To get away from the scary Hassid!
In what is easily one of the most bizarre of all Jewish rituals, you might be…errr…lucky enough to catch a kapparot ceremony before Yom Kippur.
What exactly is this? Well, according to The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions it is:
the practice of attaining atonement before the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, so that a more severe judgment will not be reached on that day. On the day before Yom Kippur a live fowl is taken (a cock for the man and a hen for the woman) and is swung by the neck around the person who says: “This is my atonement, this is in exchange for me, this is my substitute.” The fowl is then slaughtered and it, or its value, is then given to the poor, while its disemboweled interior is given to birds as a further act of charity.
Now, as a vegetarian, not to mention civilized human being, this sounds a little…strange and barbaric to me.
So I was happy to hear that I’m not alone. The Encyclopedia Judaica states that:
Jewish sages strongly opposed kapparot. Rabbi Solomon ben Abraham Aderet , one of the foremost Jewish scholars during the 13th century, considered it a heathen superstition. This opinion was shared by the Ramban (Nachmanides) and Rabbi Joseph Caro, who called it “a foolish custom” that Jews should avoid. They felt that it was a pagan custom that mistakenly made its way into Jewish practice, perhaps because when Jews lived among pagans this rite seemed like a korban (sacrifice) to some extent
However, the Kabbalists (led by mystics such as Rabbi Isaac Luria and Rabbi Isaiah Horowitz) perceived in this custom mystical significance which strongly appealed to many people. This greatly enhanced the popularity of the kapparot ritual down to the present day.
There always seemed to be something a little voodooesque about the ritual. And I could never quite stomach it anyway. Now at least, I have a back-up (who am I to argue with the Ramban, he’s like, the dude).
So this year I’m taking my chances, and not doing kapparot. I’ll just have to rest secure in the knowledge that whatever sins I did commit this year, tzaar baalei chayim, cruelty to animals, wasn’t one of them.