MK Uri Maklev (United Torah Judaism) asked Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel (Jewish Home) to stop his ministry's campaign to convince Israelis to use money instead of chickens for the kaparot ritual on the day before Yom Kippur.
For the past two years the Ministry of Agriculture has led a campaign against the practice, in which a live chicken is circled over a person's head in an act of symbolically transferring the person's sins to the chicken. The Ministry of Agriculture has spent 750,000 shekels ($200,000) on the campaign in order to encourage people to use an alternate method for the kaporot ritual, giving money to the poor. The chickens, too, are usually given to the poor.
"The tradition of kaporot has been used in Israel from time immemorial." Maklev. "We used fish or chickens, or redeemed money. And everyone should follow the traditions of his ancestors and rabbis."
"But for some reason it seems that the 'professionals' at the Ministry of Agriculture have taken the ruling into their own hands and ruled that everyone should only use money."
Maklev asked if it was the Ministry's job to make laws or to encourage people to not carry out the customs of their ancestors. "I wonder how they would react if this sort of advertising was carried out in another country, or if it was carried out here against a different tradition?"
At the end of his letter, Maklev noted that he and others are careful to avoid any cruelty to animals as a result of the kaparot ritual, as cruelty to animals is prohibited in Jewish law..
Last week the Ministry of Agriculture released a video in which a cartoon rooster begged viewers to give money to the poor instead of using live chickens.
The Besheva Hebrew Religious Zionist weekly for Shabbat Shuvah included an insert on the topic, with an explanation of the custom;s history and articles by Rabbi Yaakov Ariel, venerable rabbi of Ramat Gan, the Chief Rabbis, Rabbi Shlomo Aviner of the Ateret Cohanim yeshiva and others, with most favoring using money and all warning against any cruelty to animals.
Last year, the kapara controversy reached New York, with NY Dem. Assemblyman Dov Hikind coming out against critics of the traditional practice.