New York Judge Okays Yom Kippur Chicken Ritual

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An ultra-Orthodox Jew swings a chicken as they perform the Kaparot ritual ahead of the holiday of Yom Kippur in Jerusalem's Mea Shearim, October 6, 2011. Credit: Gil Cohen

New York Jews can keep on slaughtering chickens for the Yom Kippur ritual of kapparot - in which chickens are swung over the head before they are slaughtered - a Manhattan judge ruled Monday.

The decision came following a suit brought by a group called Alliance to End Chickens as Kapparot in July, demanding an end to the practice. The group said this was abusive towards the animals and residents, and poses a public health risk they claimed has "catastrophic and epidemic consequences."

Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Debra James ruled in favor of the ritual, saying there wasn't enough proof that kapparot causes a public nuisance to warrant a ban, the New York Post reported.

“No one has the right to change our religion, and this ruling proves we can’t be touched,” the New York Post cited Crown Heights resident, Yossi Ibrahim, 27, as saying. Crown Heights has one of the biggest kapparot sites in New York.  

James' ruling came on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, itself. Kapparot are performed in the ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.

The Alliance's lawyer, Nora Constance Marino, said, “I’m devastated because 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,” the New York Post reported.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews perform the kaparot ritual in Mea Shearim, Jerusalem, before the fast of Yom Kippur, which starts on Friday, October 6, 2011. Credit: Gil Cohen

The suit, filed with the Manhattan Supreme Court in July, targeted four rabbis and a number of Hasidic congregations. It called for the city to stop kapparot, and targeted the NYPD and the New York City Department of Health, which the suit alleged was aiding and abetting the ritual by turning a blind eye.

“Dead chickens, half dead chickens, chicken blood, chicken feathers, chicken urine, chicken feces, other toxins and garbage . . . consume the public streets,” the suit reportedly said, claiming that the ritual constitutes a "substantial public health risk that could have catastrophic and epidemic consequences.”

Animal rights groups have long protested kapparot, an ancient tradition, but the protests had little effect.

While many Jews perform kapparot with money or fish, some prefer the live chicken — the meat is donated to charity after slaughter. Many Hasidic groups believe the slaughter is what delivers the necessary spiritual punch in advance of the day when tradition says one’s destiny in the year ahead is sealed.

Among the biggest kapparot sites in Brooklyn is the one in Crown Heights, near the Chabad world headquarters. In 2007, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals sent a formal complaint to New York City’s Department of Health along with a video showing live chickens being thrown into garbage bags to suffocate along with the dead.

In Israel, Jerusalem authorities centralized kapparot in four supervised locations and closed down others after complaints from residents.