The many controversies concerning chicken twirling

It’s chicken twirling season.

With Yom Kippur days away, ultra-Orthodox Jews in Rockland County have initiated their annual practice of Kapparot — the circling of chickens above their heads (three times) and the subsequent slaughtering of the fowl for charity.

The very, very old tradition holds that one’s sins are transferred — symbolically? — to the chickens.

bildeIt is an extremely controversial practice, here and in Israel, for several reasons. For outsiders, there are health and safety concerns. Within the Jewish world, many believe that the practice has pagan roots and should have been discontinued long ago.

In Rockland, my colleague Laura Incalcaterra reports that county health inspectors this week found health violations after visiting a makeshift chicken pen: “…including a strong, bad odor; a small amount of chicken feces and feathers on the ground; trash on the ground; and a trash bin without a cover…”

A letter from Thomas Micelli, the county’s director of environmental health, outlined seven steps for organizers to follow, including “…providing a trash bin to be replaced as it filled up; sawdust to make the cleanup of feces and liquids easier; disposable tarps to avoid the need for excessive cleaning; platforms so chickens in bottom cages don’t drown if it rains heavily; 30-inch-high wire fences for a secondary enclosure to help avoid chicken escapes; and daily cleanup.”

There are also all kind of ethical questions about how the chickens are slaughtered and whether the practice even conforms to Jewish law.

An Israeli court ruled in 2007 that the ritual may violate animal slaughter regulations. An Orthodox official worried that if people used blades that were not perfectly sharp, they were violating kosher laws.

This year, Israel’s small Conservative Jewish movement is aligning with the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to oppose the ritual. “I’ll be telling people at the market that there is an alternative to the kapparot custom that does not involve cruelty to animals,” a Conservative rabbi said.

A rabbi who practices the ritual offers this: “Watching the slaughter of the chicken is supposed to make us think of our own mortality… A Jew is supposed to believe that if not for God’s compassion, his fate would be the same as the chicken’s.”

An explanation of the ritual on the website of the Chabad Lubavitch Hasidic sect concludes with this:


The origins of kapores are unclear, but it was probably developed as a substitute for sacrifices which were no longer possible with the destruction of the Temple. Animals that had been used for sacrifices in the Temple could no longer be used for similar purposes outside. Chickens are used in kapores because they were not acceptable as sacrifices in the Temple. Kapores was not intended as a sacrifice.

The influence of Kabbalah gave the custom much of its mystical aura. There is some opinion that kapores is related to the use of a scapegoat in Temple times on which the High Priest (Kohen Gadol) placed the sins of the Children of Israel before sending the goat out to its death.

The reality is that there is no magic in kapores which transfers a person’s sins to the chicken. Even in the days of the Temple, sins were not magically transferred to an animal. The entire purpose of kapores is to create an experience that inspires a person to teshuvah , that is to return to G-d and to repent. All the sacrifices — and chickens — in the world will not result in forgiveness, unless teshuvah takes place.

Jets’ schedule is meshugah!

Boy, if you’re a Jewish Jets fan and you’re paying big money for season tickets, you can’t be happy.

A full quarter of the Jets’ home games next season fall out on the High Holy Days.

The Jets’ home opener is on Rosh Hashanah and their second game, also at home, will end on the eve of Yom Kippur.

The NFL offices are in NYC, so you would think someone there knows that there are a lot of Jews in New York.

Jets owner Woody Johnson isn’t happy. In a letter to the league, he wrote: “I am extremely disappointed with the league’s decision to schedule us to play at home on consecutive Sundays that are in direct conflict with the Jewish High Holy Days. There has long been an understanding that neither the Jets not the Giants fans should have to bear completely the brunt of this issue since we are in the largest Jewish market in the country.”

I would expect the NFL to relent on this one and make a schedule change. We’ll see.

UPDATE: The Jets’ game on the eve of Yom Kippur has been moved from 4:15 p.m. to 1 p.m. so Jewish fans can make it home in time for services.

Still, have you ever tried to leave the Meadowlands after a Jets or Giants game? It can take hours to get out of the swamp.

Jewish fans will still be cutting it close to make Kol Nidre.

‘Now I will pray much harder’

Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, begins tonight.

The economy is in shambles.

Judith Lederman, a public relations consultant based in Scarsdale, wrote the following rumination yesterday:

Trickle Down Economics Claims a Client ” Let’s Pray”

Judith Lederman

70458_lederman_judith.gifIn spite of all the economic turmoil facing the world, until today I was doing OK. Today
the trickle down theory was set in motion, and a long-time client informed me that she
can no longer afford to keep me as her PR consultant. Now I suppose the news should
have been shattering. I am a single mom with a house and family to support. Every
client counts. But here is a bizarre thing – I find myself almost glad and I thank G-d
because this awakening couldn’t have come at a more appropriate time.

As an Orthodox Jew, I know that on Yom Kippur–in just two days I will be renewing my
vows to G-d, pledging to let all my efforts culminate in transforming me into a better person. I will stand before Him and whisper each word of prayer, pleading not only for myself, but for the world to recognize that every morsel He grants us is a blessing. I will pray for sustenance, health and happiness. Now I will pray that much harder. I will pray for survival.

For those of us who believe in a Higher Power, when catastrophic economic turmoil hits, we know it is no coincidence. It says in the Ethics of Our Fathers (Pirkei Avot) that economic disaster is a direct result of lack of charity and giving lack of recognition of the hand that feeds us. It isn’t the banks, the hedge funds and the stock market that fuel the economy. It’s a confluence of factors that can only come from one immense supernatural force.

It’s a Financial 9/11

The fact that this is happening in the spiritual period of time that precedes Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is an omen, and something to be taken very seriously. Not just by Jews, who will be heading into their respective Houses of Prayer to sing and cry to G-d, but by everyone. The disaster is global. The scope is as tragic and frightening as was 9/11 which also happened in that same Jewish time period. Are you scared yet? You should be. Now is a time to introspect, to increase charitable donations (even if you
feel the pinch), to look beyond ourselves and try to reach out to others. It may seem counterintuitive to give to others when we are struggling ourselves, but we emulate G-d when we open our hands and give to others.

I’m not a Rabbi and I try not to preach religion to those who don’t believe. But today, as world events begin to affect MY world and MY life, I have a choice. I can feel insecure and helpless. Or I can understand the nature of the message that has been sent to me and share it. My prayers will be that much more soulful this Yom Kippur as a result of the crisis which has finally affected me directly. And for that I am grateful. THAT is a blessing. I will pray with vigor that I may not have had otherwise. And even as I pray I am confident and secure that G-d will somehow provide for me. He has always taken care of my needs. May all our prayers be answered this year, and may the world understand that money is only as powerful as the person who uses it to bring sustenance, health and joy to others.

Judith Lederman is a published author and Public Relations Consultant based in Scarsdale, NY. Her website is

What’s with the chicken swinging?

Last year, an Orthodox Jewish group in Monsey got in big trouble with health officials when they left an absolute mess near an old drive-in theater after holding a kapparot ceremony.

What’s a kapparot ceremony, you ask? It’s an Orthodox ritual that dates back to the year 800 and involves holding a chicken above one’s head and moving it in a circle three times. Then the chicken is slaughtered and is donated to the needy.

small-kg100208chicks15.jpgThe ceremony is held in the days leading up to Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonment (which begins tomorrow at sunset). The general idea is that the chicken suffers for your sins.

My colleague Jane Lerner wrote a backgrounder about the ceremony the other day, a fine idea considering the controversy stirred up by last year’s mess in Monsey (organizers left behind a fetid mix of blood, feces, feathers and who knows what else).

Rabbi Moshe Elefant, an official with the Orthodox Union, told Lerner: “It brings us to the recognition that we need to repent — we need to do better in our lives. It’s a very powerful statement.”

This year, the ceremony is being held at the former site of the Monsey Jewish Center.

Lerner writes that there has been some disagreement over the centuries about the basis of the ceremony and whether it has pagan roots. Non-Orthodox Jews generally don’t participate.

But as Rabbi Avi Shafran, another Orthodox official, told Lerner: “Tradition is the cornerstone of our religion. It’s not for us to question if we should or shouldn’t continue. It’s a custom – it’s not open for discussion.”