A group of Brooklyn residents is suing four rabbis, several Hasidic congregations and the city to stop an annual religious ritual that involves flinging chickens around by their wings and slicing their necks on public sidewalks.
In papers filed in Manhattan Supreme Court, the Alliance to End Chickens as Kaporos, says the “barbaric” tradition, called Kaporos, unnecessarily terrifies the birds and turns public streets into slaughterhouses in the 10 days leading to the Yom Kippur holiday.
“Dead chickens, half dead chickens, chicken blood, chicken feathers, chicken urine, chicken feces, other toxins and garbage . . . consume the public streets,” the suit says. The rituals “There is no oversight and no remedy for toxic contaminant-filled debris or clean up… (The rituals) constitute a substantial public health risk that could have catastrophic and epidemic consequences.”
The filing charges the police and health departments “aid and abet” the practice by blocking off streets and sidewalks and not enforcing city and state laws that regulate health and animal cruelty issues.
The lawyers for the group, Jessica Astrof and Nora Constance Marino, said Kaporos has become a major fundraising event, particularly for congregations in Crown Heights and Boro Park, where families buy a chicken for each member of the usually large families.
The ritual is thought to transfer a person’s sins to the bird, and the sins are absolved by the ritual killing.
The money covers the cost of the chicken and a donation to the congregation. Some then donate the chicken to poor families.
“Ten years ago, Kaporos only occurred in several small alleys and a handful of synagogue parking lots. However, every year it has increased in size and scope. Today, Kaporos has become an overwhelming event that has spiraled out of control. .. (into) a carnival like atmosphere of bloody violence,” the lawyers say in an affidavit.
“Clearly this event is now motivated by money and profits, and not by religious redemption.”
In affidavits, people who live and work in the neighborhoods describe getting sick at the sight of chickens running around with no heads or heads only partially cut off, the stench of blood that permeates the neighborhood for days, the screams of terrified chickens as they are swung through the air or as they smell their future while cooped up in tiny cages.
Aleksandra Bromberg, a Hunter College student, says the odor on her block is unbearable and made her seriously ill with flu like symptoms for the past three years. She and her husband are thinking of moving out of Crown Heights.
“Slaughterhouses do not belong in our neighborhood,” she says in an affidavit.
Julien Deych, 22, says he made the mistake of jogging past a Kaporos slaughter site and came away covered in feathers and dust and tortured by the memory of watching children and adults taunt the terrified birds stacked up in a large tractor trailer truck.
A spokesman for the city law department said, “We’ll review the complaint.”
None of the rabbis returned calls for comment.
Brooklyn Assemblyman Dov Hikind, who represents Boro Park, disputed the Alliance’s description of what happens.
“I represent this community. I live here, walk around here, and have an office in the heart of the community. And I don’t know what in G-d’s name they’re talking about. They make it sound like there’s blood running in the streets. It’s just not true,” he said.
Hikind said if some congregations are not careful about sanitation issues, he would “have no problem with police enforcing the laws. But chickens are not being killed on the sidewalks.”
Hikind said it’s against Jewish law to torture animals or cause them pain and he insisted that also doesn’t happen.
The Alliance lawyers said Jewish law allows coins or other non-animal symbols to be used in place of chickens.
Hikind agreed using coins or making donations to charity are acceptable alternatives but he said Kaporos is a long standing tradition for some Hasidic families. “I ask people to respect those cultural differences,” he said.