Money is an acceptable substitute for a chicken
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, November/December 2010:
“Money is an acceptable substitute for a chicken,”
explains Hasidic rabbi Yonassam Gershon
Washington Post photojournalist Carol Guzy in her October 9,
2010 coverage of Kaporos mentioned that the participants “cover the
blood” of the chickens they kill as a purported sign of respect for
victims. This has occasioned question about what covering the blood
means, and why it is part of the Kaporos ritual.
Blood from sacrificial animals offered in the Jerusalem
Temple was considered sacred and was either sprinkled in various
ceremonial ways, or poured into a container or a depression in the
earth at the base of the altar, depending on the specific sacrifice
Eating or drinking the blood was absolutely forbidden, as
stated in Leviticus 17. Thus the blood had to be disposed of
respectfully in some other manner. The blood of wild animals killed
in a hunt or trapped, presumably by non-Jews living among Jews,
since Jews do not hunt as a rule, was drained onto the ground and
covered. These animals were not considered to have been sacrificed.
However, the Kaporos ceremony is not really a sacrifice
either, for at least two reasons: there can be no sacrifices offered
outside the Jerusalem Temple, which no longer exists; and a
chicken is not a permissible species to offer as a sacrifice in any
In the past, the Kaporos chicken was simply the bird whom
the participants in the ritual would be having for dinner anyway,
just before the Yom Kippur fast begins, or would donate to a local
In stetl (village) life, people normally had chickens
around, and there would most likely be free-ranging chickens running
loose in the village. A person would simply catch one of the
family’s own chickens, or buy a chicken from a nearby neighbor,
then personally take the chicken to be slaughtered– which usually
meant walking maybe across the town square. There was no trucking
in birds from hundreds of miles away and letting them go hungry and
thirsty in cages for days, heaven forbid.
So Kaporos is not really a form of sacrifice per se. And
this would probably be why the blood was covered, as with a hunted
animal, to reinforce that this is not a Temple sacrifice.
Kaporos today is done completely out of the context of
village life and in a very wasteful, inhumane way that in my
opinion, negates any spiritual value of the ceremony. It is
axiomatic in Judaism that you cannot commit a sin in order to do a
mitzvah, so causing undue suffering to animals, which is forbidden,
would invalidate any legitimate use of the animal even if permitted,
in my opinion. In many cases it is not even clear if the meat is
ever delivered to the poor or even used by anyone.
Money is an acceptable substitute for using a chicken. I use money.
Rabbi Yonassan Gershom is author of 49 Gates of Light: A
Course in Kabbalah, Jewish Themes in Star Trek, Eight Candles of
Consciousness: Essays on Jewish Nonviolence, and Beyond the Ashes &
From Ashes to Healing.