Kaporot Correction


Wednesday, the Denver Post carried a picture similar to the one on the left, with this caption from the AP:

An ultra-Orthodox Jewish man swings a chicken, later to be slaughtered as part of the Kaparot ritual in which it is believed that one transfers one’s sins from the past year into the chicken, in the religious neighborhood of Mea Shearim, in Jerusalem, Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2010. The ceremony is held before the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, which starts on Friday. Jews traditionally observe this holy day with a 25-hour period of fasting and intensive prayer.

Clearly, the AP (or its source) is confusing kaporot with Azazel, the goat that was sent out to die in the wilderness in the times of the Temple.  Azazel really did symbolize a transferrance of the people’s sins, and was a sacrifice in the truest sense of the word.  The chicken is neither, and the AP’s description leaves the whole thing sounding ridiculous, even on a spiritual level.  In fact, we’ll do kaporot today, but we’ll use money that we’ll give to charity, standing in for a chicken.  The notion of transferring sins to money that you later give to charity is so nonsensical as to be meaningless to me.

While the AP has shown a remarkable degree of anti-Israel bias, I don’t think this is anything other than cultural ignorance, supported by a quick Bing or Google search.  In fact, Kaporot has nothing to do with transferring one’s sins to the chicken.  Here’s what it really means, according to the ArtScroll book Yom Kippur, Its Significance, Laws, and Prayers:

The ritual is designed to imbue people with the feeling that their lives are at stake as Yom Kippur approaches, and that they must repent and seek atonement.  The ceremony symbolizes that our sins cry out for atonement, and that our good deeds and repentance can save us from the punishment we deserve….The chicken is later slaughtered [symbolizing the concept that a sinner deserves to give up his soul for not having used it to do God’s will] and either the chicken or its cash value is given to the poor…

…in order that the ritual not be misconstrued as a sacrificial offering – an act prohibited in the absence of the Temple – the animal used for kaporot may not be one that is suitable for such sacrifices.

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