The Jewish New Year is just around the corner, but animal rights organizations are already dealing with the Kapparot ritual which is conducted during the days leading to Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, to transfer one's sins to a chicken.
The Let the Animals Live association has appealed to Israel's new Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau, describing the suffering of live chickens used as part of the religious custom, prompting the rabbi to urge the public to "prevent animal suffering and unnecessary pain."
In her appeal to Rabbi Lau, Let the Animals Live founder and spokeswoman Eti Altman wrote that "every year, ahead of Yom Kippur, our association receives many serious complaints about the appalling suffering of fowl held in the markets to be used as 'Kapparot.'
"For hours and even days they are kept in small cages, sometimes in the hot sun, without food and without water. Although the Agriculture Ministry and Rabbinate have issued instructions to prevent these situations – this is not manifested on the ground."
In her letter, Altman quoted Rabbi Hayim David Halevi, who wrote in his book "Aseh Lecha Rav" ("Make a teacher for yourself"), "Why must we, specifically on the eve of this holy day, be cruel to animals for no reason, and slaughter them without mercy, as we are about to ask for compassion for ourselves from the living God?”
Let the Animals Live also mentioned in its appeal a number of poskim (halachic legal scholars), including Shulchan Aruch (also known as the Code of Jewish Law), Medieval Rabbi Shlomo ben Aderet and Nahmanides (Ramban), who were opposed to using fowl for the purpose of Kapparot – alongside well-known rabbis like kabbalist Yitzchak Kaduri and Shlomo Aviner, who in recent years called on the public to use money for charity as a substitute for live chickens when performing the Kapparot ritual.
"A call on your part to the public to favor atonement with money over atonement with fowl can prevent the great suffering of animals, and add respect to religion and to the Rabbinate," the letter concluded.
Rabbi Lau: Practice extra caution
Rabbi David Lau rushed to urge the public in an official statement to prevent unnecessary harm to the fowl used for the Kapparot ritual.
In his call, the rabbi addressed "those who preserve their forefathers' custom in conducting Kapparot on animals." He added, "I would like to remind you of the holy duty all year round to prevent any animal suffering and unnecessary pain, to make sure that they are transported properly and treated appropriately."
Rabbi Lau went on to say that "if the chickens are treated inappropriately, it is clearly a mitzvah that entails an offense, and that was not the sages' intention in the Kapparot mitzvah. Therefore, both the merchants and mitzvah observers must practice extra caution."