Thursday, June 4, 2015

New Book: "Kapporos Then and Now: Toward a More Compassionate Tradition" by Yonassan Gershom

Every year, right before Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, there is a cultural war in certain Jewish neighborhoods over a ceremony called Kapporos, in which a chicken is slaughtered just before the holy day. The animal rights people show up claiming, “Meat is murder!” while the Orthodox and Hasidic Jews who practice this ceremony accuse the activists of antisemitism and violating their freedom of religion. Epithets fly and confrontations occur across the barricades, but nobody is really listening to each other.

In this book, I seek to build a bridge of understanding between these two warring camps. On the one hand, I oppose using live chickens as Kapporos, as I have written on this blog before. (Read More...)  Like many other religious Jews before me, I advocate giving money to charity instead. But on the other hand, I am a Hasid who understands and believes in the kabbalistic principles behind the ceremony and Hasidic life in general. In fact, it is that very mysticism that has led me not to use chickens for the ritual.  And I believe it is essential for activists to understand and respect this mystical worldview if they want to be effective.

On the surface, my task in writing this book would seem easy: Explain to animal rights people the reasons why some Orthodox Jews use chickens in a religious ceremony, and explain to Orthodox Jews why animal rights people find this offensive and cruel in modern times. But there is much more to it than that. Beyond this specific ritual lies a vast chasm between two very, very different worldviews. On both sides of the issue I have found sincere, caring people who, in all good faith, believe in what they are doing. But at the same time, each side is appallingly ignorant of the other. Could I possibly write a book to bridge the gap?

To do this successfully, the book could be neither a vegetarian manifesto nor a "Torah-true" religious tract.   My methodology was to approach the subject as a combination of theologian, cultural anthropologist, and participatory journalist, examining the issue from the perspectives of both sides.   As Richard H. Schwartz, author of Judaism and Vegetarianism, wrote in his Foreword to my book:

“Rabbi Gershom has a very clear, conversational style of writing, scholarly yet very readable, and he explains complex issues very well. He is careful to put issues in context. He is not a polemicist, but seeks common ground and solutions. He uses examples from his own personal experience and also cites authorities.”

Chapter 1 opens with my involvement with the Alliance to End Chickens as Kapporos (Karen Davis' org), my reasons for leaving the Alliance over theological issues (read more on that...) but not the movement itself -- and how this ultimately led me to write this book.

In the rest of the book I trace the history of Kapporos and the impact of the modern meat industry on the ceremony, comparing it to my own experience raising and observing chickens in natural, free-range flocks on my hobby farm in Minnesota.   I explain how the very un-Jewish ideas of Descartes have affected Jews and gentiles alike.  And because I believe it is essential for activists to understand the mystical worldview of Hasidism, I devote an entire chapter to "raising Holy sparks," the question of whether animals have souls and/or consciousness, and how this relates to Kapporos.

In short, I explore the issue from many different perspectives and present what I believe to be a number of convincing arguments for why, in modern times, this ritual can best be accomplished by using money instead of chickens.  This will not be an easy book for either side to read, but I believe it fills an important educational gap on both sides.

You can order your copy now  on Also available on Amazon but if you order thru Lulu you get a discount and I get a better deal as an author. Lulu also offers quantity discounts.


Yonassan Gershom said...

It looks like the mobile version of this page is not displaying the gofundme widget. Here is a direct link that works: Donate to help distribute Kapporos Then and Now

EdwinW said...

Rabbi Gershom,

I understand that you did research into the phenomenon of Holocaust past lives. It is something strange to ask of you, but do you have any knowledge of the present condition of "Nazis"? I am not asking you to post their whereabouts here as I am certain that publicity would make their lives a nightmare. But I would very much like to know if you are aware of any, if so, how are they? Financially, physically, etc. I would be most interested in the higher ranked, especially knowing if Heydrich is alive.

With Respect,


Yonassan Gershom said...

EdwinW: I retired from reincarnation work in the year 2000 -- 20 years of it was enough already, I burned out on being the Holocaust reincarnation rabbi" and moved on to other things. So I'm not in the loop anymore. There used to be a Yahoo discussion group of people who thought they had Nazi past lives but I think they moved elsewhere. Try googling it...

EdwinW said...

Thanks for your response and tip. I can understand why you would want a break and hope you enjoy studying new things. Although this is awkward, I would also like to say: sincerest apologies for the past excesses committed by those underneath me (I think you know what I mean). I should have kept a better eye on them. Heydrich especially, he was out of control. Either way, apologies and no hard feelings.

Anonymous said...

I have ordered your book, after I have read it did you wish me to give it away to someone particular in Perth Western Australia.


Anonymous said...

Who exactly do you think you were in your past life, EdwinW?

EdwinW said...


It is probably not a good idea to delve into my personal memories on this website. I doubt the Rabbi would want that and I also doubt that - even in the presence of verifiable facts - anyone would believe me. My memories are not a trifling thing, they are a very weighty issue and I don't want to flesh them out to someone who would automatically think of it as mental illness or a joke. Waking up at 3 am covered in a cold sweat, all while feeling disoriented because you expect to be in Germany, is not a pleasant thing. I am somewhat of an insomniac because I want to be tired enough when I go to sleep that I won't have "one of those dreams." And then there is the annoying "flickering" thing that happens during the day where I keep getting bits of rooms and places I was in, and I'm trying to focus on something else in the here and now. I'm not trying to imply you are like that, but most people do not react well to hearing stories about past life memories.

But if you have a reason for asking then I could provide an anonymous email for you to contact me.

Anonymous said...

EdwinW, I apologize if I jumped to any wrong conclusions. But to me, it sounded rude and degrading, when you said "no hard feelings," considering that it was said in the context of you having being a Nazi during the time when millions of lives were taken by them. It seemed like you were making light of that history and suffering. But maybe I misunderstood your original comment? I do find past lives (and metaphysical topics in general) fascinating. I hope that you find resolution and peace and meaning to what you're experiencing

EdwinW said...


Thank you for your kind words, I apologize for sounding rude. It wasn't my intention.

As for my personal resolution, I have found that if one wishes to feel true peace then it is necessary to find the thing you love more than anything else and strive for it. You cannot allow yourself to become depressed and sullen. I personally love politics and public speaking. Even though I used to have a sort of "past life mood" many days that just didn't go away; I have realized that I do care about politics and the future of the nation. The moment I am speaking to people is the moment I feel my happiest and most peaceful. I have had my professors congratulate me after classes end on my debating skills - I'm not trying to brag - and it feels amazing.

I honestly plan on finishing college and one day entering into politics and I am excited for that day.

So I believe that each and every one of us must find what we excel at, and pursue it in order to further some goal which is noble or just.

Yonassan Gershom said...


Thank you for buying my book -- you can, of course, give it away to anyone you want :) I'm not sure exactly whom you are referring to in Perth, but if you think they would benefit from it, then of course, pass it on.

Anonymous said...

Hi EdwinW,
thank you for your kind words. It's great that you have found something that makes you happy and gives your life meaning. Some people never find that, so good for you! I hope that whatever you wish for will come true for you