In response to accusations from protesters that she has failed to enforce the seven public health codes that are violated during an annual Yom Kippur ritual sacrifice (Kaporos), NYC’s Dept of Health (DOH) Commissioner, Mary Bassett, told an audience at Columbia University that “this has been litigated in the courts” and that “there is a court decision that stands that governs our position on this matter.” The protesters say that she misled the audience regarding the court’s decisions.
The case is not focused on whether or not health codes are being violated, as Commissioner Bassett suggested. In fact, in the lower court proceedings, city attorneys have not disputed the plaintiffs’ claims that laws are violated.
According to Nora Constance Marino, the attorney representing the plaintiffs who are suing the city, the case centers on whether or not courts can mandate that the police enforce the laws that are, in fact, violated during Kaporos. According to the plaintiffs’ complaint, the police are not only ignoring the violations, but they are also “aiding and abetting” in the crimes by providing the ritual practitioners with flood lights, barricades, security and the orange cones in which the chickens are bled out.
In her remarks to the audience, Commissioner Bassett stated, “We have no disease signals associated with this practice.” Upon reviewing the video footage of Commissioner Bassett’s statement, Marino noted the potential risk to humans, saying “An affidavit from a toxicologist that was submitted to the court shows a multitude of public health risks, including e-coli and salmonella.”
“As the Commissioner of the DOH, Dr. Bassett knows that erecting pop-up slaughterhouses on public streets and contaminating residential neighborhoods with the blood and body parts of thousands of animals violate public health codes and put area residents at risk,” said Cynthia King, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit filed against the city. “I wonder if she would be more inclined to enforce the law if dead animals contaminated the streets in her neighborhood.”
Commissioner Basset made the misleading public statements about Kaporos as protesters, angry that she has ignored community’s pleas to enforce the law, disrupted a presentation she was making at the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health.
Kaporos is a annual ritual in which ultra-Orthodox Jews swing chickens around their heads on public streets while saying a prayer to transfer their sins to the animals. After the ritual, they give the chickens to a man on the street who slices their throats in an open air tent erected in several neighborhoods in NYC. The ritual is performed prior to Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement. In Brooklyn, which is home to hundreds of thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews, an estimated 60,000 chickens are swung and massacred each year.
In 2015, The Alliance to End Chickens as Kaporos as well as 19 NYC residents sued the NYC Department of Health and NYPD for failing to enforce the 15 public health, sanitation and anti-cruelty laws and regulations that are violated during Kaporos. The case is pending in New York’s Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court.