Yom Kippur is almost upon us, and some of you may see news stories about Kapparot, a Jewish folk custom for the day before Yom Kippur.
In the most colorful form of Kapparot (the kind that makes it into the news), Jews take a live chicken, swing it around their head three times, then slaughter it as a “ransom” for their sins, giving the chicken to the poor for them to eat. It’s a cruel practice, and distinguished rabbis have spoken out against it for centuries.
There are also Jews who practice a milder kind of kapparot, using money put in a white handkerchief, swung around the head, and then given to charity. This is still problematic, because it suggests that we can “buy God off” without doing the work of teshuvah.
First, don’t let anyone tell you that “all Jews” do this. Most Jews don’t do it.
Torah is not magic; it’s better than magic. Unlike kapparot, teshuvah actually works to mend relationships and change lives. Kapparot is a superstitious old practice for warding off demons and bad luck. Real Torah challenges us to make changes in our behavior which bring about genuine improvement in the world.
May your remaining Days of Awe in 5774 be filled with tefilah [prayer], tzedakah [charity] and gimilut hasidim [deeds of lovingkindness], and may this year be a good year for you!
- Mayim Bialik: ‘Wave Money, Not Chickens’ for Jewish New Year (ecorazzi.com)
- A Plea Against the Custom of Kapparot (mymorningmeditations.com)