Every religion is strange.
Within every strange religion, some rituals and practices are even more strange. Such is the case with Kapporot (or Kaporos), a Jewish ritual of atonement.
I hadn't heard about it until I got an email from someone affiliated with The Alliance to End Chickens as Kaporos. In part, she said:
I am writing to ask that you cover this topic so that the cruel ritual of using chickens as Kaporos is brought to light and ended. I have photos and video, and the founder of the Alliance to End Chickens as Kaporos is available for interview.
A few days before Yom Kippur (October 3rd), thousands of chickens are slated to be slaughtered as part of the Kaporos ritual performed by some Orthodox Jews. Kaparos, meaning “atonements,” is a custom in which a chicken or money may be used. Kaporos is usually performed in public places, like the streets of Brooklyn and Queens and the Pico Robertson area of Los Angeles.
This 60-second video about Kaporos http://bit.ly/1wkaE3u features Yonassan Gershom, a Breslov Hasid rabbi, who speaks on behalf of kindness to chickens and against the use of chickens in Kaporos rituals.
A chicken is held above a person’s head and swung in a circle three times in the belief that he or she is transferring human sins and punishment to the chicken. In the end, the chickens are slaughtered and may or may not be given to the poor for food.
Members of the public have written letters complaining about animal cruelty on public sidewalks, streets and pedestrian malls, as well as the human health hazards of Kaporos as a result of the blood, feces, feathers and dead or dying chickens left in the open where the ritual is performed.
The Alliance to End Chickens as Kaporos, a project of United Poultry Concerns, seeks to replace the use of chickens with money or other non-animal symbols of atonement. The Alliance does not oppose Kaporos per se, only the unnecessary use of chickens. Karen Davis, Founder of the Alliance, says in addition to the cruel way the animals are treated in the ceremony, 2,500 chickens died of heat stroke, starvation and thirst in transport crates in Brooklyn during the 2013 week of Kaporos.
Well, glad to help.
But when someone sends a religious press release to a churchless blog, he or she should expect that the blogger will say more than "Yeah, right on. Use money rather than chickens to transfer your sins."
Here's an even better suggestion, Jews: Give up the whole notion that you have sins, along with the idea that swinging either a chicken or money over your head will atone for the sins that, almost certainly, you don't have.
Unfortunately, an NPR story says that the big debate among orthodox Jews isn't whether Kapporot makes sense and should be observed; it is whether using chickens or money is the best way to do the sin transfer thing.
"How much for chickens this year?" a woman asks, thinking they're selling chickens for Kapparot.
"No, we want people to use money," Rosenfeld says, explaining that waving money around her head is just as religiously acceptable as waving a bird. "We think it's very cruel to the chickens. We're trying to get people to not buy the chickens at all but use money instead."
She nods and says she'll use money this year.
It's not easy undoing a millennium of tradition, one chicken at a time. And it's lonely. Rosenfeld knows he's at odds with his friends at synagogue.
I need to admit, though, that I've believed almost equally weird stuff prior to my churchless conversion.
For example, I was a member of an India-based mystical organization that taught repetition of a mantra given by the guru removed countless karmic impressions -- the Eastern equivalent of sins. Hearing supernatural sound or seeing divine light (if you were so lucky, or deluded) ... ditto.
But at least we didn't harm something living to benefit ourselves. In fact, everybody in the organization was vegetarian. Even eggs were eschewed as food, along with, of course, chickens themselves.
Here's the video mentioned in the press release I got. It's only a minute long. Gives good tips for how to handle chickens, and how chickens react when held by their wings. (In short, don't do it!)