Kaparot chicken waving ritual
Kaparot chicken waving ritual Hadas Parush/Flash 90

New York Assemblyman Dov Hikind (D-Brooklyn) has issued a strong condemnation of a Brooklyn group that filed a lawsuit in the Manhattan Supreme Court against segments of the Brooklyn Jewish community, demanding a stop to the controversial custom of Kaparot.

Kaparot is a symbolic ceremony of transferring sin to a chicken by waving it over one's head practiced by many between the Jewish new year of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. The chicken is then slaughtered and the meat is donated to the needy, in a reminder of the seriousness of sin and the need to take action to counteract it.

However, many leading rabbinical authorities - including Rabbi Yosef Caro, author of the definitive Jewish legal text Shulchan Aruch - have opposed the custom throughout the ages, citing cruelty to animals and a resemblance to pagan rituals. Many Jews substitute money instead of a chicken to still perform the symbolic atoning for sin.

Hikind slammed the lawsuit, which calls the Kaparot ritual "barbaric," claiming that it "turns public streets into slaughterhouses."

"The language used in this lawsuit is a disgusting misrepresentation of our custom," charged Hikind. "The custom merely involves waving a chicken over a person’s head. And it’s something that I have done every year since I was a little kid in Williamsburg. For anyone to call this ritual ‘barbaric’ is insulting to Jews worldwide. Shame on them!” 

The lawyers who filed the lawsuit for the Brooklyn group even said Kaparot has "a carnival-like atmosphere of bloody violence."

The assemblyman responded, saying, "I live here, walk around here, have an office in the heart of the community. And I don’t know what in G-d’s name they’re talking about. They make it sound like there’s blood running in the streets. It’s just not true.”

"This group bringing the suit should be more understanding toward the customs of others. This lawsuit is an example of complete cultural insensitivity," Hikind concluded.

The assemblyman noted that Judaism strenuously opposes the mistreatment of animals, with the Torah commanding that a person feed their animals upon returning home before partaking of food themselves. Likewise the process of slaughtering kosher animals for meat is dictated to be done as humanely as possible, inflicting the minimal amount of pain.