Chickening Out: The Jewish Ritual of Kapparos

When was the last time you swung a bloated chicken? If you’re a practitioner of the Jewish ceremony of Kapparos, the answer is… annually!

Kapparos (or Kapparot in Hebrew), which means “atonements,” is a ceremony preceding Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement. This year, Kapparot falls on September 27th.

Many Orthodox Jews, especially in the Hasidic world, swing chickens – held by the legs or by pulling the bird’s wings backward – around their heads, while reciting a chant about transferring their sins symbolically onto the bird: “This is my exchange, my substitute, my atonement, this rooster (or hen) shall go to its death, but I shall go to a good, long life, and to peace.”

When a Jew swings a chicken, he or she considers that the slaughter inflicted on the bird would happen to him or her if God’s strict justice were applied, instead of mercy. The chicken is then supposed to be slaughtered and given to the poor.

Two Orthodox Jews swing a chicken during Kapparot. Photo: Michael Francis McElroy

An Orthodox Jew swings a chicken during Kapparot. Photo: Michael Francis McElroy

White female broiler chickens about six weeks old are mainly used in Kapparot ceremonies (see photo above). These kinds of chickens have been bred to grow many times faster and larger than normal chickens – about 4-5 pounds in weight, compared to an average of 3.3 pounds.

Kapparot ceremonies take place throughout the city, most notably in the Crown Heights area of Brooklyn along Empire Blvd, between 12:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. on the morning of Yom Kippur (9/27). Flyers are posted throughout the hosting neighborhoods, so keep your eyes peeled! I’ve included a map below to guide you on your journey.

I’m going to be reporting on the ritual this year, and detailing all the happenings in a story for the NYC SENTINEL ( Look for it the day after the ritual, September 28th. Shabbath Shalom!


One response to “Chickening Out: The Jewish Ritual of Kapparos


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