The letter from the organization to the rabbis read: "Every year we turn to the highest echelons of the religious leadership, but the abuse continues. It is our moral obligation, together with the rabbis, to take action to limit the great suffering of the chickens on the eve of the new year."
The Kapparot ritual is performed just before Yom Kippur. A chicken is held at the shoulder blade and swung around a person's head three times, supposedly transferring the sins of the person to the chicken. The chicken is then slaughtered and given to a needy family.
Kapparot. Not mentioned in the Torah (Photo: Reuters)
According to the animal rights activists, the chickens set aside for Kapparot are kept for many long hours, sometimes even days, in boxes without being given any food or water. Many of them reportedly die from starvation and thirst before being brought to slaughter.
"We are turning to you in all manner of a request to prevent animal suffering, to act with a measure of compassion, and to grant God's creatures the minimum required in order to survive," the activists wrote to the rabbis. "We recommend placing a dish with water and a little bit of food so that the Kapparot chickens will not die from the harsh agony of starvation and thirst."
The letter, which was replete with biblical quotations and halachic texts, noted that the author of the Shulchan Aruch – the last great codification of Jewish law – Rabbi Yossef Karo ruled that "the custom must be prevented."
It also cited Medieval halachist Rabbi Shlomo ben Aderet as claiming that the Kapporot custom is not a Jewish custom. It also drew upon writings by former Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv Rabbi Hayim David Halevy that slaughtering the Kapparot chickens brought up serious questions regarding kashrut, torturing animals, and the prohibition against mutilation.
'Ask forgiveness without harming weaker beings'
"The prohibition against torturing animals is meant both for the sake of protecting animals and in order to protect the lives of humans themselves – 'lest you mutilate and disintegrate into cruelty,'" the letter read.
"Especially during Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, when we pray to God to treat us with compassion and ask that He seal us in the Book of Life, we too must act compassionately towards our surroundings, including animals, and to spare them their lives. There is no doubt that taking the lives of thousands of creatures, created by God, cannot be to our merit."
Let the Animals Live attached a halachic opinion written by Rabbi Ovadia Yosef to their petition. The opinion, sent by the Shas movement, claimed that Kapporot is only a custom, and, as such, harm to the chickens must be limited or charity should be given in place of slaughtering the fowl.
The letter continued: "The Kapparot custom is performed in order to atone for sins, and yet is hypocritical. This is the sin of torturing animals. This custom is taken from gentile customs and is not mentioned in the Torah. Therefore, perhaps it is best to call upon everyone who can give charity as repentance instead of performing the Kapparot ritual, or to treat the chickens with the utmost possible mercy. Specifically this year, following a blood-soaked war, the need exists to ask for forgiveness without harming those weaker (than ourselves) – the animals."