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Hasidic Jews Speak Out Against Mass Animal Sacrifice, Kaporos

September 18, 2019 by Leave a Comment

The News

Before Yom Kippur in 2018, an Orthodox Jewish man in Brooklyn recorded himself criticizing a ritual animal sacrifice called Kaporos while standing in front of hundreds of chickens who had been abandoned for the night with no food or water. While many Orthodox Jews are willing to speak off the record about their growing discomfort with Kaporos, few speak out publicly out of fear of retribution.

During Kaporos, practitioners swing six-week old chickens around their heads while reciting a prayer to symbolically transfer their sins to the animal before the Jewish Day of Atonement.  They then bring the chickens to ritual slaughterers who slice their throats in makeshift slaughterhouses erected for the holiday.

While reciting a prayer, a Kaporos practitioner swings a chicken around his son’s head in a symbolic transfer of his son’s sins to the chicken. The chicken is then killed in a makeshift slaughterhouse erected before Yom Kippur. (photos: Unparalleled Suffering Photography)

During a previous Kaporos, an Orthodox man in Brooklyn told TheirTurn that he felt that the ritual could not be conducted humanely on a mass scale in urban areas.  “It used to be, once upon a time, you lived in a little shtetl [small Jewish village in Eastern Europe]. You used to go before Yom Kippur. You used to take your chicken out of your backyard. You used to take it and do it, but not to bring as a mass slaughtering on the streets. And that’s why I think it’s not right.”


In recent years,  resistance to the use of live chickens has been building in Orthodox communities. In discussions with animal protection advocates, many Kaporos practitioners have acknowledged that the animals are mistreated in the days leading up to the ritual due to their intensive confinement in crates. While some say that the problems can be fixed, others in the community argue that the industrialization of the ritual has led to systemic abuses that violate “Tza’ar ba’alei chayim,” a Jewish commandment that bans causing animals unnecessary suffering. In 2017 and 2018, thousands of crated chickens died of hunger, thirst, sickness and heat exhaustion before the ritual even began.

Before Yom Kippur, tens of thousands of chickens are trucked into Brooklyn, and the chickens are held in crates for up to several days with no food, water or protection from weather extremes.

A least a dozen Orthodox Jews have told TheirTurn that online videos about the cruelty have compelled them and/or family members to stop using chickens. Others say that, because the ritual takes place just once a year, they begrudgingly continue to use chickens in order to avoid family or community strife.

Advocates say that holding chickens by their wings instead of their bodies causes them more pain as they’re pulled from the crates, transferred to the Kaporos practitioner and swung in the air.

In New York City, animal rights activists have been protesting the ritual for decades, but they have seen few tangible results. “In candid discussions with Orthodox Jews, we have learned that the community doubles down on something when outsiders ask them to stop,” said Jessica Hollander, an activist who has been protesting the ritual since 2014. “We were trying to help the chickens, but, in the end, we were doing more harm than good.”  In 2018, the activist community stopped protesting and instead focused on providing food and water to the beleaguered chickens.

Advocates provide water to chickens in crates who are intensively confined for up to several days with no food, water or protection from the extreme heat.

To the surprise of animal rights activists in the United States, Israel’s Ministry of Agriculture released an animated public service announcement encouraging Kaporos practitioners to use coins instead of live animals. In New York City, the government not only refuses to speak out against the use of chickens, but also provides City resources for ritual, in spite of the 15 city and state public health and animal cruelty laws that are violated.

Comments via Facebook Comments

  1. M Leybra says:

    Rabbi Yonassan Gershom, Seriously, “You need to stop seeing all Hasidim as one big block of “abusers” and meet them as individuals?” Strange comment coming from an authority figure who perpetuates denying those in a Hasidic community the freedom to act out as individuals.
    The fact is, you’re correct though reg. this issue. As someone who helps animals, I have interacted with quite a few Hasidic individuals who have genuine compassion for animals.

  2. M Leybra says:

    Shlomo Issacstein, you know damned well nobody in Bklyn. has a live chicken to bring & it’s all about ‘the dollar’ you sell, (get a ‘donation’) for these suffering animals that you mercilessly torture even when they cry out in fear & pain. And then have chutzpah to claim some invisible ‘God’ condones this evil in one person (you) & empathetic mercy in another.

  3. Gilah says:

    As to the comment about “Humane Slaughter,” there is no such thing. Slaughter is slaughter. A rose by any other name is still a rose. These animals do not wish to die. They strive to live and to be happy. Slaughter, with soft hands or a sharp blade deprive them of this right.

  4. Re: Karen Davis comment here about “doing more harm than good,” it is not protesting per se that is the problem, it was the confrontational, anger/hate-filled hostile methods she and her org have employed. The very wording of her comment here shows that she not only objects to this particular ritual, she has no respect for the entire culture. Who is going to listen to somebody who refers to their community as, in her words here, “cultural sclerosis”? If you really want insiders to help outsiders, then you have to start with showing some respect and stop using inflammatory, condescending language to describe their whole way of life.

    Yes, Karen, there *are* various forms of protest, some more effective than others. Nobody is suggesting that we keep quiet and stop protesting. What this article does suggest is to listen to those Jews within the community who oppose using chickens, learn from them what works and what doesn’t, and modify techniques accordingly. You need to stop seeing all Hasidim as one big block of “abusers” and meet them as individuals.

  5. Shlomo Issacstein says:


    Kosher slaughter is the most humane slaughter of animals. I know you just don’t like it but just because your a vegan and a few others “feel” the chickens are being harmed doesn’t mean they are and not does it mean everyone has to follow you or what a few Hasidic Jews do. Again there is a choice and a freedom to make it without others harassing each other. No court has ever ruled in your favor nor will they ever. As the courts have said just because it upsets a few people doesn’t make it illegal. The Bible also says homosexuality is disgusting so should we ban Homosexual activity from everyone? Thousands of unborn babies are murdered and ripped out of wombs every day in abortion clinics and thrown out like a piece of trash but we have Abortion. Thank goodness in the US we have laws that protect rights of others. See you behind the NYPD barricades!

  6. Donny Moss says:

    As you know, Mr. Issacstein, the Jewish law prohibits unnecessary cruelty to animals. The intensive confinement, hunger, thirst and broken bones that take place before and during Kaporos are, in fact, unnecessary, especially in light of the fact that Jewish tradition provides for alternatives to live animals. This is why Hasidic people, such as the two men shown in this story, are speaking out publicly.

  7. Shlomo Issacstein says:

    God allows for Animal Sacrifice and eating of animals for food….his law allows it. Maybe you should take it up with him on your anti God stance.

    And Thank You NYPD for protecting the Jews from the violence and harassment of protestors who prey upon them every Yom Kippur.

  8. Donny Moss says:

    Freedom of choice is important, and the chickens did not choose to be intensively confined in crates for up to several days with no food or water in the oppressive heat. They are a different species, but their pain, suffering, hunger, thirst and suffering are no different than ours. We have no right to abuse them. Do you think that God would approve of his creatures being treated this way?

  9. Shlomo Issacstein says:

    Some people use money; some people use chickens. Its great to live in a free country where you can choose!! Looking forward for another great Kaporot week 5780! Bring your own chicken or one can be provided per donation.

  10. Zizi says:

    Great coverage by Donny/Their Turn as always! This public service video put out by Israel’s Ministry of Agriculture, needs to be shown in the Hasidic community! Perhaps this year, someone can bring a few large screen TV monitors and broadcast the above video all over the place!!! Since it’s in Hebrew, with English titles, most of them will hear it, and see it!!! This must be done, if at all possible, because the source is not from those who are there to protest and it will certainly get their attention. And, kids will listen as well, because of the talking chickens! It’s definitely worth a try!

  11. Karen Davis says:

    I disagree with the view that animal activists protesting against chicken Kaporos are “doing more harm than good.” Before we started protesting in multiple ways, there was virtually no discussion or awareness of this practice. I agree that shouting matches on the streets of Brooklyn or wherever this vile ritual is being conducted are not productive. But protest can take many forms and we had better keep doing that.Insular communites, whether Hasidic,the Old Jim Crow South, or you name it, have always resented “outsiders.” But it’s the role of the Outsider to bring attention to cultural sclerosis, especially where cruelty is concerned. If the protests lapse, probably nothing will change in the Hasidic community. We’d better keep up the pressure. Activists have helped to bring out public statements of opposition from within the Orthodox community. Most rabbis detest chicken Kaporos. They consider it cruel, embarrassing, and inconsistent with the best Jewish values and teachings. For the sake of the chickens, we cannot let their abusers dictate the terms. The Outsiders and the Insiders must help one another. People within the Hasidic community who have compassion for the chickens need to hear their compassion expressed by other people. Otherwise, everyone who cares keeps silent, and nothing happens. Social justice needs Voices and Actions.

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