Tomorrow is going to be an interesting day. After being in Israel for a few short weeks, I’ m throwing myself literally head-first into traditions that date back thousands of years. Tomorrow’s experience of the day? Doing the original chicken dance.
It has long been a custom in Jewish cultures across time and space to participate in a ceremony called Kaparot (or Kapores if you have an Ashkenaz accent) in the days preceding Yom Kippur. This ceremony involves taking a live chicken [rooster for a man, hen for a woman] and moving it in circles around your head while reciting the following verses:
“This is my exchange, this is my substitute, this is my expiation. This chicken shall go to death and I shall proceed to a good, long life and peace.”
We then send the chicken, a symbol for our sins, to the most Kosher and pain-free death physically possible and it’s then donated to the hungry and poor for their next dinner. This is all done in hopes that if G-d was to decree death to us on Yom Kippur as punishment for our sins, that in the merit of this charitable act, that He will change His decree.
Notice that I said “moved” and not “swung”… We are as humane as possible, the purpose is not to traumatize the poor animal. (Good thing PETA isn’t established in Israel.) But in the case that I completely chicken out (sorry for the pun, I had to), there is an option of doing Kaparos with money. And we actually found out today that the gematria (numerical value) of the letters kaf-samech-fay (kesef, or money in Hebrew) is the same as the value of the word kapareh (atonement) so that will work too. But that’s only a last-resort alternative. We’ll see what happens… Pictures will NOT be coming later for this one, sorry folks!
For more info, below is an excerpt from AskMoses.com on kaparot:
The custom of kaparot is an ancient one , and was established as a reminder of the goat that the High Priest recited confession over on behalf of the Jewish People. That goat was sent to Azazel. However, in order to ensure that the practice does not resemble a sacrifice in any way (since sacrifices are forbidden outside of the Holy Temple), a chicken is used — since chickens were not offered on the altar.
The rite consists of taking a chicken — a male takes a rooster and a female takes a hen — and waving it over one’s head three times while the appropriate text (found in the Siddur or Machzor) is recited. The fowl is then slaughtered in accordance with Halachic procedure. The monetary worth of the kaparot is given to the poor, or as is more popular today, the chicken itself is donated to a charitable cause.
We ask G-d that if we were destined to be the recipients of harsh decrees in the new year, may they be transferred to this chicken in the merit of this charity
If a chicken is unavailable, one may substitute other fowl or animals; many people use a Kosher live fish. Some give the actual fowl to the poor. Others perform the entire rite with money, reciting the prescribed verses and giving the money to charity. There is no prescribed dollar amount; the donation should be according to one’s financial abilities.Though the word kaparot means “atonement,” one should not think that kaparot itself serves as a source of atonement. Rather, we ask G-d that if we were destined to be the recipients of harsh decrees in the new year, may they be transferred to this chicken in the merit of this charity. Furthermore, (many find the rite of kaparot very disturbing, and that is exactly the point), the mortality of the chicken should remind us of our own mortality and inspire us to correct our past and value our future.
[Even children, who are devoid of sin, do kaparot, since they, too, are sometimes the recipients of harsh heavenly decrees.]