Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Kapporos Protests: Reflections on a New Approach

Note from the Editor: As readers of this blog know, I was a founding member of the Alliance to End Chickens as Kaporos in 2010, but broke with the organization in 2014 over what I saw as disrespect of Hasidism and Hasidic culture on the part of Karen Davis, who was their primary spokesperson at the time.  In the past year, however, some members of that organization have re-evaluated their aggressive approach (which, quite frankly, was not working) and decided to try using love and compassion instead.  In this guest column,  Rina Deych, also a founding member of the Alliance, describes what they did in the fall of 2018, and how it was received by the Orthodox and Hasidic Jewish communities in New York. (Rabbi Gershom)

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Kaporos Protests: Reflections on a New Approach

Guest Column by Rina Deych

Since 2010, the Alliance to End Chickens as Kaporos has been protesting the use of chickens in the custom of Kaporos (background info here.)  Although at times we did get into some great discussions with practitioners, interactions were often angry and contentious.   Last year, for the first time, we partnered with The Save Movement and Jewish Veg, and our approach was very different.

Compassion instead of anger

Author Rina Deych (left)
and Anita Krajnc 
Anita Krajnc, co-founder of The Save Movement, met with a group of us to promote a love-based initiative inspired by the writings of Leo Tolstoy.  It was a truly eye-(and heart)-opening experience to hear her speak.  She encouraged us to have love and respect for practitioners and to approach them from a place of compassion.

It made me remember a conversation I’d had with a friend who insisted that if she were brought up in a community that used chickens in the ritual she would “know” they were suffering and she’d refuse to do it.  I told her at the time (and mentioned when I spoke at our meeting) that no one can say that for sure.  I explained (to her, at the time, and later to the group) that if one is indoctrinated from birth to believe (or ignore) certain things, it’s very hard to change – especially when one lives in a community that reinforces those things. Therefore, difficult as it is, we need to feel compassion for these people.

Teaching a how to properly
hold a chicken by supporting
her body
Last Kaporos, we visited groups in Boro Park, Williamsburg and Crown Heights, Brooklyn, where the ritual was being performed.  Activists opened crates and gave food and water to as many chickens as they could reach.  Sadly, that wasn’t many, because they are so tightly crammed into crates that are stacked several high and many across.

A more positive response

I noticed almost immediately that the practitioners’ reactions to us were completely different than in previous years.  Children gathered around, wide-eyed with curiosity and both kids and adults were asking us questions.

Chickens drinking water
offered by protesters
Sage Max of Jewish Veg gave out flyers with historic information supporting the use of money (instead of chickens) in the ritual. There were activists showing practitioners the correct way to hold a chicken (under and around his or her body, instead of by their fragile wings).  One butcher (some of the rituals occur outside of butcher shops) with a long white beard came over to me and showed me that he was giving the birds challah (bread) soaked in water.  I was touched by his compassion and thanked him.

There were some angry words from practitioners, but we tried our best to respond to them with kindness.  This is what I call putting water on the fire.  In previous years, some of us have thrown gasoline on it… not intentionally, but in response to seeing the chickens suffering.   That approach was counterproductive and did not help the chickens.

Continuing postive outreach

This year, we plan to continue our feeding, watering, and outreach efforts.  We planted many seeds of compassion and this Kaporos we plan to water them.  I thank Rabbi Gershom for his wonderful book Kapporos Then and Now, which I have given to rabbis and some key members of the community to inspire them to use money, instead of chickens.  It has been an invaluable tool in helping to spread compassion.

Rina Deych
Founding Member
Alliance to End Chickens as Kaporos


"Hasidic Man Speaks Out Against Mass Animal Sacrifice Kaporos" -- a video of last year's actions, produced by Donny Moss of  Their Turn. Note especially the outspoken young Hasidic man at the beginning of the video, who is protesting the custom.  It is important to remember that not all Orthodox Jews do this ceremony.

Also check out this well-written article by Donny Moss, about how the footage of the Hasidic man in the video came about, behind the scenes discussions with Hasidim who disapprove of using chickens, etc.  Very well-balanced, informative, and accurate.

For practical suggestions on organizing effective protests and other actions you can take, see Rabbi Gershom's activist manual online here. 

For more on Rabbi Gershom's Book, Kapporos Then and Now: Toward a More Compassionate Tradition, click here, where you can read a synopsis by the author and order copies at a discount.