bye bye chicken

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.

About the author

Laya Millman


  • You think that’s weird? How about metzitzah when it’s done by a mohel in a circumcision?

  • Sacrifice of a life for others sins has always been a part of religions, from young humans (Mayans, etc), to lambs by Hebrews/Christians. Interestingly the life was never the life of the one professing it’s need, Priests, Rabbi’s, Apostles, etc., or the one who actually did the sins. How conveeeeeeient!

    This is the ‘weird’ part of all religions in my very humble opinion. It still exists today, in reality as your post points out, and symbolically by eating Jesus’s body and drinking his blood in the Christian communion….yummy.

    Makes me want to gnaw off my own arm………..uh, no that would incourage the practice. I’ll just scream.

  • I agree that kapparot is a barbaric custom, but it also makes me wonder: if (for the sake of argument) the Temple was somehow rebuilt in Jerusalem, would you (or anyone else here) support the resumption of animal sacrifice? Why or why not? And how would resumption of sacrifice affect both the Jewish community and how the rest of the world perceived it? How would Judaism be affected by the reinstatement of the kohanim?

  • And seas splitting….
    Burning bushes speaking….
    The list goes on and on. IMHO, whenever we approach religion with too much rationality and not enough poetry, we miss the nuance of the whole thing. I don’t see how transferring one’s sins onto an animal, and/or animal sacrifice, is any less, or more, crazy that fasting for a full day in hopes that what…that our names will be inscribed in a metaphysical book somewhere? Whenever I apply my own brand of doubt i.e. post-modern, psychological doubt, etc., onto religion, I begin to appreciate the concerns of the Haredim. Personally, I know I’m not larger than my doubt. And it doesn’t help when I have an entire academic system, entertainment industry supporting these thoughts.

  • I can understand vegetarians being uncomfortable with kaparot. But if you eat meat and the chicken gets humanely slaughtered, then kaparot is no more barbaric than anything else related to the slaughter of animals. As far as animal sacrifice goes, if the messiah shows up, and the dead come to life, and the new temple rises from the earth – man, when they tell me to jump I’ll be “how high!?”

  • Well, clearly the sinner themselves get everything they want in this ritual, and sacrifices nothing. So, in a world full of sinners who would want to stop it.

    This is my suggestion for steps to make this ‘fowl’ ritual less attractive to the sinner.

    1. The sinner themselves have to swing the creature around by
    it’s neck saying ““This is the sin(s) I need atonement for.
    It/They are……..( then publicly confessing). This is my
    substitute.” While pointing to the helpless creature.
    2. The sinner themselves then have to slaughter it, disembowel it,
    dress the carcass for charity and find a poor person who will
    take it, then deposit the entrails in a public park for the birds.
    3. If the same sin is repeated again, not likely by the way, then
    the person themselves becomes a sacrificial ‘fowl’ for another
    sinner. Just kidding. We don’t want this (modified)ritual that is
    potentially helpful in actually stopping sin, to end that abruptly!

    By the way, I love meat too and am offering to be a recipient of the well dressed fowl(s). Even more enjoyable eating given, with these new ‘ritual rules’, it has actually sacrificed for a ritual that stands a chance of stopping the sin it was sacrificed for.

  • This ritual violates a commandment of where to offer the sacrifices. G-d gives us specific commandments on where to offer the Korban. This is not it. And twirling a chicken around ones head is not from the Torah. I agree with the Rambam, this violates Torah.