My Opinion on Kaparos With a Chicken (Don’t Do It)

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This post originally appeared on DovBear last High Holiday Season: Why I Won’t Be Waving a Chicken Over My Head This Week

For hundreds of years, rabbis have been trying to ban kaparos. The Rashba, the Ramban, the Bais Yosef and more recently, the Aruch Hashulchan all wanted to ban kaparos. Some did, and no one listened, others did not because they knew no one would listen.

Classically, the primary halachic objections to kaparos are the issue of “darkei Emori” (pagan ritual) and the likelihood of flawed shechita due to the high volume of chickens being shechted in a short amount of time.

Kaparos lives on. In fact kaparos with chickens has only increased in popularity in my lifetime.

I think it is time to end the kaparos with chickens custom. Here is why:

  • Many smart rabbis have tried to ban the practice already. (see above for the two primary reasons – pagan / bad shechita)
  • When the great rabbis of yore try to ban a practice and the PEOPLE are persistent… I am suspicious.
  • The “reasons” given to justify kaparos are purely kabbalistic and have no other source in nigleh.
  • It appears like magic.
  • Saying the formula of “zeh tmurasi” while holding an animal is an activity that is dangerously close to acting as if the chicken is a korban. That is assur.
  • Money is just as “effective”.
  • The treatment of the animals before, after and during is often tzaar baalei chaim. Chickens were found wandering the streets of Brooklyn one year after a rain forced the organizers indoors and the chickens were neglected. The unlucky chickens drowned in their cages.
  • The HUGE chillul Hashem that has occurred in many locations over the last few years. Chickens dying from dehydration, feces and feathers on the street for days after Yom Kippur and other health violations as well.
  • It looks pagan. Thus it makes Orthodox Judaism look pagan in the eyes of others. This might also qualify as a chillul Hashem.
  • A diyuk in the Aruch Hashulchan (605:4).

Why do we need a diyuk? Because some people don’t use common sense (1-8) unless there is a “source” in a relied upon halachic decisor. So for them…

Here is the diyuk:

“(Use the chicken that you use for kaparos for your erev Yom Kippur meal or to provide a meal for a poor person.) One is not permitted to search for a WHITE chicken to use for kaparos. This is avoda zara. Whatever one has on hand is what they should use for kaparos.”

I think it is fair to say that the Aruch Hashulchan is saying that people were shechting a chicken for the seudah anyway (the same way they would if they would shecht a chicken for any festive meal), they were using a chicken from the backyard. Everyone had chickens that they would use for eggs and eventually for meat, if they wanted to use one of those chickens for kaparos it was okay. However, it was not permissible to seek out a specific chicken (like a white chicken). One was only supposed to use what was on hand.

I think it is likely that the Aruch Hashulchan would prohibit using ANY chickens today when we are ALL seeking a specific chicken as none of us have chickens on hand. The idea was that if you were already shechting a chicken you could add some extra meaning to the procedure by contemplating the irony of the situation. As you were heading to judgment, you were killing a chicken. But for us, who never touch chickens (unless we are shlugging kaparos) are in effect doing just what the Aruch Hashulchan prohibits – seeking after a chicken for kaparos.

  • Rabbis have not been trying to ban kaparos, they have been trying to ban using chickens for Kaparos…

    • That isn’t what the Aruch Hashulchan says.

      He doesn’t even mention money.

  • Good post.

    It would be nice if you can provide an actual source for Ramban, Rashba and Beit Yosef. There are some people I know that I will only listen if I give them a source to read.

    • Teshuvos HaRashba 495.

      • Eliezer Abrahamson

        The correct reference is Shu”t HaRashba 1:395 ( The Rashba opposed the practice in his town (which, as he described it, involved much more than our minhag of kapparos), however, he also states that the practice was almost universal in Ashkenaz, and that supposedly Rav Hai Gaon endorsed the practice. The point of the teshuva is that, contrary to his correspondent, the Rashba also held that there was no problem with the shechita of the chicken appearing to be a korban.

  • Anonymous

    Your diyuk is quite weak.  Nowhere does the Aruch Hashulchan refer to a chicken you are shechting anyway.  He says “use the chicken you use for kaporos for your erev yomtov meal.  Fist you do kaparos and then use it.  The second part of  your diyuk is flawed as well.  You cannot search for a white chicken this is avodah zarah.  The problem with doing it with a white chicken only is that using a white chicken specifically because it is white is the avodah zarah.  Use whatever chickens you have on hand is to say that there is no ban on white chickens, rather use whatever there is whether it be white brown or any other color.  

    Secondly, it is not fair to say that people were shechting chickens anyway.  Back in Europe was no different than today.  People were not fluent in schitah and could not do it on their own the same as we can’t.  You needed to be trained and the common folk were not.  There was a town butcher that was used.  So it isn’t fair to say everyone was shechting chickens for their meal.

    You may want to do mnore research on tzar balei chayim before “paskening” that it is surely such.

    • Alex Philo

      CTS, you may have a point in the first paragraph of your comment. I don’t know enough about what the Aruch HaShulchan says to say who’s right.

      But as to your second point, that people didn’t do the actual shchita themselves, so what? I don’t think REF was assuming that they did. The point is that the chickens were from their own yards. The fact that they took the chickens over to the shochet for the actual slaughtering is besides the point.

      • Anonymous

        That is not necessarily true not everyone lived on a farm, not everyone had chickens.  It seems as if his view of Europe was that it was a third world country and had nothing but farms.

        • Alex Philo

          Even in cities in the late 19th century (when the Aruch Hashulchan was first published), many, many people kept chickens in their yards.

          • Anonymous

            I understand that, but that does not mean they were taking chickens form their own yard.  And even if they were, so what! That does not mean that is why it was used for kaparos, that is incidental.  Those who did not have chickens, may very well have purchased one or found someone selling them for kaparos.  EF’s reasoning is that they were using it anyway.  That is not provable from the Aruch Hashulchan and in fact it seems opposite to his diyuk.

    • Re the diyuk:
      The Aruch Hashulchan says: “Im ira lo…” if one happens to have a white chicken you can use it.The inference is that one should not seek after a specific type of chicken.

      The assumption is that one needs to buy a chicken for their pre-Yom Kippur meal. The way things worked in 19th century Russia was that you bought a live chicken in the market, had it shechted, kashered it in your home and cooked it. Everyone was buying a live chicken for their pre-Yom Kippur meal.

      It was considered okay to use the chicken you bought for kaparos. But it was not considered okay to go out of one’s way for a particular chicken.

      Today, we buy chicken in the market too. But it is dead, kashered and cleaned already. Going to a kaparos ceremony is by definition “going out of one’s way” for a specific chicken.

      I think this would be frowned upon by R’ Epstein.

      • Anonymous

        But we are not seeking out a specific chicken. So long as it is alive, we do not care what type of chicken it is.  I do not believe he would frown on this ritual.

        • Yes you are.

          No one normal, in 2011l buys a live chicken for dinner.

          Going to a kaparos event is by definition “seeking out”.

          • Anonymous

            No it isn’t.  You are going to perform a ritual that has been performed for many generations.  I do not know a single person who cares what the chicken looks like.  

            According to your reasoning going out to your backyard would be “seeking out ” the chicken as well.

          • Again, you are not understanding the point. I hope it is not willful. It has nothing to do with caring about what the chicken looks like. Please try again.

            Buying a specific type of live chicken in 1870 is analogous to buying a specifically live chicken in 2011.

            This is because both are examples of people “going out of their way” for a specific chicken which would not have “come to their hand” naturally.

            In 1870 if you would go into your backyard to get a chicken for dinner whether it is white or brown it is not “seeking out” a chicken that would not have “come to your hand” naturally because that is what you did every time you wanted to eat chicken.

            My point is that I believe the Aruch HaShulchan held that if you do nothing extraordinary and you happen to do kaparos along the way to preparing your meal THAT is okay. But if you do anything that implies that you are “seeking out” a specific course of events that artificially creates a kaparos with a chicken opportunity it would be problematic.


          • Anonymous

            Buying a specific type of live chicken in 1870 is analogous to buying a specifically live chicken in 2011.

            This is where we disagree.  I think this is because you are basing your understanding of the AS on an assumption that he is speaking about using a chicken you were going to use to eat.  This is not evident from the AS’s words.  I pointed this out in an above post.  But even if you were correct, the concern of avodah zarah is an issue of using a white chicken, not seeking out of a chicken.  If one were to seek out a brown chicken it seems from the AS that it would be ok.

    • Re tzaar baalei chaim:

      It is prohibited to cause undue suffering to an animal. Chickens have been caused undue suffering as a result of kaparos stations. That is not to say that the act of swinging the chicken is undue suffering. It is the treatment of the animals at these stations and the subsequent abandonment issues that have occurred in the past.

      • Anonymous

        Undue suffering? You have to qualify why this is undue.  Form my understanding of the sugya, it does not have to be a great need in order for the suffering to be considered ok.  But I am sure you have a different view on this, one more closely in line with the views of PETA, they are far more important in forming a halachic opinion than the great scholars of yesteryear. 

        • So you are comfortable with chickens wandering the streets of Brooklyn for days after Yom Kippur without food and shelter?
          Chickens dying on the streets because they have been abandoned?


          • Anonymous

            I did not say that. You are proposing a ban based on a few inconsiderate people, and a small amount of what was likely accidental undue treatment.  But this is nothing knew, your MO is creating an issue out of a tiny percentage of reality, and casting a terrible shadow on the majority because you are anti.  

            • I have no modus operandi.

              I mentioned about 10 reasons why kaparos with chickens is a bad idea. ONE of those is the frequent animal abuses.
              Talk about “creating an issue out of a tiny percentage…”. You are familiar with the adage “people in glass walls shouldn’t throw stones…”?

          • Anonymous

            That ONE was ONE that you decidedly stressed as HUGE, and probably your primary reason. You are looking to cater to a liberal anti -chareidi audience.  You have admitted previously to an agenda I will not bother debating that with you over and over.  You will deny it, I do not doubt that, but it is evident through your posts and you have admitted it in comments.

            I am not making an issue I am debating with you.  The fact that I disagree with you and argue with you seems to be an issue with you.  For this I am sorry, I will just agree with you from now on.  That is what you want?  To promote debate, by always having an audience that agrees with what you say.  That really gets people thinking.

          • I have admitted to catering to an anti-charedi audience?

            Lo hayu dvarim mei’olam.

            Perhaps you have interpreted certain items as anti-charedi. Gezunteheit…

            Maybe you don’t understand the post, but when I propose 10 reasons for something and you attack one by saying it “might not be tzaar baalei chayim”, and then say I am making an issue out of one small incident, and I defend my position by saying that the 1 issue is not the only issue, I fail to see how I am not engaging in debate…

          • Anonymous

            I have admitted to catering to an anti-charedi audience? – That is not what I said.  I said you have an agenda, which just so happens to cater to an anti-chareidi audience.
            I have not interpreted anything, it is all outright, and you admitted it.

            You proposed a ban by posting 10 reasons.  Some were reasons some were feelings.  Of them many overlapped, 7,8,9 are the same reason in different words.  Hence I said your primary reason.  As well as your stress on the word HUGE.

  • Went yesterday to the Tomchei Shaboos of Bergen County sponsored Kaparos.  Part of it was for my children and the “chavaya” and part of it was for the mitzvah.  Not to toot my own horn, but I’m pretty confident that what I did yesterday was 100% mutar.

  • g j

    a diyuk in an aruch hashulchan???? Its a mechaber (605) and magen avraham. Its a biferushe gemara in the first perek of avoda zara that it might be darkei haemori. Diyuk in an Aruch Hashulchan – amaratzus!

    • In your zeal to show how much of an am haaretz I am, you missed the entire point.
      See if you can figure out all by yourself. If you can’t I will walk you through it. Up to 100 times.

    • In your zeal to show how much of an am haaretz I am, you missed the entire point.
      See if you can figure out all by yourself. If you can’t I will walk you through it. Up to 100 times.

  • Woodrow Levin

    You wrote that kaparos “has only increased in popularity in my lifetime.”  Is there any way either to prove or disprove this?  It certainly seems hard to believe to me (which may just show how sheltered I am).

    • It may seem hard to believe but I doubt that anyone who does not claim to be sheltered would challenge that assertion.
      You are certainly the first person of the many, many people who read it that has even asked for proof.

      • Anonymous

        That is because it is virtually impossible to prove.  I agree with WL that it has not become anymore popular.  It is more likely that you took more notice to it as you grew older, something that happens in almost every area of our lives.  As we grow older we notice more and more of the things going on around us.

        • It’s certainly possible.

          Although you and WL are the first two people to ever challenge that assumption.

          Whether it is true or not is irrelevant to the greater issue.

          • Anonymous

            In the Modern Orthodox community it has become VASTLY more popular (just like Upsherin, a different kind of possible avoda zara, has become vastly more popular).

  • R’ Fink, I would think that in LA, you could easily find Kaparos stations that didn’t violate (or even come close) to tzaar baalei chayim…why throw out the baby with the bathwather?
    Also, with regard to theAruch Hashulchan (who quotes the Rashba and Ramban you cited), he also quotes the Gaonim, Rashi and Rama as being matir (or pro) the experience.  In addtion, the last halacha of that A”H relates to his concerns with the general practice…interesting that he’s concerned with poorly done shchita due to the shochet being so busy but isn’t bothered by tzaar baalei chayim (when, clearly there were enough chickens around to warrant concern…).  Why do you think that is?

    • There are places that do a great job and make sure the animals are treated properly. But with more and more people interested in doing kaparos with a chicken the odds of mistreatment increase. Certainly if one feels compelled to perform kaparos with a chicken one should opt for a place with a good reputation for humane treatment of the chickens.

      There are sources for doing kaparos. That’s why everybody does it! But as I said in the bullet points, there are no sources in nigleh for any of them.The A”HS is not concerned with tzar baalei chaim because with a standard shechita there is none. The issue arises when kaparos stations are established with massive numbers of chickens being temporarily housed by non-professionals in cages outside the days leading up to Yom Kippur eve and their removal thereafter.

      • I’m not a baki…but didn’t the Gaonim (who are the source for the minhag) pre-date classical nistar??

        • Classic nistar? As in the Zohar? Yes. The Geonim predate the Zohar.

          Still, some of their customs have no source in nigleh.

          • So I finally got a chance to look up the Aruch Hashulchan (it had been a few years since I last saw it) and noticed something timely to our discussion: A couple of simmanim later (609), he notes the minhag from the Gaonim not to prepare from erev Y”K to motzei Y”K.  He essentially rejects the logic of the minhag but says (after citing the Rama who quotes the minhag) taht since the ganims say to do it, we must follow it even without a reason.  Again, timely to our discussion (and just as interesting is that I don’t know if it’s an accepted to follow this minhag).

  • Regarding your second bullet…are you really so concerned when the “hamon am” try to initiate a practice that gedolim don’t sanction?  I don’t mean this cynically but isnt that the underlying premise of liberal/open orthodoxy (people can chart their own religious experience within the confines of a very broad tent)?  Further, aren’t you an adherent to the Rambam’s view of Torah She’Baal Peh (ie that each person must do what they think is right and really ought not rely on others)?  Again, I’m not trying to be cynical, just trying to understand…

    • What I meant was, when great rabbis ban a RELIGIOUS practice (the opposite of how things normally proceed) and hamon am persists it makes me suspicious of the practice.

      It reminds me of the famous Gaon on Shir HaShirim: If you are running to do a mitzvah, double check to make sure it is really a mitzvah.

      People can certainly chart their own experiences religiously. But they should violate the core tenets of their religion while doing so as may be the case with kaparos.

      Finally, you have misstated the Rambam’s view on TSBP. His view is that one should study the sources and make personal informed decisions. That is exactly what I am trying to help people do here.

      Thank you for your thoughtful comments.

      • “What I meant was, when great rabbis ban a RELIGIOUS practice (the opposite of how things normally proceed) and hamon am persists it makes me suspicious of the practice.” 

        Good point, thanks for clarifying.  Would you say the same thing with respect to modern religious events that are generally more inclusive (for women) such as simchat bat, women’s tefila groups, etc?

        • Suspicious? Yes.

          Any change in tradition should be scrutinized.

          But in most of the instances you mention I fail to see the harms that are inherent to practices like kaparos with chickens.

          • Anonymous

            Aside form the issue of avodah zarah, which is avoidable, what are the inherent harms in practicing kaparos with chickens.  Tzar balei chaim, which you have not defined, except as stating undue harm, is not an inherent issue, it is something that is avoidable and is not as widespread as you want everyone to believe.

            • Mike S.

              Mike S.

              The real problem is strengthening the view that one can “force” God to do what one wants by something that has nothing to do with improving midot, learning and/or mitzvah observance. Judaism is about serving God, not getting God to serve you. The prayer says “Tshuvah u’tefillah, utzedakah.” It doesn’t mention waving the tzedakah around your head before giving it, much less chickens. A strict view of the Rambam’s 11th ikkar (reward and punishment) would seem to exclude believing in the effectiveness of any segulah that is not per se a mitzvah; while giving to tzedakah (whether cash or chicken) is a mitzvah, waving it around your head isn’t.

          • The potential inherent harms are schutei chutz, avodah zara, darkei emori, chillul Hashem and kishuf. Is that enough?

  • Alex Philo

    I just found this through a link in the Forward.

    Anyone know anything about this organization?

    Looks like they’re having a demonstration in Brooklyn tonight. I have to be in Brooklyn this evening anyway. Maybe I’ll stop by.

  • v-afsi ode

    i think upholding this tradtion ives us one more point of connection to our cultural heritage in eurupe for a thusand years yes it is worth makeing the chickens suffer so we can preserve that