The Masorti (Conservative) Movement will join forces with the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals - Tel Aviv to fight against the Jewish custom known as kapparot that involves slaughtering chickens as a way of atonement for sin.
Rabbi Jeff Cymet of Congregation Adat Shalom Imanuel in Rehovot said that he would accompany the society on Tuesday when it visits the Carmel Market in Tel Aviv, where the custom is observed publicly.
"I'll be providing rabbinic support to the people from society," said Cymet, a native English speaker.
"I'll be telling people at the market that there is an alternative to the kapparot custom that does not involve cruelty to animals."
Quoting from the Shulchan Aruch, the definitive codex of Jewish law written by Rabbi Yosef Karo in the 16th century, Cymet said that the custom was considered a type of idolatry.
In accordance with the custom, a chicken is chosen - male for a man and female for a woman - and is circled around the head of the individual seeking atonement for sins.
"This will be my replacement," recites the supplicant, "transmitting" his sins to the chicken, usually white to symbolize its lack of sins.
The chicken is then slaughtered in the traditional Jewish fashion and given to poor people or sold and the proceeds used for philanthropy.
However, animal rights groups oppose the practice. claiming the chickens are shipped under crowded conditions and are made to wait in cages exposed to the sun and heat without food or water until they are slaughtered. They also complain about the custom of picking up the chickens by their feet and waving them in the air.
Rabbis throughout the ages have also criticized the practice.
Some claim that because of the hurried pace in which the chickens are slaughtered, they would not be kosher. Also, rabbis have voiced concern that people seeking atonement through the custom would not truly atone for their sins and would instead rely on the slaughtering of the chicken to expiate their sins.
However, Rabbi Avshalom Habani, who regularly slaughters chickens outside the Derech Eitz Hachaim Yeshiva near the Tel Aviv bus station, said that the tradition should be honored.
"Watching the slaughter of the chicken is supposed to make us think of our own mortality," said Habani.
"A Jew is supposed to believe that if not for God's compassion, his fate would be the same as the chicken's."