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Coq au Sin

People for the kosher treatment of chickens force change in Orthodox High Holiday practice.

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People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has a new target: Orthodox Jews in Brooklyn who swing live chickens in the air to symbolically transfer their sins to the birds. The practice, called Kapparot, takes place during the ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Thousands of chickens are deployed in Brooklyn alone, then slaughtered and fed to the poor. This summer, PETA sent video of the practice, shot in 2005 and 2006, to the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. The footage showed teenagers ripping off birds’ heads and suffocating others in garbage bags as well as children handling blood-and-feces-covered chickens without gloves. Not very kosher, in any sense of the word. The agency, which claimed no jurisdiction over cruelty, referred the matter to the state’s Kosher Law Enforcement Division.

The negative publicity spurred the Orthodox world to action. A group of rabbis met in August about cruelty claims, and last week, it issued guidelines for authorized Kapparot facilities and tightened supervision over the handling and slaughtering of the chickens. The state says it will monitor whether these rules are followed.

“PETA has a record of trying to trample on Jewish rituals and customs,” says Rabbi Moshe Weiner, who was part of the group that issued the guidelines. “Things may have gotten relaxed, and we’re trying to bring it up to standard because [Jewish law] demands that animals be treated decently.”

“Donating money to charity is also a religiously acceptable symbolic sacrifice,” says Bruce Friedrich, a PETA spokesperson. “We hope compassionate Jews choose this act, rather than abusing terrified, squawking birds to commemorate Yom Kippur.” The PETA folks will be out with their camcorders again this year.

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