Written by Richard Schwartz, originally published by the Times of Israel blog.
Kol hakavod (kudos) to Rabbi Yonassan Gershom for writing this splendid, much needed book, arguing that Jews should practice the ritual of Kapporos using money rather than chickens. He is the ideal person to write such a book for many reasons:
- He is very knowledgeable on Jewish teachings, especially with regard to those about the proper treatment of animals. These include: Jews are to be rachmanim b’nei rachmanim (compassionate children of compassionate ancestors), emulating God, Whose compassion is over all His works (Psalms 145:9). Compassion to animals is a test for righteousness because, as Proverbs 12:10 indicates, “the righteous person considers the life of his or her animals.” Compassion to animals is so important in Judaism that it is part of the Ten Commandments, which indicates that animals, as well as people, are to be permitted to rest on the Sabbath day. A Jew must feed his or her animals before sitting down to a meal. The great Jewish heroes Moses and King David, were deemed suitable to be leaders because of their compassionate treatment of sheep. In short, Jews are to avoidtsa’ar ba’alei chaim, causing sorrow to animals.
- Rabbi Gershom is a Breslov chasid, so he is very familiar with the thinking of chasidim about the use of chickens for kaporos. He is not an outsider who feels he can and should tell practitioners of kaporos that their practice of kaporos is irrational and has no redeeming positives. He recognizes that one cannot change a traditional practice without first understanding what it is, where it came from, and what it means to the practitioners. So he carefully explains the history of the rite and why Chasidim and other religious Jews find it meaningful. Most importantly, he eloquently explains how the purpose of seeking compassion from God during the ‘ten Days of Repentance’ between the start of Rosh Hashanah and the end of Yom Kippur can better be carried out using money rather than chickens
- Rabbi Gershom has long lived on a hobby farm where he raises chickens and other animals, consistent with the powerful Jewish teachings on compassion mentioned above. Hence he is sensitive to how serious the mistreatment of chickens is, before and during the kaparos ritual. He explains that while initially the ritual was carried out using chickens that were raised and treated with care by the practitioners, now massive numbers of chickens in cages are transported long distances by trucks, often are not given sufficient food and water, and mishandled during the swinging of the chickens during the ritual by people who are not used to handling chickens. As Rabbi Gershom explains, holding chickens by the wings during the ritual is very hurtful to the chickens and they only appear calm because they are playing dead, as they instinctively do when they are attacked by another animal.
- Rabbi Gershom properly sees his role as a bridge between animal rights activists, most of whom are secular and/or non-Jewish and often act in ways that are counterproductive, and practitioners of kaporos, who do not recognize that they are performing a mitzvah based on transgressing Jewish teachings about compassion to animals and thereby an act that is not recognized as positive in the Jewish tradition.
- Rabbi Gershom has a very clear, conversational style of writing, scholarly yet very readable. and he explains complex issues very well. He is careful to put issues in context. He is not a polemicist, but seeks common ground and solutions. He uses examples from his own personal experience and also cites authorities.
In summary, Rabbi Gershom is the ideal person to argue that Jews should use money rather than chickens for kaparos and he does it splendidly in this groundbreaking book. I strongly recommend it and hope it will be widely read and that his message will be widely heeded,