In the days leading up to Yom Kippur, tens of thousands of Hasidim in Brooklyn will purchase and physically handle live chickens in a wet market setting. Wearing little to no PPE, they will swing the chickens around their heads as part of an annual atonement ritual called Kaporos. The chickens will be killed in approximately 30 makeshift slaughterhouses erected without permits on public streets in residential neighborhoods in violation of eight New York City health codes. The body parts, blood and feces of thousands of animals will contaminate the streets of South Williamsburg, Crown Heights and Borough Park for several days.
Kaporos is, in effect, the largest live animal wet market in the country and the only one in which the customers handle the animals before the animals are killed. Many of the animals have compromised immune systems and show signs of respiratory disease. The chickens make each other sick, and they also infect some of the people who handle them with e. Coli and campylobacter. If the viruses that these animals carry commingle and mutate into a more dangerous strain that could be spread among humans, then these Kaporos wet markets could be the source of the another zoonotic disease outbreak. According to a toxicologist who studied fecal and blood samples taken during Kaporos, the ritual “constitutes a dangerous condition” and “poses a significant public health hazard.”
During Kaporos, tens of thousands of Hasidic Jews purchase and physically handle live animals, without PPE, putting themselves and the public at risk of zoonotic disease
In addition to putting all of us at risk of another zoonotic disease pandemic, Kaporos, which attracts hordes of people in small areas, could be a COVID “super spreader” event because Hasidic communities have been observed not wearing masks or engaging in social distancing.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio; his Health Commissioner, Dr. Dave Chokshi; and his Deputy Commissioner of Disease Control, Dr. Demetre Daskalakis, allow this mass ritual slaughter to take place, in spite of the health code violations and risks to public health, because NYC’s ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities represent a powerful voting bloc that can make or break elections in NYC and NY State. In fact, taxpayers help to underwrite the cost because the NYPD provides barricades, floodlights and a large police presence at many of the Kaporos sites. Given the risks and the disruption and death we have already endured already with pandemic, how can the Mayor and his health deputies allow Kaporos to take place?
The Kaporos wet market contaminates the public streets and sidewalks of several NYC neighborhoods with the blood, feces and body parts of thousands of animals killed in pop up slaughterhouses erected without permits in violation of 8 NYC health laws
During Kaporos, some of the live and dead chickens are discarded onto the streets. Rescuers bring the survivors who they find to veterinarians and sanctuaries to live out their lives in peace
For the past several years, animal rights and public health advocates have pled with Mayor de Blasio and his revolving door of health commissioners (Dr. Mary Bassett, Dr. Oxiris Barbot and now Dr. Dave Chokshi) to shut down Kaporos, given the health code violations and the risks to the public health. Both in court and in the media, city attorneys and spokespeople for the NYC Department of Health have defended Kaporos and argued that the City has discretion over which laws to enforce. Throughout the month of September, the Alliance to End Chickens as Kaporos plastered 300 posters around New York City to sound the alarm about Kaporos.
The Alliance to End Chickens as Kaporos, a project of United Poultry Concerns, plastered billboards around NYC to educate the public about the risk to public health created by Kaporos
The Alliance to End Chickens as Kaporos has plastered 300 large posters throughout New York City in an effort to call attention to the risk of zoonotic disease transmission during Kaporos, an animal slaughter ritual that takes place each year in the week leading up to Yom Kippur. During Kaporos, practitioners swing live chickens around their heads without PPE and kill them in makeshift slaughterhouses erected without permits on public streets in violation of eight NYC health codes.
Each year, factory farms in New Jersey and Pennsylvania deliver over 100,000 live chickens to Kaporos vendors in Williamsburg, Borough Park and Crown Heights and several other neighborhoods in New York City. The chickens are typically held in crates on public streets for up to several days with no food, water or protection from weather extremes, conditions that weaken the animals’ immune systems and make them vulnerable to disease.
Over 100,000 chickens are intensively confined in crates for up to several days leading up to the Kaporos ritual. Chickens who died from hunger, thirst, exposure or illness are often found in crates with the live chickens (photo: Unparalleled Suffering Photography)
During Kaporos, public streets and sidewalks are contaminated with the body parts and blood of thousands of chickens who are killed in makeshift slaughterhouses erected without permits in violation of eight NYC health codes. (photo: Suzanne Stein Photography)
Thousands of chickens die in their crates each year from hunger, thirst, exposure and disease before they are used in the ritual, and many of the chickens who practitioners physically handle during the ritual show signs of respiratory disease. Of the tens of thousands of people who partake in the ritual, only a small fraction wear protective gear, such as gloves. It’s this kind of interaction between humans and sick animals that triggered the COVID-19 pandemic.
In addition to putting the public at risk of another zoonotic disease outbreak, the large Kaporos gatherings throughout Brooklyn could be “super-spreader” events for COVID-19 because the Hasidic Jewish communities do not practice social distancing or wear masks.
During Kaporos, over 100,000 chickens are slaughtered and bled out onto public streets in violation of 8 city health codes
The Kaporos poster campaign targets NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio because he has ignored the pleas of animal rights and public health advocates to stop Kaporos from taking place due to the fact that it violates city and state health and cruelty laws and jeopardizes the public health.
Mayor de Blasio’s Health Commissioners have refused to address a toxicology report that outlines the risk posed by the mass slaughter of over 100,000 animals on public streets during Kaporos.
According to a toxicologist who studied fecal and blood samples taken during Kaporos, the ritual “constitutes a dangerous condition” and “poses a significant public health hazard.” In recent years, several New Yorkers who did not partake in the ritual contracted E. coli and campylobacter after coming into contact with these contaminants. Advocates believe that many Kaporos practitioners have also gotten sick but that the insular Hasidic communities would not report the illnesses to the Department of Health.
The Alliance to End Chickens as Kaporos plastered 300 posters around NYC to draw attention to the risk of zoonotic disease transmission that could lead to another pandemic
“The Police and Health Commissioners are political appointees, and their boss, NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio, has clearly instructed them to assist in Kaporos because the practitioners represent a powerful voting bloc,” said Donny Moss, an organizer in the effort to compel the city to enforce the laws. “Not only does the City provides police barricades, floodlights and an army of police officers and sanitation workers, but it also provides the traffic cones where tens of thousands of chickens are bled out onto public streets.”
City health codes that are violated during Kaporos
During an interview on Fox News on April 4, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, said that wet markets in “certain countries” should be shut down. While he did not specify the countries, he was referring to China, which is where COVID-19 is believed to have jumped from animal to human, and to other Asian countries that have similar wet markets that sell and slaughter live animals. Dr. Fauci made no mention of wet markets in the United States:
“I think they should shut down those things right away. It boggles my mind how, when we have so many diseases that emanate out of that unusual human/animal interface ,that we don’t just shut it down. There are certain countries in which this is very commonplace. I would like to see the rest of the world really lean with a lot of pressure on those countries that have that because what we’re going through right now is a direct result of that.”
A wet market in NYC where customers, including children and the elderly, handle live animals
“Why would Dr. Fauci call on world leaders to pressure countries in Asia to shut down their wet markets without calling for the closure of live animal markets in his own country?” said Jill Carnegie, co-organizer of Slaughter Free NYC, an advocacy group working to shut down NYC’s 80+ wet markets and slaughterhouses. “Do we need to wait for an outbreak of a novel strain of bird flu or swine flu before shutting down these breeding grounds of infectious disease?”
Wet markets in NYC sell at least 10 species of live animals and slaughter them on site for their customers.
Following Dr. Fauci’s remarks, several mainstream media news outlets, including CNN, ran substantive stories in which they aired footage of Asian wet markets, but they did not not address the widespread prevalence of wet markets in the United States. Through videos, letters, petitions and social media, animal advocacy groups are working to inform both the mainstream media and Dr. Fauci of the presence of wet markets in the United States, including three in Bensonhurst, the Brooklyn neighborhood where he was raised.
On April 7th, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), a nonprofit health organization of 12,000 physicians, sent a letter to the U.S. Surgeon General urging him to shut down live markets in the United States:
“There must not be another pandemic. To ‘prevent the introduction, transmission, and spread of communicable diseases’ in the United States, the Surgeon General must promulgate regulations that prohibit the sale, transfer, donation, other commercial or public offering, or transportation, in interstate or intrastate commerce, of live birds, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians to retail facilities that hold live animals intended for human consumption.”
Dr. Neal Barnard, PCRM’s President, announced the news on a live webcast with TV journalist Jane Velez-Mitchell.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is also calling for the closure of wet markets. In a letter to Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the Director-General of the World Health Organization, PETA President Ingrid Newkirk wrote, “On behalf of PETA and our more than 6.5 million members and supporters worldwide, we respectfully ask that you call for the immediate and permanent closure of these markets, in which dangerous viruses and other pathogens flourish.
In several American cities, including New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, animal advocacy groups have been, through lobbying, litigation and protest, sounding alarm bells about the wet markets for the past several years — long before the COVID-19 outbreak. In New York City, a lawsuit filed by neighbors of one annual wet market reached New York State’s highest court. The lawyer for the plaintiffs argued that the Court should mandate that the NYPD and Dept. of Health enforce the 15 City and State laws that are violated by this wet market. The Court of Appeals judges ruled that municipalities have discretion over which of its own laws to enforce.
While the wet markets in the United States do not sell bats and pangolins, the animals believed to have transmitted COVID-19 to humans, they do intensively confine thousands of animals, some of whom are visibly ill, in pens and cages where customers shop. In one Brooklyn wet market, where animals are used in an annual religious sacrifice, customers handle the animals themselves — purchasing live chickens and swinging them around their heads before bringing them to a ritual slaughterer. According to a toxicologist who conducted an investigation on behalf of area residents, the wet market activities “pose a significant public health hazard.”
Dozens of public health and animal rights advocates occupy the New York City Dept. of Health to demand that the Deputy Commissioner of Disease Control, Dr. Demetre Daskalakis, shut down a wet market that violates seven City health codes
During the 2019 Kaporos, an annual ritual slaughter that takes place in the days leading up to Yom Kippur, several teams of animal rights activists in New York City rescued 211 chickens who were hours away from being killed in makeshift slaughterhouses erected in Hasidic Jewish neighborhoods in Brooklyn. The rescues were organized by the Alliance to End Chickens as Kaporos and Long Island Orchestrating for Nature (LION).
The activists brought the chickens to a triage center where they provided them with food, water and, in some cases, acute medical care, before transporting them to farm animal sanctuaries around the country. Eight chickens were taken to veterinarians for emergency surgery due to broken wings and other life-threatening injuries.
Jill Carnegie with the Alliance to End Chickens as Kaporos transports a rescue to the triage site.
Jill Carnegie, the Campaign Strategist for the Alliance to End Chickens as Kaporos and an organizer of the rescues, said that the number of chickens who activists rescued was determined by the space available in farm animal sanctuaries: “We spent several months securing quality homes for the chickens. Since Cornish Cross birds are some of the most genetically-altered animals, they require specialized care. Each year, we can only rescue the number of chickens we can confirm homes for to avoid a potentially catastrophic scenario; we put in many hours of placement work so that we can save as many lives as possible. We wish we could have saved more.”
Activists estimate that over 100,000 chickens are trucked into the city and stored in crates on the street for up to several days with no food or water
With an estimated 300,000 Hasidic Jews in New York City, activists believe that well over 100,000 chickens are used and killed each year. During Kaporos in 2019, thousands of chickens died of hunger, thirst, sickness and heat exhaustion in the crates where they were being stored before the ritual even began.
During Kaporos, hundreds of activists provide watermelon and water to thousands of chickens stacked in crates on the streets of Crown Heights, Williamsburg and Borough Park in Brooklyn, New York
During Kaporos, practitioners swing six-week old chickens around their heads while reciting a prayer to symbolically transfer their sins to the animal. The vast majority of the chickens are then killed in open-air slaughterhouses, leaving the streets contaminated with their blood, body parts, feces and feathers. In 2015, an attorney suing the City on behalf of area residents hired a toxicologist to test the contaminants. In his report, Dr. Michael McCabe concluded that Kaporos “constitutes a dangerous condition and poses a significant public health hazard.”
Mayor de Blasio’s Health Commissioners have refused to address a toxicology report that outlines the risk posed by the mass slaughter of over 100,000 animals on public streets during Kaporos.
Advocates have, on multiple occasions, sent the toxicology report to Dr. Demetre Daskalakis, the head of Infectious Disease Control at the NYC Department of Health, and to Drs. Oxiris Barbot and Mary Bassett, the City’s current and former health commissioners. Activists speculate that they have refused to acknowledge the correspondence because they could be liable if and when a disease outbreak does occur. Nora Constance Marino Esq., the attorney, argued the case to the State’s highest court — Court of Appeals. In their ruling in 2018, the six judges wrote that city agencies have discretion with respect to the laws they choose to enforce.
During Kaporos, over 100,000 chickens are slaughtered on public streets in residential neighborhoods in Brooklyn, exposing area residents to E. coli, campylobacter and many other pathogens and toxins
In recent years, resistance to the use of live chickens has been building in the Hasidic Jewish communities. In discussions with animal protection advocates, many Kaporos practitioners have acknowledged that the mass commercialization of the ritual has led to systemic abuses that violate “Tza’ar ba’alei chayim,” a Jewish commandment that bans causing animals unnecessary suffering.
“As long as this cruel ritual slaughter takes place, we will continue rescuing as many of the victims as we can before they are slaughtered,” said Jill Carnegie. “One day, the use of live animals for the ritual will come to an end, either because the Department of Health decides to enforce its own laws in order to prevent the spread of an infectious disease or, more likely, because a disease outbreak occurs.”
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.