Kapparot: A Swingers Party Gone Wrong
Eating meat seems to me to be a concession in the Torah that God allows to silence the violent-driven tendencies of the kvetching Israelites. Throwing chickens over our heads though seems a bit too cruel especially when there is a valid alternative: waving money around our heads. Perhaps it is just for those righteous souls who have done nothing wrong all year that they do this mean act – so they can join in the communal sins admissions. Perhaps it is indeed a healthier way of letting out violent tendencies than on each other but hasn’t the time for Kapparot, swinging the chickens over heads to atone for sins and passing the guilt onto them – to be put aside? I’m over it as much as the chickens are.
Could we ask the rabbis today to dispense with or at least update this custom as Nachmanides recommended? Joseph Caro (editor of the Shulchan Aruch – most revered code of Jewish Law) objected recognizing that it was a goyish practice – and that sacrifice outside the temple wasn’t part of Jewish rite. (Anyone paying Jewish school fees knows there’s plenty of sacrifice happening outside the temple). Also, it is fairly ‘new’ Jewishly; the first time it is recorded is the 9th century.i
In the spirit of renewal and a new year, perhaps my dear friend Rabbi Riqi Kosovske has the right idea: her son’s kindergarten created a wonderful alternative kapparot ritual a few years ago called “The Chicken Whisperers.” The class goes to a family of the school who has a chicken coop. (Perhaps Emunah Farm here in Victoria?) A friendly chicken is held and the kids gather round and whisper what they are sorry about to the chicken and give the chicken a blessing or wish. Afterwards all the participants (kids, teachers, parents, even the principal came) also give tzedakah.ii I would do this and remind myself what these chickens looked like before they ended up on my plate. It may make me feel more connected to the gravity of eating one of these creatures.
It is not often that I agree with members of Neturei Karta – an Ultra-Orthodox sect – but Rabbi Meir Hirsch says, ‘You cannot perform a commandment by committing a sin.’iii In addition Rav Solevitchik considered it a ‘minhag shtut’ (silly custom). Apparently things are improving and in Melbourne the chicken is now put into a box (like a coffin?!) but this doesn’t appease me. I will certainly be checking it out this year as I believe in informed decision making from my Progressive origins. I can’t promise to participate and will possibly squawk like a chicken in protest but I will go along and try to understand why it is so important to people.
So far, though, I am unconvinced that this practice needs to be kept up. The way my husband and I resolve arguments is often like this. If one of us really wants something and the other one doesn’t care that much, the latter will just give in. Despite there being people out there who do it, enjoy it, think it’s fun, holy or just a good way to bond with blood before the holiest of days, I ask you: is it really so important to you to do it? Because it’s quite important to me that you don’t. So will you give this one up for the sake of Klal Yisrael, halachic concepts and the poor chicks? Unlike this minhag (tradition) there is actually a mitzvah (commandment and spiritual connection) called ‘tsa’ar baalei chayim’ which literally means (don’t) ‘make trouble for animals.’
I hope I can afford kosher chickens from the butcher this year, because even though it is commendable that they apparently go to charity, I am not certain I want to eat a chicken with someone else’s sins passed into it. i http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kapparot ii See pictures and article at http://blog.beliefnet.com/homeshuling/2010/09/make-love-not-kapparos.html iii http://failedmessiah.typepad.com/failed_messiahcom/2011/10/haredim-begin-to-rethink-kapparot-567.html