Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is upon the Jewish people this evening. In preparation, religious Jews perform Malkot - lashing, and Kapparot - swinging a live chicken three times above the head for penance. Jerusalem, Israel. 17/09/2010.
At 17:07 this afternoon Yom Kippur will set upon Jerusalem. 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 and refraining from marital relations ”For on this day He will forgive you, to purify you, that you be cleansed from all your sins before G-d” (Leviticus 16:30).
Malkot is the custom of flagging, usually done by a Rabbi, preserving a form of punishment that was customary in the days of the ancient temple.
Kapparot, the sacrifice of hens may be traced to sacrifices in the ancient temple. It may be a remnant of pagan practices and superstitions. It's not quite clear. 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“.
Although most Israeli Jews substitute chicken-based Kapparot with a monetary donation to the poor, and while most are not even aware of the existence of the custom of Malkot, recent surveys have determined that over 60% of secular Israeli Jews do indeed fast on Yom Kippur, preserving a tradition passed down over the generations.