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Reappropriating Kapparot: Rubber Chickens and Jewish Anxiety

July 1, 2011

Before the holiday of Yom Kippur (The Day of Atonement), some Orthodox Jews perform a ritual called kapparot as a means of casting off their sins. The most traditional version of this ritual involves killing a live chicken after symbolically transferring one's sins to it and swinging it over one's head. The slaughtered chicken is then traditionally given to the poor for their last meal before the Yom Kippur fast. There is also a modern version of the ceremony in which money replaces the chicken and the money is then given to the poor to buy food for their last pre-fast meal.

I have adapted the more traditional version of kapparot to address the emotional troubles experienced by many of us in the Jewish community who are not at present considered Jews by all of our people. I offer this ceremony to all who are perplexed and troubled by issues of status within Judaism in the hopes that it may bring a measure of healing and of spiritual growth.

Kapparot Ceremony for Removal of Jewish Status Anxiety Issues

Required for Ceremony:

  • One rubber chicken.
  • One knife, sharp enough to cut rubber chicken's neck.
  • One set of labels, with names of Jewish denominations and movements listed on them.
  • And one Jew who has wasted far too much of his or her life worrying about which other Jews and groups of Jews do or do not consider him or her Jewish.

 

This ritual can be performed on one's own, but you may find it especially healing to perform it in the presence of a rabbi or of Jewish friends and family.

Liturgy of Ceremony

What follows is the liturgy, the words I said for this ceremony. Any actions, stage directions, are italicized in brackets.

Reform. Conservative. Orthodox. Reconstructionist. Renewal. Traditional. Patrilineal. Matrilineal. Halachically Jewish. Not Halachically Jewish. Ger. Ger Toshav. Jew-by-choice. Convert. Half-Jewish. Beta Gershom. Zera Yisrael.

What are these words? Labels. [Hold up set of labels for all present to see.] We as Jews give ourselves and others many labels. But they are just that — labels. No one label we create can fully encapsulate all of the complexity of our relationship with You, Adonai, Rock and Redeemer of the People Israel. No one can show the true measure of who we are in Your sight.

Adonai Eloheinu, I have sinned against You in many ways, but I have sinned against You most of all in my preoccupation with the labels others have tried to give me. By being preoccupied with these labels, I have violated Your commandment to judge my neighbor fairly. I have violated Your commandment not to cherish hatred in my heart. I have neglected the study of Your Torah and Your commandments. I have failed to love other Jews. I have failed to love my neighbor as myself.

I hereby attach these labels to this rubber chicken. [Place labels on body of rubber chicken.] May they cover this chicken, and no longer cover my soul. May my preoccupation with them, and with all of the status that goes with them, go where this chicken is going.
Crazed because of the way of my transgression, and afflicted because of my iniquities, my soul abhorred all manner of food, and I drew near unto the gates of death. I cried unto Adonai in my trouble, and He saved me out of my distresses; He sent His word, and healed me, and delivered me from my grave (Psalm 107:17-20).

If there be for him an angel, an intercessor, one among a thousand, to vouch for a man's uprightness; then God is gracious unto him, and say: "Deliver him from going down to the pit, I have found a ransom" (Job 33:23-24).
[Wave chicken over head in a circular motion while chanting the following:]

This is my exchange. This is my substitute. This is my atonement. This rubber chicken will go to its death, while I will enter and proceed to a good long life and to peace.

This is my exchange. This is my substitute. This is my atonement. This rubber chicken will go to its death, while I will enter and proceed to a good long life and to peace.

This is my exchange. This is my substitute. This is my atonement. This rubber chicken will go to its death, while I will enter and proceed to a good long life and to peace.

[Cut throat of rubber chicken. At this point, you have two options. You can throw away or bury the carcass of the rubber chicken into the trash, as a way of symbolically throwing away or burying your concern over Jewish status issues. The creator of this ceremony, however, recommends that you keep the carcass of the rubber chicken as a constant reminder that the only labels that matter in this life are the ones we give ourselves.]

 

Hebrew for "Jewish law," halacha is the body of Jewish religious law including biblical law (those commandments found in the Torah), later Talmudic and rabbinic law, as well as customs and traditions. Hebrew for "Day of Atonement," the final of ten Days of Awe that begin with Rosh Hashanah. Occurs during the fall and is marked by a 24-hour fast. One of the most important Jewish holidays. Hebrew for "my master," the term refers to a spiritual leader and teacher of Torah. Often, but not always, a rabbi is the leader of a synagogue congregation. The first five books of the Hebrew Bible (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy), or the scroll that contains them.
J.R. Wilheim

J.R. Wilheim is the adult child of an interfaith family and a former student of religion.

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