If you happen to be strolling the streets of Brooklyn next week and see a dapper gentleman holding a panicked and shrieking chicken by the wings above his head, don’t be alarmed. And when he begins to wildly swing said chicken three times while reciting a prayer, all is cool. You might, however, want to be careful not to get any blood on your shoes, however, because the next thing that is about to happen is that the chicken’s throat will be slit with a very sharp knife.
And this act is totally sanctioned not only by the Orthodox Judaism, but also by the New York Supreme Court.
On Monday, New York Supreme Court Justice Debra James ruled that the Orthodox ceremony of Kapparot or Kaporos—a 2,000 year-old ritual practiced by some ultra-Orthodox Jews before the high holiday of Yom Kippur, which falls next week—can proceed on the streets of Brooklyn. Justice James batted down a challenge brought by a Brooklyn-based animal-rights group.
It’s anticipated that thousands of chickens will be killed next week in this manner, right on the streets of Brooklyn.
Ritual slaughter, of course, is nothing new, but the practice of Kapporot is a little unusual. According to documents filed by the defense in the recent 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.”
So in summary: the chickens, in effect, absorb the sins of humans like some sort of holy ShamWow and become very, very bad birds … right? Then, being such, they’re killed.
Some believe so. But in making her ruling that the practice can proceed, Justice James opted to sidestep both the religious rights argument and the animal rights challenge. Instead, she ruled there just wasn’t enough proof that the ritual was a public nuisance.
Still, the Orthodox practitioners of Kapporot are claiming victory for religious freedom. “No one has the right to change our religion, and this ruling proves we can’t be touched,” Yossi Ibrahim of Crown Heights—a neighborhood with a large Hasidic Jewish population (alongside a lot of secular young Brooklynites)—told the New York Post.
The animal rights group that challenged the ritual—dubbed The Alliance to End Chickens as Kaporos—was unsurprisingly unhappy with the judge’s ruling. They had brought suit against New York City, the New York Police department, and local Jewish leaders. They claimed the practice of Kapporot is inhumane and unsanitary, resulting in a “carnival-like and chaotic public nuisance.”
The alliance said that bacteria-laden chicken carcasses were left on the streets after the ritual; they also claimed that they seriously doubted that the slaughtered chickens were being donated to the poor, as the defendants asserted.
Nora Constance Marino, the activists’ lawyer, told the New York Post that she was “devastated” by the ruling.
“I’m beside myself right now,’’ she said. “This is an egregious event with respect to public-health issues, quality-of-life issues, and animal-cruelty issues. To be forced to endure opening up your front door annually to a mass animal slaughter is just dumbfounding.”
Well, get ready, Brooklynites. You chose to live in a melting pot? Welcome to the pot in which the chicken soup is made.