Shalom, U’gmar kahteema tova!
Hello, may you be inscribed in the Book of Life!
Let’s talk about this custom before Yom Kippur יוֹם כִּפּוּר that is called:כַּפָּרוֹת Ka-pa-rote; atonement; forgiveness; expiation ( the act of making amends or reparation for guilt or wrongdoing)
During the days before Yom Kippur יוֹם כִּפּוּר, there is a folk custom that involves whirling a chicken above one’s head while reciting a prayer. The folks belief is that an individual’s sins will be transferred to the chicken, thereby allowing them to begin the New Year with a clean slate.
Here is an excerpt from my book I Hate to Say Goodbye, telling about my personal experience with the custom of ka-pa-rote – כַּפָרוֹת
The following afternoon, I was perched on a high branch in Peach when I saw something strange occurring on our dirt road just between my house and Aryeh’s. Kids surrounded a big man with a long beard, dressed in a long black robe and a big black hat holding something white. I knew he was a very religious man. It was then we heard the scream of a chicken. Ah, that’s what the white “thing” was. Why a religious man was holding a chicken under his arm I didn’t know. As soon as I saw him circling the chicken around a kid’s head, I climbed down and darted over to the scene. “Now, look carefully,” he said, holding the chicken by its head and legs together, placing it above Aryeh’s head and with a solemn face intoned, “Kapparot, kapparot (penance, atonement),” he called out. “All the sins you have committed throughout the year will be taken away by this chicken.” And he continued to wave it in circles around Aryeh’s head three times. Some of the children were wide-eyed, others were whispering behind cupped hands and some snickered at the man’s strangeness. He then turned to me and flashed his piercing eyes right into my own. I felt the hair on the back of my neck stand straight up and a sudden chill froze my body. Does he know about my sin with Yoav?
“Did you say that the chicken is going to take away Aryeh’s sins?”
“Yes,” he said with a stern and assured voice “and the sins of anyone who allows me to circle this chicken above their head.”
That was the weirdest thing I had ever heard in my life. “How is it possible? Why would a poor chicken have to take the sins of others?” I asked, looking up at the black-bearded face. The stench from his armpit hit me in my face, as he raised the poor chicken above another kid’s head.
“This is kapparot. You’ve never seen it before?” the man asked raising his brows and sneering at me. “This is a Jewish custom, just before Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year; when you have to atone––ask forgiveness for your sins.” I trusted him because he wore a big skullcap on his head. I was taught that people who wear a skullcap, a kippa, are men of God and men of God should be trusted.
So this chicken will take away my sins against Yoav, will erase those guilt feelings I have been carrying with me since I stole his precious chewing-gum wrappers, I thought. And this holy man, man of God promises me that it will happen, so I must believe him. I can lose nothing and…
“Would you like to do kapparot?” he asked, leaning down toward me. I nodded; a little embarrassed to have a chicken circle above my head. I was glad Erez was not around to make fun of me. Once again he circled the frantic chicken over my head, feathers flying wildly about me. Suddenly, out of a deep pocket from his robe, he pulled a long knife with a razor sharp blade. This chicken that had been squawking and screeching all along began to crow hoarsely. The religious man put the chicken’s feet under his armpit and with an abrupt motion pulled the chicken’s head down exposing its neck.
“What are you doing?” I shouted.
“I have to slaughter it if you want the sins to be taken away from you.”
In one sharp motion he slashed the chicken’s neck. I screamed. The chicken flew from his arms, half its neck cut and blood spraying all over. It ran, though it had ceased to crow, crossed the dirt road to the basket-ball court, the religious man running after it, shouting “Kapparot, kapparot.” And we, the kids with bulging eyes and frozen bodies stood by the side of the road and were not sure whether to laugh or cry.
We watched as the chicken slowed down, then collapsed from the heavy weight of our sins…or so I thought. The holy man grabbed it by its legs and walked away not looking back.
At home I was looking deep in my heart checking to see if my guilt feelings had been erased, but I found them right there, at the same place unchanged; I couldn’t stop thinking about how I hurt Yoav. The chicken was a disappointment.
In my Moment of Deepness I realized that no one or no-thing could atone for your sin, but you.