A new fowl-friendly group has beef with an ancient Jewish ritual of killing chickens as a form of atonement on the eve of Yom Kippur.
Members of the Alliance to End Chicken as Kapporos want to put a stop to the fundamentalist Orthodox Jewish practice of swinging live chickens over one’s head before having a rabbi slit the bird’s throat.
“I don’t think it is humane to degrade any living creature,” said Karen Davis of the United Poultry Concerns, a Virginia-based non-profit that promotes the respectful treatment of chickens and other fowl. “They [Orthodox Jews] are like all fundamentalists — their focus is very self-absorbed and hermetically sealed.”
Davis, whose group founded the group in June, said the practice dates back to the Middle Ages — and should have been left back in time.
“Swinging chickens over one’s head and pinning their wings painfully backward is not a decree from god,” she said.
On Sept. 12 the Alliance rallied on Eastern Parkway in Crown Heights to blast the practice.
“As a Jewish person I find it offensive that other Jewish people are performing such a ritual that is unnecessary and not required any place in the Torah or Talmud,” said Alliance member Sheila Schwartz.
But Orthodox leaders said critics can crow all they want — they still plan on swinging the chicken.
“This is a ritual that has been going on for thousands of years,” said Rabbi Gary Schlesinger, executive director of the UJCare, a 40-year-old social services operation. “We will not change it because there are some people out there that say it has to be changed.”
Changing customs to suit the secular world — or other sects of Judaism — result in the dissolution of the Orthodox way, the rabbi said.
“We will not change because this is about preserving our heritage.”
On top of that, the rabbi said kapporos, Hebrew for “atonements,” is not as inhumane as observers claim.
“Slitting the throat is one of the quickest ways [to kill a chicken],” he said.
The custom is protected under the First Amendment, and is practiced in streets from Sheepshead Bay to Williamsburg, between Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. According to practitioners, the chicken is said to hold the sins of the swinger, who purchases the bird for about $7 and then swings it overhead three times, while reciting prayers. A rabbi then slaughters the animal with a slice to the neck.
And practitioners such as Williamsburg Hasidic leader and former City Council candidate Isaac Abraham told opponents to keep their beaks out of his business.
“The old sages and rabbinical scholars would not recommend being a part of a tradition or a culture that is inhumane to animals,” he said.
He said the slaughtered birds are given away to yeshivas and poor people.
Abraham said opponents have a right to their opinions, but he questioned their priorities.
“I don’t think they like people as much as they love animals.”
Some religious leaders, such as Rabbi Joseph Potasnick of Congregation Mt. Sinai in Brooklyn Heights, said practitioners have other options besides chickens: they can swing a bag of money around their heads and then give it to the poor.
“I think there are better ways for realizing the importance of repentance in one’s personal life,” he said. “If the goal is to transform the individual, then certainly we can think of other ways of fulfilling that objective.”
Potasnick said that he found the practice distasteful.
“Kindness to animals is a major tenet of the Jewish religion,” he said. “We all need to become better, but I think there are better ways of being better.”