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Rabbi Yonah Bookstein On Kapparot

September 3, 2013

Check out the above video, or just read the summary in the description. Indeed, one who performs the non-ancient and actually never-universal Jewish practice of chicken kapparot violates the sins he enumerates, but he overlooks the position of none other than the Shulhan Aruch, which we shall explain in this essay.

Orah Hayim 505: “Concerning their custom of performing kappara on Yom  Kippur Eve (by slaughtering a rooster for every male child and reciting thereon verses [from  scripture]) – the practice should be avoided.” The Mishna Berurah points out that in his earlier work, the Beith Yosef, the author of the Shulhan Aruch mentions that the practice smacks of idolatry, what our sages termed “darchei ha’emori,” the ways of the Amorites, but really any idolatrous people.

Why would that be? First let us understand the basic laws of animal sacrifice and kappara, usually translated as atonement, as  they apply to Jews.

According to the Torah, atonement through animal sacrifice can only be achieved when, among other critical factors,

1. the animal involved is one of only five species permitted for sacrifice by Jews: cattle, sheep, goats, doves, or pigeons.

2. the animal is slaughtered within the confines of the Temple courtyard;

3. the blood is received by the one of the Aaronite priests, fully dressed in the divinely mandated uniform of his office, and moved to and placed on the altar by such a priest.

The Torah says that when these rules were at first new, even meat meant for mundane purposes was to be slaughtered in the Tabernacle under the authority of the priests so as to wean the people from the idolatrous practices they had known in Egypt. (Leviticus 17)

Now, if a Jew were to desire to atone for some sin or sins, the proper course of action would be to choose an animal of the type that may be sacrificed, consecrate it properly, purify himself for entry into the Temple, go to the Temple, slaughter or molek (the type of slaughter performed on bird offerings) the animal within the courtayrd of the Temple, and then allow the priests to be in charge of placing the blood (and whatever other parts of the animal that are to be burned) on the altar.

On the other hand, one would violate numerous Torah prohibitions if he wished to receive atonement by choosing an animal that may not be offered as sacrifice, (like a chicken) bringing it to some place that is not the Temple and to some guy who is not a priest, slaughtering it for the sake of unholy meat and in a way that is not proper for bird sacrifice, and then spilling the blood upon the ground!

This is so obviously wrong, it is a chilling indictment of rabbinic impotence in the face of ingrained and sanctified folly.

Worst of all, the vast corpus of rabbinic and pre-lurianic kabbalistic teachings about the symbolism, significance, and purpose of the sacrificial rite in Judaism has been co-opted by this strange practice. One key example: that when one brings a sacrifice, he should imagine as though he was in the animal’s place. The fact that these and many other ideas, like those expressed by Nahmanides in the beginning of his commentary to Leviticus, have been transferred to the kapparot ritual is the clearest proof that those who intend to perform this ritual are basically attempting what the ancients (and some modern-day cultures) would consider sacrifice, even if they were to insist that when performing kapparot they are expressly not intending some form of sacrifice. The very word kappara, atonement, is used in Leviticus to describe the net purpose of sacrifice!

When a student asked me some years ago, “isn’t kapparois a mitzvah?”, I responded that it is at best a minhag and at worst a grave sin. Rabbi Bookstein, some of the greatest Torah minds of the last millenia have opposed this practice for the most obvious of reasons. Where have you been? It is like some one waking up tomorrow and realizing murder is wrong because it hurts the victim’s self esteem…

Next, we will seek to explain how and why such practices seem to take such strong hold among Jews and for so long.


From → halacha

    • it is. but, the shulhan aruch there is censored. it used to say “forbidden”. secondly, the shulhan aruch does not explain why it is so bad.

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  4. Hallel and Kappara on Rosh Hodesh |

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