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Kapparot ritual on the eve of Yom Kippur

Kapparot (Hebrew: כפרות‎, Ashkenazi pronunciation, Kapporois, Kappores) is a Jewish ritual practiced by some Jews on the eve of Yom Kippur. The person swings a live chicken or a bundle of coins over one's head three times, symbolically transferring one's sins to the chicken or coins. The chicken is then slaughtered and donated to the poor for consumption at the pre-fast meal.[1]


Lithograph of Kapparot, late 19th/early 20th century

Kapparah [כפרה], the singular of kapparot, means "atonement" and comes from the Hebrew root k-p-r which means "to atone".[2]


A vendor at Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem sells chickens for kapparot before Yom Kippur

In the Jewish religious practice of Kapparot, a cockerel literally becomes a religious and sacred vessel and is swung around the head and then sacrificed on the afternoon before Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.

The purpose of the sacrifice is for the expiation of the sins of the man as the chicken symbolically receives all the man's sins, which is based on the reconciliation of Isaiah 1:18 in the Hebrew Bible. The religious practice is mentioned for the first time by Natronai ben Hilai, Gaon of the Academy of Sura in Babylonia, in 853 C.E., who describes it as a custom of the Babylonian Jews with the practice also having been as a custom of the Persian Jews and further explained by Jewish scholars in the ninth century by that since the Hebrew word geber (gever)[3] means both "man" and "rooster" the rooster may act and serve as a valid religious substitute and a religious and spiritual vessel in place of the man.

To the kapparot practitioner within this religious belief system, even as in other religious systems requiring forms of sacrifice, this religious and spiritual practice remains valid and necessary as "the sacrificial ceremony acts as a medium, a means of communication with the sacred, which enables him to create a link, a communion between him and the invisible powers".[4]

In modern times, Kapparot is performed with a live chicken (rooster for men, hen for women), mainly in Haredi communities. In other communities who perform the Kapparot ritual, money may be substituted for the chicken and then given to charity.[5] In those communities which utilize live chickens, the slaughtered chicken is directly used to provide food for poor families, often via communal organizations who pre-arrange distribution. In both versions of the ritual, money or chicken, the charitable result is an essential element.

The ritual is preceded by reading Psalms 107:17-20 and Job 33:23-24. While swinging the chicken or money, the following paragraph is recited three times:

This is my exchange, this is my substitute, this is my atonement. (This rooster (hen) will go to its death / This money will go to charity), while I will enter and proceed to a good long life and to peace.[6]

Historical controversy[edit]

The original printing of the Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim, ch.605, states that Kapparot is a nonsensical custom that should be abolished. Later editions removed this

Kapparot was strongly opposed by some rabbis, among them Nahmanides, Solomon ben Adret, and Yosef Karo. They considered it a non-Jewish ritual that conflicted with the spirit of Judaism, which knows of no vicarious sacrifice outside of the Temple in Jerusalem. However, it was approved by Asher ben Jehiel and his son Jacob ben Asher. The ritual appealed especially to Kabbalists, such as Isaiah Horowitz and Isaac Luria, who recommended the selection of a white rooster as a reference to Isaiah 1:18 and who found other mystic allusions in the prescribed formulas. Consequently, the practice became generally accepted among the Jews of Eastern Europe.

In the Shulchan Aruch, Rabbi Yosef Karo discouraged the practice. According to the Mishnah Berurah, his reasoning was based on the fact that it was similar to non-Jewish rites. Rabbi Moses Isserles disagreed and encouraged Kapparot.[7] In Ashkenazi communities especially, Isserles' position came to be widely accepted. The late 19th century work Kaf Hachaim approves of the custom for the Sefardic community as well.

Some Jews also oppose the use of chickens for Kapparot on the grounds of Tza'ar Ba'alei Chayim (the principle banning cruelty to animals).[8] On 2005 Yom Kippur eve, a number of caged chickens were abandoned in rainy weather as part of a kapparot operation in Brooklyn, New York; some of these starving and dehydrated chickens were subsequently rescued by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.[9] Jacob Kalish, an Orthodox Jewish man from Williamsburg, was charged with animal cruelty for the drowning deaths of 35 of these kapparot chickens.[10] In response to such reports of the mistreatment of chickens, Jewish animal rights organizations have begun to picket public observances of kapparot, particularly in Israel.[11][12] But with respect to the freedom of religion and religious use of animals within secular law and those religious acts themselves, as Kapparot, the U.S. Supreme Court decision in the case of Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye v. City of Hialeah in 1993 upheld the right of Santeria adherents to practice ritual animal sacrifice with Justice Anthony Kennedy stating in the decision, "religious beliefs need not be acceptable, logical, consistent or comprehensible to others in order to merit First Amendment protection". (quoted by Justice Kennedy from the opinion by Justice Warren E. Burger in Thomas v. Review Board of the Indiana Employment Security Division 450 U.S. 707 (1981))[13]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Shulchan Aruch Rama O.C. 605:1
  2. ^ "Strong's Concordance Lexicon entry for kaphar (Hebrew word #3722)". Rancho Santa Margarita, California: Blue Letter Bible. Retrieved 2011-08-19. to cover, purge, make an atonement, make reconciliation, cover over with pitch 
  3. ^ Complete Jewish Bible by David H. Stern -1998
  4. ^ Southeast Asian Perspectives on Power edited by Liana Chua, Joanna Cook, Nicholas Long, Lee Wilson - Routledge, May 2012 - p.85 [1]
  5. ^ Strum, Andrew (2002). "The Ancient Origins of an Obscure Egyptian Jewish High Holy Day Custom". Historical Society of Jews From Egypt. Archived from the original on 2011-08-06. Retrieved 2011-08-16. ... alternatively been practised with coins which are then donated to charity. 
  6. ^ The Complete Artscroll Machzor: Yom Kippur, p.4
  7. ^ Shulchan Aruch O.C. 605:1
  9. ^ Horrigan, Jeremiah (2005-10-22). "Abandoned chickens saved from death". Times Herald-Record. Retrieved 2008-10-06. 
  10. ^ "Abuse Most Fowl; Chicken-death Bust". New York Post. 2005-11-10. 
  11. ^ Sela, Neta (2006-09-28). "Rabbis cry 'fowl' on ritual use of chickens". Retrieved 2008-10-06. 
  12. ^ Neroulias, Nicole (2010-09-08). "Activists cry foul over ultra-Orthodox chicken ritual". The Oklahoman. Associated Press. Retrieved 2011-08-30. Some efforts, though, have been made to point out that the ritual is not religiously required and can instead be performed with money. 
  13. ^ Hall, Daniel E. (July 2008). Criminal Law and Procedure Cengage Learning. Pg. 266.

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