New York Lawsuit Cries Foul Over Ritual Jewish Chicken Slaughter

Brooklyn-based group takes rabbis, Hasidic congregations and the NYPD to court over what it called the 'barbaric' tradition of kaparot.

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Ultra-Orthodox man swings a chicken over his head as part of a Yom Kippur ritual of kaparot. Oct. 11, 2005.
Ultra-Orthodox man swings a chicken over his head as part of a Yom Kippur ritual of kaparot. Oct. 11, 2005.Credit: AP

A lawsuit in New York City has local residents crying afoul over Jewish slaughter of fowl, decrying what they called the "barbaric" Yom Kippur tradition of kaparot in which chickens are thrown to their death in a symbolic act of atonement.

In a suit filed with the Manhattan Supreme Court this week, a group calling itself the Alliance to End Chickens as Kaparot is demanding an end to the ritual slaughter, which they say is abusive towards the animals and residents, and poses a public health risk that they claim "catastrophic and epidemic consequences."

According to the New York Daily News, the suit targets four rabbis and a number of Hasidic congregations and calls for the city to stop the kaparot ceremony during the 10 days leading to Yom Kippur. The suit also 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 constitute a "substantial public health risk that could have catastrophic and epidemic consequences.”

Animal rights groups have long protested kaparot, an ancient ritual in which a chicken is swung over the head and then slaughtered in a symbolic transference of a person’s sins in advance of the Jewish Day of Atonement. But the protests had little effect.

While many Jews perform kaparot 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 kaparot 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.

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