Lawsuit challenging religious slaughter of 50,000+ chickens in NYC dismissed for now

By Andrew L. Seidel
Staff Attorney
Freedom From Religion Foundation

What do chickens, goats, and Jesus all have in common? If they are killed in the right way, your sins can be forgiven.

5185Kapparot, the ritual slaughter of chickens, coincides with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, September 22-23 this year. Participants and PETA estimate that 50,000 chickens will be slaughtered in Brooklyn alone. The bird carcasses are supposedly donated to the poor, though they are often thrown in the trash. [WARNING: There is video evidence of the birds being thrown away, but it is disturbing. It shows bloody, dying birds on the ground, and trash bags full of dead chickens being thrown in a dumpster. It also shows the actual killing of the birds.]

Residents of a neighborhood where one of these mass slaughters occurs filed a lawsuit in July against some rabbis and the City of New York. They claimed that  NYC was not enforcing health codes and animal cruelty laws, but also abetting the violations by blocking off streets and sidewalks to allow the ritual.

For the ritual, Hasidic Jews grab a chicken by the wings and swing it around their heads three times to transfer their sins to the bird. According to the Jewish Encyclopedia, while swinging the birds, the soon-to-be-redeemed supplicants chant, “This be my substitute, my vicarious offering, my atonement. This cock [or hen] shall meet death, but I shall find a long and pleasant life of peace!” If you know religion, you should know what comes next. The bird is ritually slaughtered. The slaughterer is vicariously redeemed—cleansed of all sins.

The court found that the ritual was not a public nuisance despite the plaintiffs’ claims that it had become “a carnival like atmosphere of bloody violence.” If you watch the video above and hear the constant screeching of terrified birds and see the sheer number of carcasses, it’s hard to believe the judge was looking at the same ritual. It’s also hard to keep your lunch down.

As I watched the video I wondered, “would Christians be appalled by this?” And if so, do they realize that Christianity is Kapparot on an even grander scale?  Jesus is nothing more than the scapegoat for Christians. He died for your sins. I often joke that if you don’t sin, Jesus died for nothing. But the idea of vicarious redemption through human sacrifice is—to my mind—the most immoral of any religious idea. The idea that our guilt and liabilities can be piled onto an innocent living being is disgusting in itself. That our guilt is expunged by extinguishing that innocent life is nothing short of barbaric.

This patently immoral doctrine is a total refutation of personal responsibility. You are not beholden to the people you’ve stolen from or who you’ve lied to—you’re forgiven because you accept your role in the execution of an innocent.

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But this is what Christianity and Judaism, at least in the kapparot ritual, require: reverence for the sacrifice of an innocent. They revere the scapegoat, the sacrifice, the kapparot chicken. The snuffing out of an innocent life is reason enough to loathe this immoral doctrine. But that a guilty person has somehow atoned for their transgressions by killing that innocent is worse. This is the doctrine of two wrongs making a right. Minor “sins” are forgiven by admitting your part in the murder of an innocent.


Portions of this article were published earlier. FFRF is a national nonprofit dedicated to keeping state and church separate and educating about nontheism. For more information and a copy of our paper, Freethought Today, please click here.

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