Judge blocks kapparot pre-Yom Kippur chicken ritual in Southern California
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Judge blocks kapparot pre-Yom Kippur chicken ritual in Southern California

A haredi Orthodox man participating in the kapparot ritual in Ashdod, Israel. (Dima Vazinovich/Flash90)

A haredi Orthodox man participating in the kapparot ritual in Ashdod, Israel. (Dima Vazinovich/Flash90)

(JTA) — A Los Angeles federal court judge ordered a preliminary injunction against performing kapparot, a Jewish pre-Yom Kippur ritual in which a chicken is swung by its legs and then slaughtered.

U.S. District Judge Andre Birrote Jr. granted the injunction Friday in response to a lawsuit filed late last month on behalf of the Virginia-based United Poultry Concerns against the Chabad of Irvine and an unnamed rabbi.

The judge set a hearing for Thursday at which Chabad Irvine is to have the chance to contest the injunction. Yom Kippur begins Tuesday evening and ends Wednesday night, so the ruling essentially prevents the ritual from being performed in honor of the holiday this year.

Rabbi Dovid Eliezrie, the director of the North County Chabad Center in Orange County, called the suit frivolous and suggested it would not have advanced had the injunction not come down on the eve of Shabbat.

“The whole lawsuit is a false lawsuit by an extremist, publicity-seeking organization from outside the state,” Eliezrie told JTA. “If there was a proper hearing on the other side, the judge would have seen that the suit has no basis in reality.”

Kapparot is an ancient practice performed annually by some Jews between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. By performing kapparot, a person’s sins are said to be symbolically transferred to the chicken and atoned for ahead of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. The meat of the chicken is then donated to charity. Some people perform the ritual using money in place of a chicken.

The lawsuit alleged that the chickens are crammed tightly into cages and mishandled, and that they are disposed of and not used for food.

An attorney for United Poultry Concerns told the Orange County Register that it is now considering action against other Jewish centers that use live chickens.

Eliezrie said kapparot had not been scheduled at the Chabad of Irvine this year, but the practice will go on as scheduled elsewhere in the Los Angeles area.

“Many Jews in Southern California will be going to a lot of locations to do kapporos, which is their religious right, and will be doing so in a humane and legal fashion,” he told JTA. 

A similar lawsuit filed on behalf of the San Diego-based Animal Protection and Rescue League is making its way through the state court system. A lawsuit calling for an emergency restraining order against the ritual was denied last year, according to the Register.

Lawsuits filed last year in suburban Detroit and New York City were decided in favor of holding the holiday ritual.