For many people, kaparot – in which a chicken is used as a “stand-in” for an individual and slaughtered to atone for sins – is one of the less endearing customs of the High Holiday season.
Besides the issues of animal cruelty that many people feel makes the custom questionable, there is strong possibility that the chicken itself will be rendered unkosher according to Jewish dietary law, as harried ritual slaughterers (shochtim) try to keep up with a large demand for chickens in many communities.
Both issues are worrying enough to prompt Agudath Israel of America, the umbrella group for many Orthodox synagogues and schools in the US, to reissue a notice (kol koreh) that was first published seven years ago, warning those using actual chickens for the kaparot ritual to ensure that the procedure and process takes place under strict rabbinical supervision.
“Halachic (Jewish legal) authorities have long pointed out the need for special care to be taken during the kaporot process that the chickens be slaughtered and processed properly, especially on Yom Kippur eve, when many shochtim (ritual slaughterers) spend long hours slaughtering large volumes of chickens,” the notice says.
In addition to ensure proper slaughtering, proper care is needed to ensure that “matters such as health and safety concerns (both those concerning the well being of those who handle the chickens, as well as those concerning the safety of the food)” are followed, reads the statement.
Likewise, "scrupulous compliance with the Torah’s laws of tza’ar ba’alei chayim (prevention of cruelty to animals) throughout the entire process of storing, transporting and handling the chickens, which should be done by responsible adults, not children,” is essential according to the statement.
“We have enlisted the assistance of a group of distinguished local Rabbis to work together with the proprietors and sponsors of kaporot centers and with kashrut supervisors to implement proper standards, and to oversee the centers to ensure that nothing improper transpires in the kaporot process,” the notice adds.
According to many authorities on Jewish law, the kaparot procedure can be conducted using money instead of a live chicken. The money is then donated to charity, usually to purchase food for needy families to enable them to celebrate the High Holidays more comfortably.