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Kapparot ritual on the eve of Yom Kippur

Kapparot (Hebrew: כפרות‎, Ashkenazi pronunciation, Kapporois, Kappores) is a customary Jewish atonement ritual practiced by some Jews on the eve of Yom Kippur.


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

Kapparah (Hebrew: כפרה ), the singular of kapparot, means "atonement" and comes from the Hebrew root k-p-r which means "to atone".[1]


"The Shochet with Rooster" by Israel Tsvaygenbaum. 1997.

On the afternoon before Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement of the world, one prepares an item to be donated to the poor for consumption at the pre-Yom Kippur meal.,[2] recites the two biblical passages of Psalms 107:17-20 and Job 33:23-24, and then swings the prepared charitable donation over one's head three times while reciting a short prayer three times.

Using a Cockerel[edit]

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

In one variant of the practice of Kapparot, the item to be donated to charity is a cockerel. In this case, the cockerel would be swung overhead while still alive. After the Kapparot ritual is concluded, the cockerel would be treated as a normal kosher poultry product, ie., it would be slaughtered according to the laws of shechita. It would then be given to charity, for consumption at the pre-Yom Kippur meal. In modern times, this variant of the ritual is performed with a rooster for men, and a hen for women.

In this case, the prayer recited translates as:

This is my exchange, this is my substitute, this is my atonement. This rooster (hen) will go to its death, while I will enter and proceed to a good long life and to peace.[3]

Using Money[edit]

In a second variant of the practice of Kapparot, a bag of money is swung around the head and then given to charity.[4]

In this case, the prayer recited translates as:

This is my exchange, this is my substitute, this is my atonement. This money will go to charity, while I will enter and proceed to a good long life and to peace.[5]


The practice of kapparot is mentioned for the first time by Rav Sheshna, Gaon, of the Academy of Sura in Babylonia, in 670 C.E., and later by Rav Natronai ben Hilai, Gaon also of the Academy of Sura, in 853 C.E. Jewish scholars in the ninth century explained that since the Hebrew word geber (gever, Hebrew: גבר)[6] means both "man" and "rooster" a rooster may substitute as a religious and spiritual vessel in place of a man.

Historical controversy[edit]

The original printing of the Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim, ch. 605, states in the chapter heading that kapparot is a nonsensical custom that should be abolished. Later editions removed this. However, according to Rabbi Samson Morpurgo, (Shemesh Tsedakah, 1:23) the chapter heading was not written by Rabbi Karo, but inserted by the publishers.

Kapparot was strongly opposed by some rabbis, among them Nahmanides, Solomon ben Adret, and Yosef Karo, who expressed concern that it was of non-Jewish origin. However, it was approved by Asher ben Jehiel (ROSH, c. 1250–1327 CE) and his son Jacob ben Asher (Baal ha-Turim', c. 1269–1343 CE) and other early Jewish commentators. The ritual was also supported by Kabbalists, such as Isaiah Horowitz and Isaac Luria, who recommended the selection of a white rooster as a reference to Isaiah Isaiah 1:18 and who found other mystic allusions in the prescribed formulas. Consequently, the practice became generally accepted among the Ashkenazi and Chasidic Jews of Eastern Europe. The Mishnah Berurah agrees with with Rabbi Isserles, solidifying support for the practice among Lithuanian Jews as well. The Mishnah Berurah only supports the use of money (i.e., not a chicken) if there might be a problem with the slaughter due to haste or fatigue.[7]

In the Shulchan Aruch, Sephardic Rabbi Yosef Karo discouraged the practice. According to the Mishnah Berurah, his reasoning was based on the caution that it is similar to non-Jewish rites. Ashkenazi Rabbi Moses Isserles disagreed and encouraged Kapparot.[8] In Ashkenazi communities especially, Rabbi Isserles' position came to be widely accepted, since Ashkenazi Jews will generally follow the halachic rulings of Rabbi Isserles where the Sephardic and Ashkenazic customs differ. The late 19th century work Kaf Hachaim approves of the custom for Sefardi Jews as well.

Animal Cruelty Controversy[edit]

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).[9]

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.[10] Jacob Kalish, an Orthodox Jewish man from Williamsburg, was charged with animal cruelty for the drowning deaths of 35 of these kapparot chickens.[11] 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.[12][13]

In the United States, the Kapparot ritual would seem to be constitutionally protected as an exercise of freedom of religion, based upon a 1993 U.S. Supreme Court decision in the case of Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye v. City of Hialeah. In that case, the court 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))[14]


The mass-slaughter of chickens on the day of high demand by a Shochet (licensed and trained "butcher"), repeatedly results in a certain percentage of chicken not slaughtered according to shechita due to haste, fatigue, imperfection and non-reviewed uncertainty. Furthermore, chicken of kapparot may not be accepted even by the poor, because they are commonly perceived as being quasi-accurst (cursed) after the ritual.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "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 
  2. ^ Shulchan Aruch Rama O.C. 605:1
  3. ^ The Complete Artscroll Machzor: Yom Kippur, p.4
  4. ^ 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. 
  5. ^ The Complete Artscroll Machzor: Yom Kippur, p.4
  6. ^ Complete Jewish Bible by David H. Stern -1998
  7. ^ Shulchan Aruch O.C. 605:1
  8. ^ Shulchan Aruch O.C. 605:1
  10. ^ Horrigan, Jeremiah (2005-10-22). "Abandoned chickens saved from death". Times Herald-Record. Retrieved 2008-10-06. 
  11. ^ "Abuse Most Fowl; Chicken-death Bust". New York Post. 2005-11-10. 
  12. ^ Sela, Neta (2006-09-28). "Rabbis cry 'fowl' on ritual use of chickens". Retrieved 2008-10-06. 
  13. ^ 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. 
  14. ^ Hall, Daniel E. (July 2008). Criminal Law and Procedure Cengage Learning. Pg. 266.

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