The Chief Rabbinate of Israel has weighed in on the topic of “kaparot” with chicken. While the rabbinate expressed support for the use of chicken in principle, it warned Jews to ensure that the animals are treated properly.
The kaparot ritual is traditionally performed in the days before Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. When a chicken is used, the ritual involves circling the chicken over one’s head while saying a prayer that symbolically transfer’s ones sins to the bird. The chicken is then slaughtered, and its meat put to use, most commonly as a donation to the poor.
Another common version of the ritual uses money, rather than a chicken. The money is donated to charity.
This year, MK Dov Lipman of Yesh Atid, who is an ordained rabbi, controversially denounced the use of a chicken as "deplorable." Despite his criticism, the tradition of chicken kaparot is still going strong.
The Rabbinate wrote, “We appeal to all of those who do the ‘pidyon kaparot’ ritual before Yom Kippur with chickens and ask that you take care not to cause unnecessary suffering at any stage in the transport and holding of the chicken.”
Mistreatment of chickens can cause their meat to no longer be kosher, the rabbinate warned.
The rabbinate outlined proper treatment of chickens. The birds should be held in a shaded area with fresh air, food and water. The storage space should not be unstable or overcrowded.
“Preventing unnecessary suffering to the chickens is a basic and necessary fulfillment of ‘His mercy is on all of His creations,’” the statement noted. Judaism teaches that humans must emulate the characteristics of the divine.
It continued, “This is the opportunity to stress that those who want to eat the chickens that are slaughtered as part of the kaparot ritual must ensure that the slaughter is done by a trained and authorized kosher butcher, who uses the proper knives, and that the chicken is examined after slaughter according to halakhah [Jewish law].”
The Rabbinate also added another warning, regarding clothing. Recently, men’s suits were spotted that were marketed as not containing shatnez – a Biblically prohibited mix of wool and linen – but which in fact did contain the prohibited fabric mix. The importer decided to use the “shatnez free” label based on his own tests, without having the suits checked by someone qualified to do so, the rabbinate explained.
It warned against relying on unsigned guarantees.