Bintel Blog

The Case Against Swinging Chickens

By Allison Gaudet Yarrow

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During the kapparot ceremony, a custom practiced primarily in the Haredi community before Yom Kippur, sins are shifted to chickens, which a holder swings above his head three times. The meat is then to be donated to the poor.

After learning that the custom can cause pain to chickens, and even injuries to their bones and ligaments, one group has repeatedly beseeched the remaining practitioners to find another way to purge their misdeeds.

United Poultry Concerns first began writing to the fervently Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America in 1997 about cruelty towards chickens.

It has become widely accepted for those partaking in the ritual to use, instead of chickens, bags of money or something commensurate, which must make the donation process a whole lot cleaner. Karen Davis, the president of United Poultry Concerns, is asking that Agudath encourage this behavior.

Agudath’s director of public affairs, Rabbi Avi Shafran, said that he has no chicken in the race, and that he uses money in the ritual. However, in a letter to Davis, Shafran wrote, “Agudath is in no position to ask anyone to desist from the age-old practice.”

With America’s growing awareness of and interest in food industry practices, stoked in part by books written by Michael Pollan and Eric Schlosser, and the recent documentary they both practically star in, “Food, Inc,” it’s no surprise that there is interest in defending chickens. Not only is it socially conscious to care about animals; it’s also fashionable.

But that’s not why Davis is involved. She says she has cared for chickens for more than 20 years, and has been campaigned against their use in kapparot since the early 1990s.

Bea Elliott Wed. Sep 23, 2009

Far from being "fashionable" - Concern for nonhumans is about time and long, long overdue. We cannot possibly consider ourselves kind or compassionate if we turn our eyes, heads and hearts away from creatures who have no defense against us. In time, we will evolve into a "humane" and just species. Adapting kapparot is just one small step along the way...

Irene Muschel Wed. Sep 23, 2009

At the center of each individual's behavior, there must be empathy and compassion. Without that, what value do our lives have? Imagine what the experience of kapparot must be like for the chickens. Deprived of food and water, crowded together and unable to spread their wings or move at all, unable to express their natural instincts and social nature, prevented from engaging in behaviors that reflect the intelligence that scientific studies have shown they have, filled with fear and hearing the screams of their fellow chickens, and brutally slaughtered, and tossed into bags occasionally while still alive, as if they were garbage rather than living beings. Who finds that acceptable? What human being would want to experience that?

D. Muller Wed. Sep 23, 2009

Since this act, under the guise of religious tradition, "shifts human sins to chickens," I have to wonder why cruelty to an animal is not a sin. And how does this religion atone for such barbaric, violent behavior?

Such nonsense was obviously formed in more pagan times. It is man who dreams up these rituals and the community of followers who perpetuate it like sheep to the slaughter. I find it appalling when the followers of any faction are so enthralled that they lose or never develop the ability to recognize cruelty.

I honestly believe chickens were created by my God--I'm not Jewish--and I know that my God is a compassionate God who does not condone animal cruelty. My God weeps, and He is tortured by a society that engages cruelty to His defenseless creatures to satisfy a passion for violence. My God and I are working on laws to protect all creatures against brutish humans.

"Man is not the only species on this earth. He just acts like he is."

catherine turley Wed. Sep 23, 2009

rabbi shafran IS in the position to ask people to examine whether or not age old traditions are in accordance with God's word.

Richard Hode Thu. Sep 24, 2009

A little more respect, gratitude, and appreciation for the animals we eat would not be out of order. To put it simply, were it not for them, we would be dead. It's bad enough that we must kill animals for food, but they must not otherwise be mistreated. Being a predator doesn't automatically confer moral superiority; we eat other animals because primates are omnivores, not because we're "superior" to our prey.

We are, in fact, not superior at all. Every life form, every single blade of grass, has arrived at this time together, winners of evolution. Every life form that exists has faced the challenges of survival on this fiery planet that spins in empty space, and has won - and lived. We are on the cutting edge of life together, humans, fish, insects, microbes, all that lives now, a common front that pushes into the future. To say that humans are superior in the gargantuan effort of life is laughable and only the phantasms of an ape-like arrogance and hubris. All arrived here together, and we're in the same boat. Humans need nature more than nature needs humans, so cut the mistreatment of animals, including sacrificial chickens.

mary foley Thu. Sep 24, 2009

please consider the suffering of the chickens there are other ways to atone .

Pam Fioretti Thu. Sep 24, 2009

Cruelty in the name of religion or tradition is still just that - cruelty. And cruelty has no place in any civilised society.

Holly Sternberg Thu. Sep 24, 2009

I come from a Jewish family, and I had never heard of this tradition, but for 21st-century, intelligent, civilized people to even pretend to believe that you can place your sins onto a helpless, innocent animal with a life and needs of her own, and then kill the animal and therefore be a better person, is ridiculous. The way to be a better person is to spare the animal from abuse, among many other ways to lead an ethical life. Better yet, go vegan--to the best of your ability, stop using all products that are obtained through the abuse of animals. We do NOT need to eat meat, dairy, or eggs to survive, so we do not need to abuse and kill them and then feel grateful for it (which, by the way, does not help the animal one bit)--we should just STOP hurting them. I've been a healthy vegan for almost 30 years. It's time to think with our brains and hearts and get rid of this foolish, backward, cruel "tradition."

Barbara Thu. Sep 24, 2009

Still one more fight for the rights of chickens! I'm so glad I am a Christian, Jesus has already died for my sins and I don't have to worry about swinging chickens!

April Thu. Sep 24, 2009

I am all for animal rights and belong to many organizations. I don't believe the controversy over this situation. My grandfather put chicken on our table by "swinging" them and breaking their knecks. It was only for speed and efficiency that more "human" practices began, thus lining the pockets of big business. It was not for the benefit of the chicken. Did none of you notice that this meat is given to the poor. I think that makes the injuries to the birds irrelavent, since they don't live anyway. Have any of you thought that taking away this practice might be taking away some of the lower income people's ability to practice their religion? How many of these people have "bags of money"? Not considering how our actions impact the world and it's inhabitants is how we got in this situaiton in the first place.

D. Muller Thu. Sep 24, 2009

Reply to April: "I think that makes the injuries to the birds irrelevant, since they don't live anyway. Have any of you thought that taking away this practice might be taking away some of the lower income people's ability to practice their religion?"

April, I understand your sentiments, but you need to rethink your assertions of this situation. Cruelty is never "irrelevant!" Today, pagan rituals involving cruelty to any species for any reason is just plain wrong. Would you feel the same if the animal were a dog, cat, canary, parrot, or any other domestic pet? Would you say it is alright to be cruel to a domestic animal just before the animal is to be euthanized? The reason this faction can engage in such cruelty to chickens is because there are no laws to protect food fowl--this also is just plain wrong. And I suspect this whole situation is profit-driven which makes me wonder who over-sees these activities? This is a sentimental ploy, under the guise of religion, by those who stand to profit from this barbaric, violent voodoo. It has nothing to do with religion. I'm old enough to have learned that aberrant behavior which involves money usually has an unethical if not unlawful element.

Furthermore, the poor do not have the right to food that is the product of cruelty--nobody needs chicken to survive. This is like saying it's okay to steal from the rich to give to the poor. In this case, the least among us is the chicken. A Godly life is not one that is conscienceless.

Just listen to the daily news, the wolves are abundant. Beware of the wolf in sheep's clothing.

Lisa Shaw Fri. Sep 25, 2009

God loves chickens, too. While they may be prey for other animals (most notably people) they were never intended to be tormented, terrorized or tortured, whether through the use of factory farms, battery cages or being swung around as a symbolic gesture. Just because something has become a tradition, or is accepted by a large group, does not mean it is acceptable - cases in point - the slavery of blacks by whites and the attempted genocide of the jewish by the nazis. There are many humane alternatives to torturing chickens, so please demonstrate God's love for all living creatures, and use other methods.

April Sat. Sep 26, 2009

I was assuming the injuries were made at the time of death, not prior to. clearly i should researched that situatin further. Not everyone has the luxury of fast food. Some people have to plan each meal by counting every penny and piece of meat in a package to make it thru the week or month. Too many people close their eyes to the hungar and want that is in this country. To them it matters what things look like, not how they are. I do not believe and will never believe any animal is more important than a hungry child. I have experienced days with out eating because of my financial situation at the time, but my children were always fed, no matter what it took. I am only 45 and the main thing i learned for this was to take nothing for granted and know that you can never walk in another man's shoes.

Richard Hode Sun. Sep 27, 2009

No one objects to your feeding chicken to your children. But there is no need to torment the beasts first, that's plain uncivilized.

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