Redemption of Kaparot Atonement through Charity – a Double Obligation

Rabbi Shlomo Aviner has joined the Society's campaign against the custom of Kaparot and calls on the public to exchange it with the giving of charity

As at every New Year, this year as well, the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Israel is going out in a campaign, the goal of which is to raise the awareness of the public to replacing the custom of Kaparot and the slaughter of chickens with the giving of charity. In the framework of the campaign the Society will bring the topic to the public through the media, and volunteers will go out to the various markets to distribute informational pamphlets on the subject to passersby, together with a letter written for the Society by Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, and will try to convince them to replace the custom of Kaparot with the giving of charity.

As stated, the person who has joined the call of the Society is Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, the Headmaster of the Ateret Yerushalaim Yeshiva and the Chief Rabbi of the Bet El settlement. Rabbi Aviner agreed to be photographed and even wrote a detailed letter on the topic of the preference of redeeming the Kaparot with charity. In his words, there is no reason to be cruel to the chicken, for how can we fulfill a commandment by doing something that is not good? The Rabbi quotes various rabbis who came out against the custom of slaughtering and sums up in his letter: “Since we are not speaking of an absolute obligation, and in light of problems of Dietary Laws as well as cruelty to animals, and in light of the words of all the sages as quoted above, it should be recommended and preferred to carry out the Kaparot atonements by way of money, and to carry out the important obligation of supporting the poor. And as the sages said ‘Charity saves from death’.”

The custom of Kaparot, which takes place during the Ten Days of Repentance or in the early morning of the eve of the Day of Atonement, is meant to atone for the sins of man by way of the slaughter of chickens. The chickens, which are used for the atonement, are raised in extremely crowded conditions. The chickens, brought under harsh conditions to those who follow the custom, often have to wait long hours without food and water until their slaughter. And after the slaughter some of them continue to expire and to shake in agony until their death.

The origin of the custom, which was already prevalent in the 6th Century, comes as a replacement for the atonement service of the scapegoat that was done in the Holy Temple. Over the years disagreements in religious law came to light in relation to the slaughter of the chickens, and different rabbinical authorities (among them Rabbi Solomon Ben Aderet, Rabbi Yosef Karo (the author of the Shulchan Aruch), Rabbi Moshe Ben Nachman and others) expressed resistance to this act, and asked that it be replaced with the giving of charity to the poor or through the use of vegetation.