Every year during the week leading up to Yom Kippur, several sects of ultra-Orthodox Jews in Brooklyn sacrifice an estimated 60,000 chickens in makeshift slaughterhouses that are erected without permits on public streets. The practitioners of the ritual slaughter, called Kaporos, violate multiple city health codes:
The NYC Department of Health defends the illegal sacrifice, arguing that the city has not observed any “disease signals” associated with the practice. The NYPD, which is charged with enforcing the laws, instead aids and abets in the crimes.
A toxicology report confirmed that Kaporos poses a “significant public health hazard.”
“The Chief of Police and Health Commissioner are political appointees, and their boss, NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio, has clearly instructed them to assist in the illegal Kaporos massacre 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 into public streets.”
NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio instructs the NYPD to aid and abet in the illegal slaughter of an estimated 60,000 animals on the streets of NYC (Unparalleled Suffering Photography)
On October 17th, during oral arguments about Kaporos in the the New York State Court of Appeals, a city attorney confirmed that laws are broken but argued that the city has discretion over which laws to enforce.
City health codes that are violated during Kaporos
During Kaporos, an estimated 60,000 six-week old chickens are intensively confined in crates without food or water for up to several days before being slaughtered and discarded. Many die of starvation, thirst and exposure before the ritual takes place. A toxicology reported commissioned by residents in the neighborhoods that are contaminated with the blood, feces and body parts of chickens states that the ritual a “significant public health hazard.”
On October 17th, in New York State’s highest court, lawyers for New York City Mayor Bill Blasio’s administration defended the City’s decision to ignore animal cruelty violations and to assist in crimes being committed against animals.
The case in front of the Court of Appeals centers around Kaporos, a ritual animal sacrifice during which ultra-Orthodox Jews swing an estimated 60,000 six-week old chickens around their heads, slice their throats in open-air slaughterhouses erected without permits, and dispose of them in garbage bags, sometimes while they’re still alive. In 2017 and 2018, thousands of chickens held in crates on the street died of hunger, thirst, disease and heat exhaustion before the ritual even began.
In 2015, an advocacy group called the Alliance to End Chickens as Kaporos and 19 NYC residents who live in neighborhoods that are contaminated by the mass slaughter sued the City of New York, the NYC Department of Health and the NYPD for failing to enforce the 15 public health, sanitation and anti-cruelty laws and regulations that are violated during Kaporos. Nora Constance Marino, the attorney for the plaintiffs, has been asking the judicial branch of government to issue a “Writ of Mandamus,” which would compel city agencies to enforce the laws.
During the arguments, the city’s attorney, Elina Druker, did not deny that the animal cruelty laws or health codes are violated; she merely argued that city agencies, not judges, have discretion over which laws they enforce. She also argued that the city should decide how to allocate its resources. Marino responded, “This is a farce. The resources are [already deployed] there. There’s police everywhere during this event, facilitating the event, assisting the event, aiding and abetting the event.” Marino continued, “crimes are being committed, and the public health is being put at risk here.”
After the oral arguments, advocates expressed their frustration with the city’s “ludicrous” claim. “The City wouldn’t have to invest any resources into enforcing the animal cruelty laws because the ritual wouldn’t be performed in the first place,” said Rina Deych, a plaintiff in the case against the city. “The NYPD would inform community leaders that, moving forward, they can no longer truck 60,000 chickens into Brooklyn and erect open-air slaughterhouses on the street due to the multiple city and state laws that are violated.”
When running for Mayor of NYC, Bill de Blasio said that animal rights would move into the mainstream if he was elected, yet his administration is using tax dollars to defend its decision to ignore an animal massacre that violates 15 city and state laws.
When asked by one of the Court of Appeals judges why the city was aiding and abetting in the crimes, Ms. Druker argued that, by providing a police presence, the city was merely maintaining order. The advocates say this response is also disingenuous.
“The NYPD provides massive flood lights and the orange traffic cones where the chickens are bled out onto the street after their throats are slit,” said Jill Carnegie with the Alliance to End Chickens as Kaporos. “If Druker was being honest with the judges, she would have acknowledged that our tax dollars are, in fact, being used to facilitate and partially underwrite this illegal massacre.”
Advocates who attended the oral arguments noted the irony of the city’s decision to defend crimes against animals. “When Bill de Blasio was running for Mayor of New York City in 2013, he publicly stated that animal rights would move into the mainstream if he was elected,” said Jessica Hollander, an animal rights activist in NYC. “Yet, five years later, he is defending animal torture in order to curry favor with the Orthodox Jewish voting bloc that commits it.”
A decision in the case is expected in forty to ninety days.
Ten months after animal rights and public health advocates launched a campaign to hold her accountable for failing to enforce health codes violated during an annual ritual animal sacrifice called Kaporos, NYC Health Commissioner Mary Bassett resigned, announcing that she is moving to Boston to teach at Harvard. Dr. Bassett is vacating her position just eight months into a four year term as NYC’s top doctor. The announcement comes on the heels of several protests inside of the headquarters of the NYC Department of Health.
“Commissioner Bassett’s decision to resign and wash her hands of this scandal does nothing to help the tens of thousands of people and animals who she betrayed while in office,” said Nathan Semmel, an organizer in the campaign. “She had the power and legal obligation to stop a public massacre of baby birds that exposes some of NYC’s poorest residents to infectious diseases, but she chose to prioritize politics over public health. Quitting her post and moving 200 miles away from us doesn’t make her any less accountable.”
In October, 2017, NYC activists began to protest Commissioner Bassett over her support of Kaporos, a ritual animal sacrifice that takes place before Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement. From October 2017 to July 2018, the activists disrupted six of her public speaking engagements and staged five protests in the lobby of the NYC Department of Health (DOH). The activists allege that Dr. Bassett is turning a blind eye to the health code violations because the ultra-Orthodox Jews who practice the ritual represent a powerful voting bloc that helped to elect her boss, NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio.
During Kaporos, an estimated 60,000 six-week old chickens are intensively confined in crates without food or water for up to several days before being slaughtered and discarded. Many die of starvation, thirst and exposure before the ritual takes place. A toxicology reported submitted to the court as part of an ongoing lawsuit against the DOH states that the ritual poses a risk to public health in the neighborhoods where it takes place. While Commissioner Bassett has not publicly disputed the findings from the toxicology report or the activists’ and lawyers’ claims about the health code violations, she has issued a public statement asserting that “there remains no evidence that the use of chickens for Kaporos poses a significant risk to human health.”
Activists protest NYC Health Commissioner Mary Bassett over her ongoing refusal to ban a mass animal sacrifice that violates at least seven public health codes.
In anticipation of a protest during a talk that she was giving at the Boston University School of Public Health, Dr. Bassett attempted to defend her inaction on the grounds that her boss, NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio, would not allow it: “Those of us who work in government face the reality of the fact that the people who appoint us have to go back to the public and back to the ballot box to be reappointed, so there’s always going to be a need for advocacy from people outside of government. For someone who is passionately committed to many issues embraced by advocates, it can be difficult to acknowledge the role that I play as a political appointee. I can’t always be at the barricades!”
“Dirty politics does not give Dr. Bassett a free pass to ignore a ritual that violates health codes, puts New Yorkers at risk of infectious disease and terrorizes baby animals,” said Donny Moss. “If Mayor de Blasio is instructing her to turn a blind eye, then it is her legal and moral duty to push back and assert her authority has NYC’s health czar.”
As part of an ongoing campaign to shut down a ritual animal sacrifice that violates multiple health codes, dozens of activists with The Alliance to End Chickens as Kaporos held a press conference at the headquarters of the NYC Department of Health (DOH) on June 6th to demand that Commissioner Mary Bassett enforce the law. NY1 News covered the story.
The press conference, which was held during the lunchtime rush, attracted the attention of hundreds of city employees. While many expressed their support with a “thumbs up,” others averted their eyes. According to supporters at the DOH, city employees refer to the protesters as “the chicken people.”
During Kaporos in NYC, an estimated 60,000 chickens are slaughtered, and their blood and body parts contaminate the streets, jeopardizing the public health.
In October 2017, animal rights and public health advocates launched a campaign targeting the Commissioner Bassett after she defended the use of live chickens based on the absence of “disease signals” without acknowledging the health code violations or the warnings outlined in a toxicology report that was submitted into evidence as part of an ongoing lawsuit against the Dept. of Health. Activists say that, to date, Commissioner Bassett has neither refuted the findings of the toxicology report nor challenged the activists’ assertion that multiple health codes are violated.
The lawsuit filed by attorney Nora Marino on behalf of residents in the neighborhoods most affected by the animal slaughter is pending in the Court of Appeals, which is NY State’s highest court.
The Alliance to End Chickens as Kaporos has been attempting to engage with Commissioner Bassett for the past several years. Her refusal to meet with this organization or address the Kaporos controversy triggered grass roots animal rights activists to begin disrupting Commissioner Bassett at her public speaking engagements. Since October, 2017, they have disrupted four of her presentations. In three cases, she left the venue.
Sources inside the administration say that Commissioner Bassett is refusing to enforce the health laws because the ultra-orthodox Jews who violate them represent a powerful voting bloc that helped to elect her boss, NYC Mayor Bill De Blasio. In fact, Commissioner Bassett publicly addressed her need to prioritize politics ahead over public health in an interview with the Boston University School of Public Health.
Commissioner Bassett admits that she must sometimes prioritize politics ahead of public health.
During the ritual, called Kaporos, ultra-Orthodox Jews swing live chickens around their heads in a symbolic transfer of their sins to the animals prior to the Jewish Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur. After the ritual, the chickens are killed in pop-up slaughterhouses erected without permits on public streets.
While most of the dead and dying chickens are stuffed into garbage bags and hauled away by the NYC Dept. of Sanitation, many end up in the streets, on the sidewalks and in the sewers.
NYC Health Commissioner ignores the multiple health code violations that take place during Kaporos.
As 25 activists stormed into the New York Academy of Medicine to disrupt a presentation she was making, NYC Health Commissioner Mary Bassett collected her coat and exited the building, leaving event organizers and attendees visibly stunned. This was the third time in recent months that activists have shut down one of Mary Bassett’s presentations.
The activists are protesting Commissioner Bassett over her refusal to enforce the seven or more public health codes that are broken during a ritual animal sacrifice called Kaporos. During Kaporos, ultra-Orthodox Jews recite a prayer to transfer their sins to live chickens before Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of atonement. While reciting the prayer, practitioners swing the chickens around their heads three times by their fragile wings and then bring them to a slaughterer who slices their throats in illegal pop-up slaughterhouses. Each year, practitioners sacrifice an estimated 60,000 chickens, the majority of whom are bled out into the streets before being thrown in the garbage.
Activists shut down NYC Health Commissioner Mary Bassett’s presentation at the NY Academy of Medicine
Some of the activists who participate in the disruptions are motivated by the public health risks because the streets and sidewalks near their homes are contaminated with the blood, body parts and feces of thousands of dead and dying chickens.
Mary Bassett, the Commissioner of the NYC Dept. of Health, refuses to enforce the the health codes that are violated during a ritual animal sacrifice called Kaporos. (photo: Unparalleled Suffering Photography)
Other activists who are participating in this campaign are motivated by animal cruelty. Before being swung in the air and slaughtered, the chickens are held in crates for up to several days with no food, water or protection from weather extremes. In 2017, activists documented thousands of chickens who died in their crates from starvation, thirst and exposure before the ritual sacrifice took place.
The blood, body parts and feces of thousands of chickens contaminate the streets for several days, which, according to a toxicology report, jeopardizes the health of people who live in the neighborhoods where the ritual sacrifice takes place.
Activists speculate that Commissioner Bassett condones the practice, in spite of the health code violations and a toxicology report outlining the public health risks, because ultra-Orthodox Jews represent one of the most powerful voting blocs in NYC.
Kaporos practitioners swing live chickens in the air by their fragile wings and then slaughter them on public streets
In response to media inquiries, Dr. Bassett’s office puts out the following statement: “We have not found Kaporos to be a significant public health threat — our surveillance has shown no increase in illness — and this ritual is an important practice for some Orthodox Jews.”
Activists protest Mary Bassett in front of her home over her refusal to enforce the seven health codes violated during the annual Kaporos massacre of 60,000 chickens in NYC.
In 2015, The Alliance to End Chickens as Kaporos and 19 NYC residents sued the NYC Department of Health and the NYPD for failing to enforce the 15 public health, sanitation and anti-cruelty laws and regulations that are violated during Kaporos. The case centers on whether or not courts can mandate that the police enforce the laws that are 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.
Activists have vowed to escalate the campaign targeting Commissioner Bassett and her staff if she doesn’t enforce her own agency’s regulations.