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The Case Against Swinging Chickens

During the kapparot ceremony, a custom practiced primarily in the Haredi community before Yom Kippur, sins are shifted to chickens, which a holder swings above his head three times. The meat is then to be donated to the poor.

After learning that the custom can cause pain to chickens, and even injuries to their bones and ligaments, one group has repeatedly beseeched the remaining practitioners to find another way to purge their misdeeds.

United Poultry Concerns first began writing to the fervently Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America in 1997 about cruelty towards chickens.

It has become widely accepted for those partaking in the ritual to use, instead of chickens, bags of money or something commensurate, which must make the donation process a whole lot cleaner. Karen Davis, the president of United Poultry Concerns, is asking that Agudath encourage this behavior.

Agudath’s director of public affairs, Rabbi Avi Shafran, said that he has no chicken in the race, and that he uses money in the ritual. However, in a letter to Davis, Shafran wrote, “Agudath is in no position to ask anyone to desist from the age-old practice.”

With America’s growing awareness of and interest in food industry practices, stoked in part by books written by Michael Pollan and Eric Schlosser, and the recent documentary they both practically star in, “Food, Inc,” it’s no surprise that there is interest in defending chickens. Not only is it socially conscious to care about animals; it’s also fashionable.

But that’s not why Davis is involved. She says she has cared for chickens for more than 20 years, and has been campaigned against their use in kapparot since the early 1990s.

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