KAPAROS

The people and unfortunate chickens in the picture to the right are participating in the ritual of kaparos. The term kaparos is the root of the word Kippur, and carries the same meaning: atonement. On the eve of Yom Kippur, men take roosters and women take hens; they place the birds in their hands and whirl them around above the head, saying : "This is my substitute, this is my exchange, this is my atonement. This fowl will go to death, and I will enter upon a good and long life." The ritual has its origins in the Babylonian exile and since that time has been condemned as pagan.

After the ritual, the chicken is then slaughtered. Its entrails are given to the birds as a sign of compassion and the slaughtered chicken is given to the poor. This ritual resonates with the ancient Temple practice that originated the idea of the "scapegoat." The sins of the people of Israel were placed on a goat that was sent to wander in the wilderness (though some say the goat was pushed off a cliff to its death). Like tashlich, the ritual of kaparos was a symbolic shedding of sins.

But while tashlich is widely observed, many fewer Jews do kaparos. Because it is a custom and not a commandment, many give charity instead.

If you like the physical nature of kaporos but don't want to deal with a live chicken for ethical or sanitary reasons, you should know that in ancient times, children planted seeds early in the month before Yom Kippur and twirled the young plants over their heads in place of chickens .