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The Custom of Kaparot

The Custom of Kaparot

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Some have the custom of performing the rite of kapparot [symbolic atonement] on the day preceding Yom Kippur; if it is not possible to do so then, the rite may be performed earlier.

The rite consists of taking a chicken in one's hand and reciting a prayer. A man takes a rooster; a woman takes a hen; a pregnant woman takes two fowls - a hen and a rooster. Optimally, the fowl should be white to symbolize purification from sin, as the verse (Isaiah 1:8) states: And if your sins be like scarlet, they shall become as white as snow. One should not, however, make an excessive effort to find a white fowl.

If a rooster or a hen is unavailable, one may substitute other fowl or animals; even a fish may be used for the rite. However, one should not use doves, since doves were brought as sacrificial offerings in the Temple, and this may give rise to the mistaken impression that the kapparot are a form of sacrifice.

The fowl [or other animal] used for kapparot is taken in the right hand and the appropriate text from the prayer book is recited. The bird is then passed over one's head three times and the appropriate text is recited.

The word kapparot [like kippur] means "atonement," and is used to refer to the chickens themselves, but one should not think that kapparot themselves serve as a source of atonement. Rather, they serve as a means to bring a person to the awareness that he might very well be deserving of death because of his sins and he will thereby be motivated to repent and ask G‑d for mercy.

The fowl is then slaughtered in accordance with halachic procedure.

It is customary to redeem the kapparot for money, which is then given to the poor; some give the fowls themselves to the poor. Others perform the entire rite only with money, reciting the prescribed verses and giving the money to charity.

Excerpted from: The Book of Our Heritage. Published and copyright by Feldheim Publications.
© Copyright, all rights reserved. If you enjoyed this article, we encourage you to distribute it further, provided that you comply with Chabad.org's copyright policy.
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Anonymous toronto July 18, 2014

kaparot Kaparot is done for atonement. But it scope is wide, it does not atone for one person ,it can apply for the family, for the living the dead in the family. The dead also may have sins that need atonement. For one's father's house and mother's house. It is also a vehicle for the life force energy to come to the person for the purpose of the Torah. The head of the family usually does the kaparot, women slaughtering chickens for religious purpose ,I have not heard of this. God forgives sins so the family needs to correct wrongs done by it also. Reply

Lucila USA/Argentina September 13, 2013

Can we do it like Rashi did? With beans? As Menachen Posner said
" Rashi (Talmud, Shabbat 81b) quotes a Geonic letter describing that in Talmudic times this was done at a slightly different time with a basket planted with beans that was later thrown into the river". Reply

Yehuda Shurpin for Chabad.org September 14, 2010

Re:Kapparot with Money As is the case with the money from the redeemed chicken, the money is given to the poor or any needy charitable organization. Reply

Anonymous Queens , NY September 13, 2010

Kapparot with Money If one does kapparot with money, to whom is the tzedakka given then: charity organization, shul, or any jewish begger on the street? Reply

Yehuda Shurpin for chabad.org October 8, 2009

Re: Kapporot The custom dates back to the Gaonic period. The dispute regarding Kapparot can be found in the Code of Jewish law itself Orach Chaim 605:1 where we find that Rabbi Yosef Karo was against it, and Rabbi Moshe Isserlis (Ramah) was for it.
While it is true that the Ramban (Rabbi Moshe Ben Nachman) was against it, others from the same time period (most notably the Rosh – Rabeinu Asher) did follow this custom.
There are a number of explanations as to why they do not consider it “Darechei Amori" - pagan ways. One of the explanations is that the purpose of kaparot , contrary to what some may think, is not necessarily to transfer one's sins onto the chicken (which would make it similar to idolatrous practices); rather it is to elicit thoughts of repentance by imagining himself receiving the same punishment as the chicken.
Additionally, the Aruch Hashulchan 605:4 explains that the problem of Darkei Amori was the practice of bending over backwards to only use only a white chicken. Reply

Matt Jerusalem October 4, 2009

Kaparot I found this on YU's website:

Ramban (cited in Orchot Chaim, Hilchot Erev Yom HaKippurim no.1) rules that kaparot is a violation of darchei ha'Emori, the prohibition of following the ways of idol worshippers (Vayikra 18:3).

I have found many other similar statement that demonstrate conclusively that kaparot is not a Jewish custom, especially since it is not at all in Torah

Can you help me out here? Why is it not Avodat Zarah?

Chag Sameach. Reply

Chani Benjaminson, chabad.org September 25, 2009

Prayer Here is a link to the Kaparot prayer. Reply

Buddy Fish (Dr. Rhythm) Ridgeland, MS September 25, 2009

Schluggin' Kaporas What's the prayer? Reply

Menachem Posner for Chabad.org September 16, 2009

RE: isnt this a pagan rite? This custom is actually quite ancient. Rashi (Talmud, Shabbat 81b) quotes a Geonic letter describing that in Talmudic times this was done at a slightly different time with a basket planted with beans that was later thrown into the river.

While I am not sure of the exact time when chickens entered the picture, however the current practice, with its decriers as well as its champions, is mentioned in the works of the Rishonim and codified in the Code of Jewish Law (O.C. 605). Reply

Anonymous jerusalem, israel September 15, 2009

isnt this a pagan rite? I am having difficulty finding any halakhic source for this. Maybe some kabbalistic writings, but they came much later. Reply

michael lewis toronto, canada October 8, 2008

slaughter i believe that cruelty to any of the creator's creatures is a sin, more than negating, in the case of ritual slaughter, the effort to seek attonement. Reply

Andrey October 6, 2008

"...we are reminded of the value of our lives..."? that is by taking other creatures' lives we remind ourselves that ours is valuable?! One would rather redeem than kill in order to stress the value of life. Reply

Tzvi Freeman via ncfje.org September 26, 2008

Re: humane alternative If the kaparot ritual is causing more suffering than necessary, you may have a point. But it should be arranged so that the bird has no more suffering than necessary for slaughter. Reply

Menachem Posner for Chabad.org September 25, 2008

RE: What does this symbolize? Here are a number of lessons which the Kapparot teach us:

a. The chicken (or money) used is given to charity. Before approaching G-d, and asking that He show us kindness, we show kindness to those he loves most—the poor of His nation.

b. As we swing the chicken over our head with the knowledge that it will soon no longer be alive, we are reminded of the value of our lives and the importance of using each minute to the utmost.

Click here for a video of the Rebbe discussing this lesson. Reply

Anonymous September 24, 2008

What does this symbolize? What does Kaparot symbolize? Reply

Anonymous via ncfje.org September 24, 2008

Consider a humane alternative - use money instead G-d's tender mercies are over all His creatures." (Psalms 145:9)
"Here you are faced with G-d's teaching, which obliges you not only to refrain from inflicting unnecessary pain on any animal, but to help and, when you can, to lessen the pain whenever you see an animal suffering, even through no fault of yours." (Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, Horeb, Chapter 60, Section 416) Reply

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