We do not come into this world knowing everything; we slowly absorb and become aware of our surroundings as we mature. So too, in pursuing a more compassionate, spiritual and mindful life, it is impossible to focus on everything at once. Slowly, we widen our perspective and take in things we do not know about and sometimes things we never knew existed. Social media has taken our awareness to a new level. Almost everything is in public view and secrets are virtually a thing of the past. News outlets rub their hands with glee as they report items loaded with upset and outrage turning our emotions upside down. If we are to remain emotionally balanced we must rank our concerns to determine when it is appropriate to react to the news. But our challenge is that we cannot react to all the terrible things happening in the world, yet we cannot become insensitive to suffering.
I have considered the question for nearly 20 years as to how we can healthfully balance the infusion of mass media and remain mentally and spiritually balanced.
The two fundamental questions we must ask ourselves if we are to filter our reactions are: Can I directly impact the situation or question at hand with my participation? Secondly, how important is the issue as it relates to my life and philosophies?
I posed these questions to myself in deciding if using a chicken for Kaparot is something I should raise my voice against and take issue with in a public forum. For many years I never thought about it because it was not my custom and I did not participate in it. However, after reviewing undercover videos of the practice, listening to the opinion of famous and well-accepted Rabbis and considering the relative importance of the act to the totality of Judaism, I have now decided the issue is significant and must be addressed publicly.
It is my opinion that treating chickens in the manner in which they are transported, shaken and held by the legs and left to wither in the heat is inhumane, and inhumane treatment of any animal is strictly forbidden by God in His Torah.
God has mercy on all creations and He instructs us to be merciful since by doing so we emulate Him.
Many of the great sages in Israel including the Rambam, Ramban and Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch speak pointedly and clearly about our obligation to humanely treat animals. Our generation is distant from animals and we know little or nothing about their emotional states. As a result, we objectify them and care little about their abuse. Throughout history, treatment of animals has been as familiar to all as is the rising of the sun. However, we have no contact with animals unless we have a pet. All animals have emotions and as Maimonides writes, there is no distinction between a human or animal mother’s love for her offspring. The love towards a child is instinctual and animals’ instinctual behaviors are safeguarded by numerous laws in the Torah. There are more than 15 laws in the Torah governing the conscious and humane treatment of animals.
I therefore strongly stand against the practice of using chickens for Kaparot and because alternatives to chickens have always been used, the custom of Kaparot will remain intact. Most importantly, the ruling given by many great rabbis of our generation is to use something other than a chicken for Kaparot.
Rabbi Donn Gross