"Swing the chicken three times around your head. Pass to it your sins and cleans yourself. And then, send the sinful chicken to hell! You are now purified!". Jerusalem, Israel. 20/09/2007
"Swing the chicken three times around your head. Pass to it your sins and cleans yourself. And then, send the sinful chicken to hell! You are now purified!"
This is the prayer recited as the live chicken is waved three times above the head just prior to it being butchered: “This is my exchange, this is my substitute, this is my atonement. This chicken will go to its death while I will enter and proceed to a good long life, and peace“.
Where did it all come from? What is Yom Kippur? The day of atonements? The central theme of this holy day is atonement and penance from sins, firstly against one’s fellow man and secondly against God. Many traditions have evolved; fasting, prayer, wearing white, no bathing or washing, no wearing of leather shoes. Oh! And no sex either! ”For on this day He will forgive you, to purify you, that you be cleansed from all your sins before God” (Leviticus 16:30)
So what do chicken have to do with it? Maybe a trace of sacrifices in the ancient temple. Maybe remnants of pagan practices or superstition. Packed in small cages in the markets and main streets of many cities, if you look closely you’ll see they’re barely moving. They hold their beaks open from thirst, hunger and suffocation after many hours in the sun, sometimes days. Eye movements are evidence that they are still alive. Barely. On this the holiest of days senseless butchering without mercy serves as a way to ask for mercy, for atonement, for forgiveness.
But it's quite a setup! First of all the chicken is bought by weight. The merchant is paid. Second, the shochet, a traditional Jewish butcher, gets about $2.00 a head. Now after everyone has received their money they perform the ritual of Kapparot. Very few take the slaughtered chickens home to the oven. Most carcasses are thrown in the filth and stench to rot in the sun. By the end of the day, the Eve of Yom Kippur, there is nothing sensible to do with them because all businesses are closed. Most of the carcasses are simply thrown in the garbage. But everyone is satisfied because the merchant and shochet got their money and he who paid is now purified of his sins. A very convenient operation for all involved, except perhaps the chickens.
Surprisingly, there is an alternative - “Pidyon Kapparot” - pure and sincere donation of cash to the poor without the stench of dead chickens! Or simply apologize and ask for forgiveness.
After less than half an hour of shooting this photographer began to annoy the butchers who became worried I might harm their business. I welcomed their censure. It was time to leave. I was sick to my stomach.