Kaparot: Rite of AtonementThe countdown to Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement is on, with only two days left. And as this countdown progresses, the clucking of chickens can be heard everywhere in Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods. These chickens set the stage for an ancient Jewish ritual connected with Yom Kippur
What Are Kaparot?
The word “kaparot” is plural for the Hebrew word “kapara,” which roughly translates in English as atonement. But the meaning of “kapara” is complex, implying an exchange of a sort. In the Kaparot ritual, this exchange takes the form of a chicken. This chicken is meant to absorb all the sins of the person who is performing the Kaparot ritual, and is then given as charity to a poor family—transforming sin into good deeds.
It is mostly the ultra-Orthodox who perform the Kaparot ritual with a chicken. More moderate Orthodox people usually perform the ritual with money instead, with the same result—the money is given to charity.
In ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods like Geulah and Har Nof, crates of chickens with fluffy white inhabitants are everywhere in the streets before Yom Kippur.
How Do Kaparot Work?
In the most traditional Kaparot ritual which involves a chicken, the ritual participant holds a chicken by the legs and waves it in circles above his head. Simultaneously he recites the prayer that requests atonement for all sins through the exchange of this chicken’s life. The chicken is then slaughtered and set aside for charity.
When money is used, the prayer is the same (except the word “money” is substituted for “chicken” in the text), and the actions are the same as well. Many opt to use money instead.
This ritual can be performed anytime between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, but the majority of people perform Kaparot on the day immediately before Yom Kippur.
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