During the 2019 Kaporos, an annual ritual slaughter that takes place in the days leading up to Yom Kippur, several teams of animal rights activists in New York City rescued 211 chickens who were hours away from being killed in makeshift slaughterhouses erected in Hasidic Jewish neighborhoods in Brooklyn. The rescues were organized by the Alliance to End Chickens as Kaporos and Long Island Orchestrating for Nature (LION).
The activists brought the chickens to a triage center where they provided them with food, water and, in some cases, acute medical care, before transporting them to farm animal sanctuaries around the country. Eight chickens were taken to veterinarians for emergency surgery due to broken wings and other life-threatening injuries.
Jill Carnegie, the Campaign Strategist for the Alliance to End Chickens as Kaporos and an organizer of the rescues, said that the number of chickens who activists rescued was determined by the space available in farm animal sanctuaries: “We spent several months securing quality homes for the chickens. Since Cornish Cross birds are some of the most genetically-altered animals, they require specialized care. Each year, we can only rescue the number of chickens we can confirm homes for to avoid a potentially catastrophic scenario; we put in many hours of placement work so that we can save as many lives as possible. We wish we could have saved more.”
With an estimated 300,000 Hasidic Jews in New York City, activists believe that well over 100,000 chickens are used and killed each year. During Kaporos in 2019, thousands of chickens died of hunger, thirst, sickness and heat exhaustion in the crates where they were being stored before the ritual even began.
During Kaporos, practitioners swing six-week old chickens around their heads while reciting a prayer to symbolically transfer their sins to the animal. The vast majority of the chickens are then killed in open-air slaughterhouses, leaving the streets contaminated with their blood, body parts, feces and feathers. In 2015, an attorney suing the City on behalf of area residents hired a toxicologist to test the contaminants. In his report, Dr. Michael McCabe concluded that Kaporos “constitutes a dangerous condition and poses a significant public health hazard.”
Advocates have, on multiple occasions, sent the toxicology report to Dr. Demetre Daskalakis, the head of Infectious Disease Control at the NYC Department of Health, and to Drs. Oxiris Barbot and Mary Bassett, the City’s current and former health commissioners. Activists speculate that they have refused to acknowledge the correspondence because they could be liable if and when a disease outbreak does occur. Nora Constance Marino Esq., the attorney, argued the case to the State’s highest court — Court of Appeals. In their ruling in 2018, the six judges wrote that city agencies have discretion with respect to the laws they choose to enforce.
In recent years, resistance to the use of live chickens has been building in the Hasidic Jewish communities. In discussions with animal protection advocates, many Kaporos practitioners have acknowledged that the mass commercialization of the ritual has led to systemic abuses that violate “Tza’ar ba’alei chayim,” a Jewish commandment that bans causing animals unnecessary suffering.
“As long as this cruel ritual slaughter takes place, we will continue rescuing as many of the victims as we can before they are slaughtered,” said Jill Carnegie. “One day, the use of live animals for the ritual will come to an end, either because the Department of Health decides to enforce its own laws in order to prevent the spread of an infectious disease or, more likely, because a disease outbreak occurs.”