Thursday, October 02, 2014


Report from FAILED Kaparos

on Mystical Paths blog and salon by Reb Akiva

DSC02306Last year before Yom Kippur I wrote a “Report from Kaparos”.  Kaparos is an ancient Jewish ritual to say a prayer of repentance, then “substitute” a chicken and ritually slaughter a chicken (per kosher slaughter Jewish religious standards), which is then processed and given to the poor and needy to provide for food or used as food for one’s family.  This is both an act of charity, and seeing a live animal die is to remind one to repent in this world while one has life.

While I had my concerns, my own investigation last year showed everything was done kosher, the animals were properly treated, then properly slaughter, then properly processed.

Certainly as a mass ritual that the majority of the ultra-orthodox community wishes to have, just because of the volume and the money involved (chickens must be purchased, ritual slaughterers must be paid, chicken processing plants must be rented) there may be some individuals involved who mistreat or improperly handle their live chickens and some who do not properly process the resulting chickens.  BUT my personal investigation showed that the vast majority involved in handling the ritual for the community are doing the right thing.

THIS YEAR in Israel the Ministry of Agriculture stepped in and decided to make 100% certain that every single chicken was not mistreated by instituting a large series of administrative standards, enforced by the police by large fine.  And they did this approximately 10 days before the ritual was to occur.

What are the administrative procedures?  The chickens may only be transported by official registered licensed regulated animal transporters.  (This is a joke as the official transport for poultry is open air cages bundled on the back of a flat bed, tied down.  The kaparos handlers would transport pick-up trucks full of the same open air cages, tied down.  No flat bed as they weren’t moving a farm worth of chickens to the factory.)  The chickens have to be shaded and have food and water.  (They are usually brought to the site, sold, ritualized and slaughtered within a few hours – food and water would go to waste as they’re not around long enough to use it – would you provide food and water as they arrive at the chicken factory?)  Sites must be inspected by a Ministry veterinarian.  And slaughtering CANNOT occur on site, but must be back at the processing facility. (There is a point to the ritual to see the chicken slaughtered.)


Kaparos is normally set up at various locations within the ultra-orthodox community.  Knowing there would be issues, we went tonight instead of tomorrow morning (the ritual is normally performed at sunrise on the morning before Yom Kippur.) …

First location – they didn’t bother, no one there.  Too stringent and complex, too much risk of fine, no way to meet such requirements for merely a few hundred people with only days of notice. 

Second location – a very small number of chickens, triple the regular price, and they were not slaughtering.  We were not able to get one.

Third location – we went direct to a nearby chicken farm with a micro-factory.  About 1,000 people had the same idea, all waiting around.  Strangely, no chickens in the large factory style coops, and nobody seemed to know what was going on.  We left after about 1/2 hour.

…at which point we gave up. 

Not through force of law, not due to actual finding and dealing with the small percentage of people involved who improperly handle their chicken, but through demand of administrative procedures from some bureaucrat in his ministry office, the over 1,000 ritual of Kaparos has been partially eliminated from ISRAEL this year.  And while chicken production has not slowed in the least, having people actually SEE their food and understand the sacrifice of the animal in becoming that food, THAT is no longer permitted.

Because some bureaucrat said so.  10 days before.  Such actions by the bureaucrats SHOULD BE ILLEGAL.  Set standards, fine.  Ridiculous standards 10 days before that stop people’s religious freedom – JEWISH religious freedom - in Israel???

For shame.


A friend called, she found a chicken smuggler!  We are now the proud owners of domesticated fowl, currently residing on my patio.  A shochet (ritual slaughterer) from our synagogue has agreed to take care of the rest, so in the early morning we will be able to complete our ritual.


In recent years there has been many speaking out against this ritual.  Among non-ultra-orthodox Jews it may be because the idea clashes with modern values of picking up our chicken in nice prepackaged styrofoam packages.  But some orthodox Jews have raised some religious objections to the ritual happening in large volume  with large Jewish communities and raising concerns of things that may be happening…

- Mistreatment of the chickens.  Since tzar baal hachaim, bringing harm to living animals (for no valid religious/life purpose), is religiously prohibited, if chickens are being left without food or water, or being excessively packed into containers – you can’t do a mitzvah (the ritual) by breaking a religious law, it would be prohibited.

- Throwing away the chickens.  Baal tashchis, waste, is also prohibited according to religious law.  Therefore if the chickens are not being properly processed (plucked, gutted, checked, soaked and salted, and given out), again the ritual would be via a religious violation and/or not fulfilling it’s mitzvah of charity, thereby prohibited.

- In some locations, particularly when this is done in the days before Yom Kippur, may not actually be slaughtering the chickens but returning them to circulation or even re-selling them to a regular factory.

Honestly, I was pretty convinced by the arguments.  The volume of the operation would seem to hint that it’s very possible such things could be a problem.

The alternative version of this ritual is to say the tefila (prayer), and give the value of a chicken to charity.  But my wife convinced me (dragged me) to go.  We did kapparos in the early morning before Yom Kippur, the preferred time for this ritual.  And we did it in an ultra-orthodox enclave in Israel (guaranteed to be high volume).

Here’s what I saw…

DSC023121. The chickens were being kept in a reasonably sized penned area.  No excessive crowding, all chickens appeared healthy and active.

By fortunate timing, they ran out of chickens after I arrived and I was drafted to go back to the farm (a 10 minute drive away) with some of the chassidic yiddish speaking youngers to transport more chickens.

2. The farm was a normal chicken farm with a normal industrial sized coop.  We entered the coop to gather chickens.  The coop was airy – open on the sides, and well supplied with feed and water.  It was also clean (for a chicken coop), no accumulation of feces nor any ammonia smell.  My sandals came out fine needing no special cleaning.

3. The young chassidic yiddish speaking boys were particularly careful to place no more than 8 chickens in each transport cage, counting how many were in each cage before placing another chicken inside.  No overcrowding during transport.

4. Near the coop on the farm was a chicken processing shed.  This had a machine for removing feathers and slicing open the bird.  At the end of the line were 3 shochtim (ritual slaughters) who were checking the organs (if certain organs are diseased or injured, the chicken is declared not-kosher).  The chickens were then being taken to an industrial scale soaking and salting operation.

There was a continuous line of chickens being brought here.  No wasted thrown away chickens, all being processed to kosher standards.

5. The ritual slaughterers were doing their thing, both with live chickens being brought to the chicken processing shed (one slaughterer slaughtering there) and back at the location we went to.  Each bird was expertly handled by the slaughterer, and I personally saw the slaughterers frequently checking their knives – in at least one case literally after every chicken.  No injured chickens, every one properly slaughtered to kosher standards.

Net net, I saw all the raised concerns being dealt with.  The chickens were being reasonably treated.  The farm environment was as clean and hygienic as expected at a farm.  An industrial scale process for processing the slaughtered chickens was in place and doing it’s thing.  The chickens were being properly slaughtered per Jewish religious requirements, and were being sent for processing afterwards.

DSC02321Now dealing with live chickens and watching (kosher) poultry slaughter is something most of us are unfamiliar with.  We’re used to dealing with our chickens in the refrigerated section, neatly wrapped in plastic in a nice styrofoam package.  We’re not used to meeting our food eye to eye and seeing an animal die in front of us.  And there’s blood.  Oh, and blood.  And yes, there’s blood.  And a dead animal body.

If you don’t live on a farm, are a butcher or a ritual slaughterer, it’s jarring.  (There’s also a particular mitzvah of kisoy dom, covering up the blood, that most of us never have an opportunity to fulfill – well here’s the opportunity, yay!)

But that’s the point.  To awaken us to teshuva (repentance), to understand life and death happens in a moment, and to request that in the merit of the donation of this chicken to charity, to the needy, to food, and understanding for a brief moment that this also is a life, that we should merit life, good life, long life.

There may be, G-d forbid, some unscrupulous people doing this process inappropriately.  But I found out when I asked and saw the details, it was being done in a kosher and appropriate way.

It’s still (kosher) slaughter.  There’s blood and dead animal bodies.  In today’s hygienic world, that may be too much for many.  If so, the ritual can be said as just a prayer and charity donation.  But in my investigation the process is being done in a kosher and proper way.

Gmar Chasima Tova, may you be written and sealed for a good and sweet year.


  1. Interesting story. Yes, it is certainly a massive logistical challenge for an 18 hour event and I think that in itself is an obstacle more than some government inspectors.

    In Bnei Brak last night, I saw at several locations. I've worked with poultry so know how to hold them safely, and that was my main concern when I saw some bochur in charge take the chicken with both wings (I cringed each time) and hand them to the clients who then did not always know how handle them better afterwards, but really in general there was no extraordinary tzar baalei chaim. Sucks to be a chicken, but that is how Hashem created them.
    FWIW, I also followed a massive semi trailer flatbed full of chicken containers that was distributing them around the city.

  2. At first on let me state, I am Noahide.

    I have been reading and trying my best to learn about YOM Kippur.
    Now, if Hashem is there, and the individual, cries and tells Hashem, how he/she is repenting and doing all that is necessary, Hashem forgives,.
    So why take a poor bird, and kill it, then give it out to poor people in charity, because then, if the bird is taking your sins, those poor people are eating a bird that is carrying you sins.

    Why not just let Hashem do the forgiving and cleansing?


Welcome to Mystical Paths comments. Have your say here, but please keep the tone reasonably civil and avoid lashon hara. Due to past commenting problems, all comments are moderated (this may take a few hours.)

Your comments are governed by our Terms of Use, Privacy, and Comments policies. We reserve the right to delete or edit your comments for any reason, or use them in a future article. That said, YOU are responsible for YOUR comments - not us.

Related Posts with Thumbnails