Friday, August 31, 2007

FOWL' RITUAL: Rabbis re-examine chicken swinging


OK, I don't do the chicken swinging thing, but I owned chickens for a long time, and I know that when you pick them up by the legs, they go into a semi-hypnotized state where they don't move and, therefore, don't get hurt if you are trying to move them from, say, one pen to the next or carry them down the street to your friend's house.

If you hold them nicely, under their belly, they freak, and hurt themselves (and you too).

So, even though the "leg hold" thing looks like it hurts them, it doesn't. It's the safest way to handle a chicken.

Just my farm-girl thoughts here.


August 31, 2007 -- Rabbis in Brooklyn's Orthodox Jewish and Hasidic communities are taking a hard look at an annual religious ceremony in which the faithful swing live chickens over their heads.

Called kapparot, the fowl-whirling event occurs each year between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur - which take place next month - and is meant to transfer the sins of the believer to the chicken, which is then sacrificed.

But after a series of troubling incidents, in which birds were found improperly dumped after the ceremony, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has its feathers in a bunch.

They've been circulating a video showing the chickens being tossed around like garbage in filthy conditions after a ceremony.

"The kapparot ritual must be examined. It is a serious health concern that children handle live, feces-covered and possibly diseased chickens and wade through the blood of slaughtered poultry," PETA said in a letter sent to the city Health Department.

Earlier this month, a group of about a dozen respected rabbis met to look at the evidence of trouble. Afterward, they called for an upgrade of the process, including how the birds are trucked in, where they are held before the ritual, and how they are slaughtered.

"It's not going to be stopped," said Isaac Abraham, a Hasidic community activist. "We have to make sure everything is done in a proper way."

Abraham said that at least 50,000 chickens are used in ceremonies across Brooklyn.

They are usually gripped by their feet and neck and briefly swung above the head.

The birds are then handed over to be slaughtered. Most wind up as a meal for someone.

Abraham said that the swinging is not cruel.

"It doesn't hurt them," he said. "[They are held] just like you see any animal pick up its cubs by the neck."

PETA and the Hasidic community have long battled over the ceremony, and have even clashed at protests.

PETA spokesman Bruce Freidrich said the chicken swinging is not required, and some Jewish communities have abandoned the practice.

According to The Forward newspaper, some Orthodox groups swing money over their heads instead of chickens. Also, some historical Jewish thinkers, such as Moses Maimonides, deemed the practice pagan and argued it should be abandoned, the paper said.

PETA even invoked the threat of bird flu being spread by mass handling of chickens.

"The risk of communicable avian diseases and bacterial contamination is alarming, and the inhumane treatment and mishandling of animals at every stage of the process must be prevented," the group said.

The Health Department did not immediately have a comment on the letter from PETA.

Abraham, however, said that the Hasidic community has no plan to end kapparot.

"It's a ceremony that has to be done," he said. "It's not going to be stopped."

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