It’s Erev Yom Kippur and just a blink and a nod ago – that would be last year – I was in Jerusalem, enjoying the sights, sounds and spiritual vibes that can be found here if you know where to look.
As I wandered about the city, I zigged when I should have zagged and ended up in one of the most religious neighborhoods in Jerusalem, Mea Shearim.
On the corner, I spotted two young men – keeping it simple and modest in black and white, long beards, kippot and tzitzit. That was all familiar. It was the chickens they were waving about that seemed a bit odd.
I had a vague idea of what they were up to, but was having a little difficulty believing that the ritual of Kaparot was something more than a distant memory for Jews today. I was wrong. I was both amused and horrified that the practice is alive and well in the heart of Jerusalem.
In my little corner of the world, whacking chickens is generally followed with a dusting of flour and spices, a deep fryer and a cool glass of sweet iced tea. Fried chicken remains one of the delicacies of the Land of Cotton and it’s sinfully good.
In Jerusalem, the focus isn’t on eating chicken – fried, roasted or sautéed. Instead, ultra-Orthodox Jews believe poultry has some sort of magical power that in the hours before Yom Kippur can rid them of their sins.
It’s, well, a fowl Idea! The practice, a punch line for most of us, involves waving a live chicken above the head of a sinner while a special prayer is recited. If all goes well, a year’s worth of sins migrates from person to poultry. It’s a miracle!
The chicken is then quickly slaughtered, less the sins find their way back to the sinner. The more enlightened Heredim, thankfully, have put a stop to the butchery on the streets, shipping the sin-bedazzled chickens to food pantries and other such places to be pleasantly euthanized and offered to the needy after the holidays.
I don’t imagine I’ll spot too many of my co-religionists swinging chickens above their heads today in the ’burbs of the Land of Cotton. It’s not that we’re without sin here; we just have too much respect for, uh, chicken jokes to waste our time with foolish chicken rituals.
So Nor, why don’t you share one of those poultry jokes? Well, thanks for asking! Why did the chicken cross the road, roll in the mud and cross the road again? Because she was a dirty double-crosser!
On that note of levity, here’s hoping that you have a tsom kal, an easy fast, and that each of us manage in some small way to find meaning, a sense of peace and connection this Yom Kippur.
ANCIENT RITUAL: To get rid of their sins, some observant Jews (photo above) believe all they need do is wave a live chicken above their heads.