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It Is Officially Legal to Ritually Kill Chickens on the Streets of New York City

A judge ruled that there was not enough evidence that the practice was a public nuisance

Kapparot for penance and purification at Mahane Yehuda Market, Jerusalem, Israel. (Nir Alon/Demotix/Corbis)
smithsonian.com

Every fall during the Jewish New Year, members of the Orthodox Jewish community gather on the streets of Brooklyn to take part in Kapparot – a ritual that includes the slaughtering of live chickens. And now, it’s perfectly legal.

Recently, New York Supreme Court Justice Debra James ruled that the 2,000-year-old tradition can be practiced on the city’s streets after a Brooklyn-based animal rights organization tried to bring an end to the practice. The decision was announced on Rosh Hashana, the first day of the Jewish New Year and the beginning of the High Holidays during which Kapparot is practiced.

Kapparot, or Kaporos, can be a bit startling for those not used to the ceremony. According to documents filed by the defendants named in the lawsuit, “The [Kapporot] ritual … involves the practitioners’ grasping of live chickens by their wings and swinging them above their heads three times and reciting prayers. The purpose of this act is to transfer the practitioner’s sins to the birds. After swinging the bird, the adherents slit the chickens’ throats with a sharp knife. The meat is then donated to the poor.”

Earlier this year, a group called the Alliance to End Chickens as Kaporos filed a lawsuit against several rabbis and synagogues, as well as the New York Police Department and New York City itself saying that the practice was inhumane and unsanitary.

“I am an elderly woman, and this scene horrifies me each year,” Frances Emeric, a 93-year-old resident of the traditionally-Jewish enclave of Borough Park tells Julia Marsh for the New York Post. “I saw live chickens with dead chickens and chickens screaming while the people participating in the ritual were holding the birds by their wings.”

Proponents for the ritual argued that this was a case of religious freedom, but Justice James ruled that there was simply not enough evidence that Kapparot was a public nuisance, avoiding both arguments for animal rights and for religious liberty, Alex Swerdloff writes for Vice Munchies. Even so, some members of the Orthodox community are celebrating the ruling as a victory for their religious practice.

“No one has the right to change our religion, and this ruling proves we can’t be touched,” Yossi Ibrahim, a member of the large Hasidic community in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, told Marsh.

While slaughtering chickens may be the most popular way of performing Kapparot, it isn't the only one: according to some teachings, participants can donate money to the poor instead of a dead chicken. However, about 50,000 chickens have already been ordered for people participating in Brooklyn and with the ruling in place, Kapparot is going full-steam ahead, the Forward reports. For queasier New Yorkers, it might be best to avoid parts of Brooklyn for the next week or so.

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About Danny Lewis

Danny Lewis is a multimedia journalist working in print, radio, and illustration. He focuses on stories with a health/science bent and has reported some of his favorite pieces from the prow of a canoe. Danny is based in Brooklyn, NY.

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