Make Love, Not Kapparos

Most sensible Jews (and all left-wing poultry) are opposed to kapparos, the High Holiday tradition of transferring one’s sins to a live chicken by twirling it over one’s head. I agree that it’s a practice that ought to be retired, or at the very least conducted far from news photographers. But, I must admit – I love chickens. So, it’s hard to give up an opportunity to incorporate a chicken that is neither roasted nor boiled into my Jewish practice.

I was inspired by my interview with Rabbi Susan Schnur to consider an alternative chicken-centric method of acknowledging and leaving behind our misdeeds from the past year. Today, my entire kindergarten class visited a student’s chicken coop. We held three beautiful birds, but instead of swinging them over our heads, we whispered our “sorries” in a hen’s ear. (At least I think it was the ear .) After the ritual, every child gave tzedakah.


I’m not sure that my students really understand much more about the tradition of kapparos, or even that much more about teshuvah. But they learned that chickens are gentle, and quite beautiful, and are somehow linked to the High Holidays – and not just for eating.


IMG_4478 chanina whispers.JPG

Gmar Chatimah Tovah from my homeshul to yours.

And tell me you’ve read the chicken book, right?

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posted October 7, 2011 at 11:57 am

I’m going to go out on a limb here and admit that this year (for the first time), I *did* participate in Kapporet. The real deal, chicken and all. Although you can put money in a bag and swing that, and it’s just as kosher.

While I don’t have anything to compare it against, so it may not be true everywhere, but I will tell you that all my concerns about chicken flinging were unfounded.

The chicken was held by it’s wings under the “armpit” and while said poulty was clearly indignant about the situation, it was hardly in pain.

The chicken was then lifted (not swung) to head-height and sort of “stirred” to the side of the head in a vaguely roundish orbit. Because a violently swinging chicken is a pooping chicken, and nobody wants that.

Moreover, people who didn’t feel like fondling chicken-armpits could put them in a box, and then hover the box over their head instead.

While I see your point about transferring sins being archaic, I also understand that tzedakah is powerful in and of itself, and feeding someone as an act of tzedakah even more so, and staring your food in the eye equally powerful. To combine the three – seeing the animal you purchased, who will be slaughtered and given to a needy family, all because I fell short of the mark this past year – was, in fact a powerful motivator to me to improve. I never want anyone to suffer on my behalf.

Coming nose to beak like that was a severe wakeup call about the consequences of my choices.

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    posted October 10, 2011 at 6:07 am

    thanks for sharing your first hand experience, leon.

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posted October 8, 2011 at 4:15 am

Beautiful! I love what you did!

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