‘Animal Holocaust!’: Protests Against Ritual Jewish Chicken Slaughter Get Ugly

Gothamist October 2016

On Sunday evening, less than 48 hours before Yom Kippur, Yossi Henach was with his wife and small children on the sidewalk outside the Beth Rivkah school in Crown Heights, touted as the first Hasidic girls’ school in the world. Considering the screaming animal rights protesters surrounding his family, Henach seemed pretty calm. The protesters, about 80 in all, were gathered for the first of two nights of protests against the millennium-old ritual of kapparot, a slaughter practiced by certain ultra-Orthodox Jewish groups, in which one waves a chicken over one’s head while reciting a prayer to transfer one’s divine punishments for the coming year to the bird, then has it slaughtered for the meat, or a cash equivalent, to be donated to charity.

It was children’s night at the schoolyard, according to the activists, and if there was any slaughter happening, it was out of sight behind a green privacy fence within the school grounds, beyond the booth where chicken tickets were on sale for $5 each. The only other thing visible was a semi trailer stacked to the top with crates full of live chickens, being unloaded by teen workers. Protesters pressed against the barbed-wire-topped perimeter fence, chanting, “Use money, not chickens!” in reference to a variation of the tradition done in some branches of Orthodox Judaism. And Henach was okay with that.

“If there’s any cruelty being done to chickens, it’s wrong, and it should stop,” he said. Protesters over the years, and again this holiday season, have documented numerous instances of chickens being left out in crates stacked high without food, water, or protection from the elements for days at a time. The activists have also documented some instances of carcasses that practitioners believed were headed for poor people’s plates winding up in the garbage. “That’s wrong if that’s happened,” Henach said. “It’s not right.”

Just then, some in the crowd closest to the entrance, which was guarded by police officers, began banging the fence with their signs, wrenching it forward and backward so hard that it momentarily broke open, and chanting, “Animal holocaust! Animal holocaust!”

“Now that, that kind of thing is inappropriate,” Henach said. “They have a right to peacefully protest, but they do not have a right to get violent, and there’s no place for that kind of language.”

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