Petition to Replace Chickens with Money in Kaporos Rituals

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Originally Posted: 17 Aug 2010

Petition to Replace Chickens with Money in Kaporos Rituals

FROM and Alliance to End Chickens as Kaporos

Urge the replacement of chickens in ALL kaporos ceremonies with money or other non-animal symbols of atonement. Rather than “swing” chickens, most kaporos observers expiate their sins symbolically by swinging coins over their heads and donating the money to charity.


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Rabbi Steven Weil, Chief Executive Officer
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Rabbi Moshe Kletenik, President
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Email Rabbi Kletenik: [email protected]
Email: [email protected]
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Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, Executive Vice President
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Kaporos ("atonements") is a custom preceding Yom Kippur - the Jewish Day of Atonement - in which chickens are ritually sacrificed by many Orthodox Jews. The person "swings" the chicken, held by the legs or by pinning the bird's wings backward, around his or her head while chanting about transferring one's sins symbolically onto the bird. The chicken is then slaughtered and may or may not be given to the poor. Prior to the ceremony, the chickens are packed in crates, and birds not used have been found abandoned in their crates when the ceremony was over.

The Alliance to End Chickens as Kaporos seeks to replace chickens in kaporos rituals for 3 principal reasons:

  1. The use of chickens as kaporos is cruel. They suffer in being held with their wings pinned backward, in being swung over the heads of practitioners, and in being packed in crates, often for days without food or water leading up to the ritual, which violates tsa'ar ba'alei chaim, the mandate prohibiting cruelty to animals.
  2. The use of chickens is not required by Jewish law. It is not a mitzvah but a custom that originated in the middle ages.
  3. There is an acceptable substitute that not only avoids cruelty but can help reduce hunger and show compassion. Money can be used as a non-animal alternative, and funds raised can be given directly to charities that provide food for the poor and hungry throughout the year, including 13,000 Jewish families living at or below the poverty line in New York City.


We highly encourage writing personalized and original letters, as they get a lot of attention from recipients.

I am writing to express my objection to the use of chickens in kaporos rituals, and to ask you respectfully to use your influence to encourage the use of money or other non-animal symbols of atonement instead of chickens in the observance of this ritual.

The swinging and slaughtering of chickens and the suffering they endure in the kaporos process is not required by Jewish law, but is rather a custom in a ceremony that no sentient creature is needed for. In fact, many argue it is a violation of tsa’ar ba’alei chaim, the Jewish mandate not to cause harm to animals. I am deeply concerned that the chickens often go for days locked in crates leading up to the ritual with little or no food and water, and that even shelter is often denied them during this time. I am distressed by the callous manner in which practitioners hold the birds, with their wings pinned painfully backward and their legs hanging pitifully, as if they were inanimate objects, unworthy of kindness, mercy, or respect.

I believe that regarding these birds as symbolic recipients of practitioners’ sins and punishment encourages the hurtful and dismissive treatment they receive, which is all the more distressing given that money can be used, and the funds raised can be given directly to charities that provide food for the poor and hungry throughout the year.

The Jewish tradition is filled with concepts, prayers and actions during the Rosh Hashanah-Yom Kippur period stressing the importance of compassion and sensitivity, and the Talmud observes that the concept of tsa’ar ba’alei chaim includes the direction not only to avoid needlessly hurting animals, but to show them compassion. I therefore respectfully urge you to encourage the replacement of chickens in kaporos rituals with money or other nonsentient symbols of atonement, given that animals are not needed to perform the ritual and that the use of money is perfectly acceptable under Jewish law.

Thank you for your attention.

Thank you for everything you do for animals!