Sydney – Australian Rabbis Debate The Importance Of Kapparot Practice

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    Sydney – With less than a month before Yom Kippur, Australian Jews are preparing for the high holy days and several thousand are planning to practise the ancient custom of kapparot -– where a person’s sins are transferred to a chicken that is swung over their head and then slaughtered.

    Traditionally the chicken meat, or an equivalent monetary amount, is given to the poor.

    In the United States in recent years, kapparot has been contested by groups, such as the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, who have called for an investigation into the ­practice.

    “I have been to kapporot in America and it’s shocking,” said Rabbi Moshe Gutnick from the Sydney Beth Din and the administrative rabbi of the NSW Kashrut Authority.

    With many thousands of people performing kapparot, the birds often die before they can be slaughtered properly and are thrown into dumpsters rather than distributed to charity.

    Rabbi Gutnick said the story in Australia was significantly different.

    “Here it is done very carefully, in a very sensitive fashion.” The rabbi added that “causing the chickens distress goes against the spirit of Torah law, not to be cruel to animals, which is not something you want to do before Yom Kippur”.

    The Kashrut Authority oversees the process in Sydney and averages about 800 chickens a year.

    Melbourne’s Rabbi Yaakov Sprung from Mizrachi noted that many people preferred to give money rather than use the chickens.

    He said it was more important at this time of year to spend time on “personal introspection, proper intent and … one’s own prayer, attendance at shul on a daily basis not just on Shabbat, support of local day schools and yeshivahs, plus a greater emphasis on interpersonal relationships, here and in support of Eretz Yisrael”.

    Until all those boxes have been ticked, Rabbi Sprung said he doesn’t intend to push his community into taking on the custom of kapparot with live chickens.

    The rabbis disagreed on whether giving money was strictly equal to the practice of using live chickens.

    Rabbi Gutnick said “witnessing the animal’s life being taken is supposed to evoke within that person’s soul an awareness of the tenuousness of their own life, evoking a spirit of repentance”.

    And if there is no ­sincere repentance, he added, the killing of the chicken does not give the person automatic atonement.


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