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The Kaparot Ceremony

The Kaparot Ceremony

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It is customary to perform the kaparot (symbolic "atonement") rite in preparation for Yom Kippur.

The rite consists of taking a chicken and waving it over one's head three times while reciting the appropriate text. The fowl is then slaughtered in accordance with halachic procedure and its monetary worth given to the poor, or, as is more popular today, the chicken itself is donated to a charitable cause.

We ask of G‑d that if we were destined to be the recipients of harsh decrees in the new year, may they be transferred to this chicken in the merit of this mitzvah of charity.

In most Jewish communities, kaparot is an organized event at a designated location. Live chickens are made available for purchase, ritual slaughterers are present, and the slaughtered birds are donated to a charitable organization. Speak to your rabbi to find out whether and where kaparot is being organized in your area.

The Details

The Timing

Kaparot can be done any time during the Ten Days of Repentance (i.e. between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur), but the ideal time is on the day preceding Yom Kippur during the early pre-dawn hours, for a "thread of Divine kindness" prevails during those hours.

The Chicken

Several reasons have been suggested for the choice of a chicken to perform the kaparot rite: 1) In Aramaic, a rooster is known as a gever. In Hebrew, a gever is a man. Thus we take a gever to atone for a gever. 2) A chicken is a commonly found fowl and relatively inexpensive. 3) It is not a species that was eligible for offering as a sacrifice in the Holy Temple. This precludes the possibility that someone should erroneously conclude that the kaparot is a sacrifice.

It is customary to use a white chicken, to recall the verse (Isaiah 1:18), "If your sins prove to be like crimson, they will become white as snow." In any event, one should not use a black chicken, as black is the color that represents divine severity and discipline. Nor should one use an obviously blemished chicken.

A male takes a rooster; a female uses a hen. Ideally every individual should use their own chicken. If, however, this is cost prohibitive, one fowl can be used for several individuals. So an entire family can do kaparot with two chickens—one rooster for all the males and one hen for all the females.

In the event that more than one person share a kaparot chicken, they should do the kaparot together, not one after the other. For one cannot do kaparot with a "used" chicken.

A pregnant woman should perform kaparot with three chickens—two hens and a rooster. One hen for herself, and the other hen and rooster for the unborn child (of undetermined gender). Or, if this is too expensive, one hen and one rooster will suffice (and if the fetus is female, she shares the hen with her mother).

If a chicken is unavailable, one may substitute another kosher fowl (besides for doves and pigeons, as they were offered as sacrifices in the Holy Temple). Some use a kosher live fish; others perform the entire rite with money, and then giving the money – at least the value of a chicken – to charity.

The Ceremony

  • Click here for the English text of the kaparot. Click here for Hebrew and English text in printable PDF format (courtesy of Kehot Publication Society).
  • Take the chicken in your hands and say the first paragraph ("Children of man who sit in darkness...")
  • When reciting the beginning of the second paragraph, wave the chicken over your head in circular motions three times—once when saying, "This is my exchange," again when saying "This is my substitute," and again when saying, "This is my expiation."
  • Repeat the entire process another two times. (Altogether waving the chicken over your head nine times.)
  • Rest both your hands on the bird—as was customarily done when bringing a sacrifice in the Holy Temple.
  • Take the chicken to the shochet (ritual slaughterer), who slaughters the bird.
  • Here's your chance to fulfill a relatively rare biblical mitzvah—that of covering the blood of a slaughtered bird. Take a handful of dirt (usually made available in the area) and recite the following blessing before covering the blood:
    Baruch attah Adonai Eloheinu melech haolam, asher kidishanu b'mitzvotav v'tzivanu al kisui hadam be'afar.
    (Blessed are You, L‑rd our G‑d, King of the universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us concerning covering the blood with earth.).
  • It is customary in many communities to tip the shochet for his service.

If you're reluctant to hold a live chicken in your hands, someone else can hold the chicken and wave it over your head.

Even the smallest of children are traditionally brought to kaparot, and one of their parents waves the chicken over the child's head, while saying, "This is your exchange, this is your substitute, this is your expiation..."

It is of utmost importance to treat the chickens humanely, and not to, G‑d forbid, cause them any pain or discomfort. Jewish law very clearly forbids causing any unnecessary pain to any of G‑d's creations. The repugnance of such an unkind act would certainly be amplified on this day, the eve of the day when we beseech G‑d for – perhaps undeserved – kindness and mercy. In fact, the Code of Jewish Law suggest that we take the innards and liver of the kaparot chickens and place them in an area where birds can feed off them. "It is proper to show mercy to the creatures on this day, so that in Heaven they should have mercy upon us [too]."

The same procedure outlined above is followed – sans the ritual slaughterer – if using fish or money for kaparot.

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Discussion (35)
September 13, 2013
First Time
This year was my first time participating in Kaparot with a chicken. It really did not hit me until later that an animal died in expiation for my sins. This animal will go to feed the hungry as well, so there was an additional benefit.

The animals were treated gently, and they were calm throughout. Parents helped their children so that they did not hurt the animals, and the shochet was very caring.

Not only did this make me think about my sins this past year even harder, but it also connected me to the food that I eat, making it more meaningful when I take a bit of meat.

While I understand that many people who have not seen this may find it disturbing, it was actually peaceful. If you eat meat, then you SHOULD participate, so that you know what is done to get that chicken to your plate.
Rich
Houston, Tx
chabadoutreach.org
September 10, 2013
Is meat murder?
Most of the Torah discusses proper ritual slaughter of animals. If you don't want to do it, don't. But to say we're sinning? I'm not sure which Bible you're reading.
Moses
USA
September 9, 2013
Re:Is Kapparot actually halacha or just a tradition?
For a discussion on the origins of this custom see the comments on
The Custom of Kaparot
Yehuda Shurpin for Chabad.org
September 9, 2013
To Jennifer
An important point is that we eat the chicken. Whether or not you are pro meat consumption is an entirely different story. These chickens are bred to be slaughtered. Kapparot has nothing to do with it. Once you accept the fact that the chicken will be eaten, the fact that it is swung around someone's head three times is not cruel at all.
Menachem Posner
Montreal
September 8, 2013
Please explain...
Please forgive my ignorance; I am not Jewish. I am simply a compassionate person who wants to prevent the suffering of animals. Can someone please explain to me why some Jewish people choose to cause unnecessary suffering to an animal rather than use money for this ceremony? If the ritual can be performed without harming an animal, why wouldn't you choose this alternative? As for the comments above that "it is of utmost importance to treat the chickens humanely," I want to know how it can be considered "humane" to slit the throat and drain the blood of someone who wanted to live? And don't most religions teach us to do unto others as we would have them do unto us? What about "Thou shalt not kill"? Is there an asterisk next to that commandment that excludes animals? Finally, would we do this to a cat or a dog? The law does not protect chickens in the same way, but if this were done to a cat or a dog, felony cruelty charges might apply. Please explain so that I can understand. Thank you.
Jennifer M.
Los Angeles
September 8, 2013
Chicken vs. Bird
Why do people use chickens if money is completely acceptable and can be less expensive?
Rachmiel Klein
Los Angeles
September 4, 2013
Is Kapparot actually halacha or just a tradition?
Where does Kapparot actually originate? Is this an actual commadment or just a tradition that developed?
Arlene Fried
Staten Island, NY
September 3, 2013
Tsaar baalei chaim
Chicken are the first mistreated birds of our century. We worked in Israel raising chickens. My husband could not
take the word selektsia to separate male from female chicken.
We need rahmanut, compassion, do tshuva and give tsedaka. We should stop this practice.
Kohava
Canada
August 30, 2013
Kaparot=unnecessary cruelty?
From Judith's and others' remarks it is obvious that the statement "the slaughtered birds are donated to a charitable organization" is not well-enough understood.
It should be emphasized that the chicken is eaten after cleaning etc. It is usually donated to and eaten by the poor and needy. This was always the case as far back as this custom goes.
Not only is the chicken-meat eaten, but we are suggested to feed the unwanted innards to other animals, as the article states!
Also, "waved around one's head" may sound brutal, but I have seen it done with the hands on the chicken's wings and not at the feet and the bird was completely calm. It can be done sensitively.
So, in other words, the point of this custom is not to kill some poor animals, rather to visit a place most people will never go to - the slaughterhouse. We eat its products, but we don't want to see it done. So as Jews, one time a year, we are to observe the process and identify with these animals.
Feel the chicken's pain!
Anonymous
MB, South Carolina
August 9, 2013
Kaparot
For the past 2 years 2011-2012, I along with other volunteers have collected 700 chickens each year and fed the homeless and needy in the Los Angeles area. This was done to complete the Holy Ritual. I am honored and humbled to witness this most sacred event and grateful to offer the fresh chicken to feed the poor.
Anonymous
Los Angeles
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