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Kaparot: The Jewish Chicken-Waving Ceremony To Absolve Sins (PHOTOS)

First Posted: 10/05/2011 11:28 am   Updated: 12/05/2011 4:12 am

Yom Kippur, the Jewish fast-day of repentance, begins at sundown on Friday (Oct. 7), and some Jews are preparing with ... chickens?

The Kaparot ritual, which traditionally takes place one day before Yom Kippur, consists of waving a live chicken above one's head while reciting scecific verses from the Mahzor, a special holiday prayerbook. Kaparot literally means "atonement," and the practice is meant to transfer one's sins to the chicken. Following the ritual, the chicken is slaughtered and donated to the poor.

In Haredi Jewish communities, the Kaparot ceremony is still commonplace, but other streams of Judaism have discarded the practice or substituted the chickens for money, which is also given to the needy. Some citics of the custom argue that it is not mentioned in the Torah or Talmud, while others view the practice as violating the Jewish ethic of tsa’ar ba’alei chayim, treating animals with compassion instead of cruelty. "You cannot perform a commandment by committing a sin," Rabbi Meir Hirsch, a member of the Neturei Karta sect in Jerusalem, said in an AP report on the custom.

The Alliance to End Chickens as Kaporos says the practice runs counter to the mood and meaning of the Jewish High Holidays:

While the Jewish tradition is filled with concepts, prayers and actions during the Rosh Hashanah-Yom Kippur period that stress the importance of rachamim (compassion and sensitivity), the message of kapparot using chickens to those who take part and view it, including children, is a lesson of insensitivity to the feelings of other living creatures.

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A Haredi Jew holds a chicken during the Kaparot ceremony in the costal city of Ashdod, Israel. The Jewish ritual, which involves waving a chicken over and around a person's head, is supposed to transfer the sins of the past year to the chicken, and is performed before the Day of Atonement, or Yom Kippur, the most important day in the Jewish calendar, which this year falls on Oct. 8. The chicken is afterward slaughtered and donated to the poor. (DAVID BUIMOVITCH/AFP/Getty Images)
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Filed by Josh Fleet  |