A Manhattan judge has approved the controversial Ultra-Orthodox ritual of Kaporos, in which chickens are slaughtered in a symbolic attempt to absolve one's sins.
The ritual was the subject of a lawsuit earlier this year, with a group called the Alliance to End Chickens as Kaporos seeking to stop it from being performed on public streets this year. The ritual, which is not in Jewish law, involves swinging a live chicken over one's head three times in atonement—the chickens are then slaughtered, with participants in New York claiming the birds are later donated to the poor. The suit's plaintiffs argued that the ritual covered the streets of Brooklyn with "stench, litter, blood, feces and feathers," and begged the court to order a cease and desist against the practice—the ritual's proponents, meanwhile, argued that it was within their religious freedom to hold such an event.
Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Debra James sided with the pro-Kaporos crowd yesterday, though she didn't address the religious freedom argument. Instead, she ruled that there wasn't enough evidence to show the practice was a health risk, according to the Post. Supporters celebrated the victory. "No one has the right to change our religion, and this ruling proves we can’t be touched," one Hasidic Crown Heights resident told the tabloid.
Opponents of the Kaporos ritual are disappointed with the judge's ruling. Duncan Skiles, a filmmaker who recently produced a short documentary about a Brooklyn couple who rescued a Kaporos chicken and raised it in their home, told us the ruling "doesn't make sense," and called the ritual a public nuisance and health hazard. "This ruling is a sad way to ring in the Jewish New Year, but the debate is certainly not over. When I put myself in the shoes of a Hasidic person, I can understand how this lawsuit is seen as an attack on my religion by outsiders," he told us in an email. "But it's not that, at all. We just don't think it's right to abuse animals. I hope the two sides can find common ground in the future."
Karen Davis, president of United Poultry Concerns and a spokesperson for the attorneys for the Alliance to End Chickens as Kaporos, tells us, "[W]e are deeply disappointed in the judge’s decision to allow laws designed to protect animals and the health and safety of New York residents to be flouted at the discretion of city and state officials catering to a lawbreaking constituency." Davis says the group intends to push forward with their efforts.
New York isn't the only place that's wrestling with the Kaporos ritual. Israel's Agriculture Ministry has launched an advertising campaign urging Kaporos participants to swap out live chickens for cash in order to make the event more humane. You can watch their animated ad (in Hebrew) below: