floor onto the chickens below, becoming caked on what few matted feathers they had. Chickens with nails two inches long. Chickens panting in the 90 degree heat. Chickens with puss-filled holes where their eyes used to be. Chickens who were given no food or water except for the occasional hose-down after enough pleading from activists to “please be merciful” (though we tried to give them as much water as we could from our own bottles).
We witnessed firsthand disgusting exhibits of waste, environmental destruction and malice. Workers dumping entrails and blood into storm drains. Garbage bags full of stinking, rotting chicken corpses. Workers throwing the hacked up remains of chickens at protesters and laughing about it.
We witnessed firsthand the early indoctrination of speciesism and human supremacy onto little children not even old enough to walk. Families with children of all ages from infancy to young adulthood witnessing the slaughter of chickens in the wooden huts erected to shield their despicable acts of torture and murder from the public eye. Children begging their parents to not take them inside. Other children picking out which chicken they wanted to have slaughtered, “This one is fluffy and cute! I want this one!”, stroking and petting the trembling chickens who would be murdered in front of their own eyes a few moments later. Continue reading “Kapparot With Chickens: On Ritual Slaughter and Human Greed”