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Kapparot in Jerusalem

by harry October 06 2008
HolidaysPhotography
Taking a last look at the world.

 His fate is sealed

"Zoo Kapparati," goes the refrain in the chanting associated with the ancient ritual of Kapparot, by which Jews who choose to partake are absolved of their sins by transferring their bad karma to a chicken. The chicken is traditionally waved above the head of the absolvee before being ritually slaughtered -- so who says that contemporary Judaism is animal sacrifice-free?

The period of time between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, also known as the ten days of repentance, are full of opportunities to shed one's sinful ways, be it through seasonal Slichot prayers, Tashlich (symbolically casting bread morsels towards a body of water), pledging to reform one's evil ways and even Kapparot, which has become such an institution in recent years that a special zoo-like courtyard adjacent to the Machane Yehuda market has been dedicated to performing the chicken-waving ritual well into the evening hours. With row upon row of stacks of clucking chicken crates and a steady line of superstitious Jerusalemites ready to exchange cash for bloody salvation, the Shuk Hakapparot has effectively transformed what was a mystical oddity into a photographer's dream.

Further complicating the matter at hand is the presence of placard-toting protesters claiming that animal cruelty is the real scoop at Shuk Hakapparot, an argument that is difficult to take seriously when we consider that the only two differences between this place and any other slaughterhouse are that the proceeds go to charity and that the relatively humane Kosher-supervised slitting of chicken throats is sensationally laid out for the public to observe.

The vast majority of Kapparot-practicing Jews today, however, are far less barbaric than the ones shown here, as a second custom has people transferring their sins to blood-free cash which is given to the poor following the ritual. But as one Jew who takes the ten days of repentance extremely seriously explained to me on the sidewalk on Agrippas St, "When you see the chicken's heart racing and then you witness the end of its life, the experience can really drive home how fragile our existence can be."

Chicken being slaughtered
 
Chicken after slaughter
 
The blessing is said.
 
Chickens being cleaned

 Photographs of Kapparot in Jerusalem by Harry Rubenstein for Jerusalemite.

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