Op-Ed: How Kaparos Opponents Disguise Anti-Semitism as Animal Activism

It’s the same story every year: Before Yom Kippur, Jews practice their millennial-old ritual of repentance and so-called animal-activists try to out them as bloodhungry chicken-killers. 

But it’s clear that their concerns aren’t really chickens, or kaparos (also spelled in various other ways). 

Let’s take the “Alliance to End Chickens as Kaporos”. The name itself is very politically-correct. It suggests the concern isn’t Kaparos as a ritual but the fact that chickens are used for it. I can’t wait for someone to create the “Alliance to End Oil as Menorah Lightning”. 

Jill Carnegie, the campaign strategist for the Alliance, sent out a media advisory to editors this week. It reads “Even as this administration made the controversial decision to mandate vaccines after a measles outbreak, the powerful Ultra-Orthodox community continues to break over a dozen laws with impunity and jeopardize the health of millions of New Yorkers as they create a toxic bloodbath across Brooklyn and parts of Queens and Manhattan for Kaporos rituals.” 

It then mentions how “hundreds of activists will cross police barricades and provide the care that these animals are deprived of while exposing this corrupt administration’s preferred treatment afforded to this powerful voting bloc”. 

“Powerful voting bloc?” Vaccines? Toxic bloodbaths? I think I got it figured out: Orthodox Jews just really like death. They don’t like vaccines because they want to kill children and have the de Blasio administration in their pockets so that they can continue to brutally slaughter poor birds on the sidewalks. Together, they form a powerful voting bloc that despite some setbacks, allows them to break laws with impunity and put the health of their own children, innocent animals and millions of New Yorkers at risk. 

Thank you so much, Ms. Carnegie. I’ll be sure to send my reporter down to document those sick, barbaric Jews. Thank you for your activism. Without you, those powerful ultra-Orthodox maniacs will never be stopped. 

Let’s return to reality. 

Orthodox Jewish families gather in Crown Heights for the Kaporos slaughtering chickens, a widely-practiced form of the atonement ritual before the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur.

The advisory starts out mentioning vaccines. A subject that sure does have something to do with the Orthodox Jewish community, but not that much with chickens or kaparos. Why even mention measles vaccines when no one has ever claimed for there is a religious basis for the absence of vaccinations in the Orthodox Jewish community? 

And how exactly was the de Blasio administration’s decision to crack down on lack of vaccinations “controversial”? Was there even a single Orthodox Jewish elected official or organization which opposed vaccinations? The answer is no, but that doesn’t stop Carnegie from mentioning it in the context of the “powerful Ultra-Orthodox community”. 

Powerful, ultra and Orthodox. Three words that, in combination, create an image the ADL probably wouldn’t approve of. Why not just say “powerful Jews that like to kill animals for fun?” It doesn’t sound as politically correct, but it’s not different from what the advisory is saying.

If Orthodox Jews have a voting bloc, then they have a pretty awful one. Why would different Orthodox Jewish leaders endorse various candidates for Mayor, Assembly or City Council? If there is a voting bloc, why did Kalman Yeger, Borough Park’s Councilman, have an Orthodox Jewish primary opponent? Well, perhaps that’s because there is no real “voting bloc” and every Orthodox Jewish religious and community leader individually decides who they wish to support based on the merits. 

But who cares about reality. Let’s take a look at the advisory again. If the image of the politically powerful and bloodhungry Orthodox Jew wasn’t enough for you, it reminds you that Jews are also businessmen who like money. “Kaporos using live chickens (rather than using money, which is the most widely-practiced form of the atonement ritual) represents the year’s largest fundraiser for the small number of businessmen and institutions who benefit from the mass ritual slaughter.” 

What I’m getting here is that those barbaric Orthodox Jews manage to abandon their religion and use chicken instead of money so that a few select chicken retailers can make money before Yom Kippur. Every James Bond villain should be embarrassed that they never came up with such a brilliantly villainous idea. 

Let’s get back to reality for a minute. 

Is money an alternative to Kaparos? Yes, it is. Is it preferred? Quite the opposite. 

Take Chanukah for instance. Wax candles are permitted to fulfill the Mitzvah of lighting the Menorah, but oil candles are still preferred. Similarly, before Yom Kippur, money or fish may serve as an alternative to chickens to fulfill the ritual. But chickens are still preferred, just as oil is preferred for the Menorah. 

That is why banning Kaparos is not that simple. 

Given that using chickens for the ritual is a religious commandment, banning it would prohibit free religious practice. Doing so would violate the First Amendment.

I’m not a lawyer, but it seems to me that any health code which would seek to ban said ritual would be a violation of the U.S. Constitution. Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye v. City of Hialeah is a Supreme Court case that supports that claim.

Sadly Belgium doesn’t have our Constitution and Jews in the town of Antwerp currently have to deal with a slaughter ban and are without the ability to do Kaparos. They, not chickens, could use some activism.

In the United States, we (thankfully) can’t just set up health codes that would “prohibiting the free exercise of religion”, which is exactly what Kaparos with chickens is. Using money is simply not equivalent to chickens.

Aside of the clear lawfulness of banning chickens for Kaparos, there is simply no need for doing so. All chickens are donated and eaten after they are killed for the ritual. It is no different from a farmer killing his chicken and selling it inside a supermarket. Orthodox Jews merely choose to donate it after Kaparos instead. That’s why the image of selfish Jewish businessmen who use Kaparos as a money-making machine is even more insulting. 

It’s nothing but an anti-Semitic lie disguised as animal activism. 

Is Kapros ugly? If you look at videos of Kaparos, you’ll see a community come together on public streets to celebrate a millennial-old commandment. Children, families, community leaders all come together to fulfill said commandment to the best of their ability. It’s a pretty cheerful activity. 

Does it disgust some? I’m sure it does. Seeing dead chickens and blood isn’t for everyone. I can totally understand how some are appalled by the practice, just as they may be appalled when entering a slaughterhouse. 

But just because something may look appalling to some doesn’t mean it is done with evil intentions. 

The spirit of Kaparos is not bloodlust, but repentance and free religious practice that dates back way before the de Blasio administration. 

Of course I don’t know for certain that Jill Carnegie is an anti-Semite or had anti-semitic intentions. Her biography suggests she does animal activism for a living, so I somewhat doubt it. But virtually every sentence she wrote has clear anti-semitic implications, whether intentional or unintentional.

Added to that is misinformation. On her website, Carnegie writes that Kapparos was “first discussed by certain Jewish scholars in the ninth century”. That’s simply not true. The practice goes back to Talmudic times, with some of the earliest documented evidence for it being from writings by Rav Sheshna Gaon who lived in 660 CE, also known as the seventh century. 

Perhaps Carnegie and other anti-Kapparos activists are generally opposed to any form of chicken slaughter, regardless of whether it is for meat or religious practice. But chickens are not humans and are eaten all around the country and all around the world by all kinds of communities. I shouldn’t have to mention that not only Jews eat chickens.

It makes me wonder why activists don’t focus on the many meat producers instead. Why attack a vulnerable community and their ancient religious ritual? Just because chickens are killed on sidewalks rather than the slaughterhouses? 

It would seem to me that someone who really and truly cares about the well-being of animals would find other groups, such as businesses who kill millions of chickens en masse, to challenge, rather than women and children in religious communities looking to repent for their sins and practice an ancient ritual. 

As former Assemblyman Dov Hikind said, “Kaparos is 3000 years old and isn’t going away.” 

Editor’s Note: KCP assigned a reporter to cover the Alliance to End Chickens as Kaporos event, which was slated for yesterday on Kingston Avenue and Eastern Parkway in Crown Heights. The reporter stuck around for about an hour and no protesters showed up. Subsequent phone calls to Jill Carnegie were not returned.

Martin Samoylov is a freelance reporter for KCP. This is his opinion and does not necessarily reflect the views of KCP.

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