In response to complaints from animal rights activists, Israel's Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi has called for better treatment of the chickens that are held above people's heads and then slaughtered as part of the Yom Kippur atonement ritual known as Kaparot.
The Jewish Daily Forward is reporting that Chief Rabbi David Lau sent a letter to those taking part in the Kaparot tradition and asked that the chickens -- which are often kept in cages without food before slaughter -- be spared unnecessary suffering.
“I would like to remind you of the holy duty all year round to prevent any animal suffering and unnecessary pain, to make sure that they are transported properly and treated appropriately,” the rabbi's letter reportedly said.
The purpose of the ancient Kaparot ritual is to transfer sins to the chicken by circling it above one's head three times while saying a prayer; the animal is then killed and its meat served to the poor.
The arrival of Yom Kippur each year brings calls for an end to the use of chickens in the practice. As HuffPost blogger Rabbi Yonah Bookstein explains, rabbis have long approved of waving money above one's head instead of chickens. "There is no way today to perform this ritual in a humane way, simply because the number of chickens being used for the ritual is so enormous," he wrote.
A group of Jewish leaders spoke out against using chickens for Kaparot just last year, pointing out that it violates Jewish law with regard to the care of animals, according to The Associated Press. Rabbi Meir Hirsch with the Neturei Karta ultra-Orthodox sect in Jerusalem told the AP at the time that he changed his mind about the use of chickens after hearing them squawk in distress in their cages.
"You cannot perform a commandment by committing a sin," he reportedly said.