Every year on Yom Kippur, people of Jewish faith seek atonement through fasting and other traditional observances, but there remains a very small segment of believers who endeavor to cleanse their sins by practicing a rite of animal sacrifice. Known as kapparot, this ceremony involves people purchasing chickens, swinging the birds over their heads while reciting prayers, and then having butchers slice their throats open. This custom is said to transfer the supplicant’s sins into the chicken’s body, thereby extinguishing them (along with the bird’s life), but is of great controversy among Jews, the majority of whom engage in the same ritual using bags of coins (that are then donated to a charitable cause), rather than live chickens.
Still, thousands of birds are killed in public rituals each year in major U.S. cities like New York, from which one young chicken narrowly escaped with his life on the night of Yom Kippur while hundreds of others painfully perished. The tiny chicken, later named Chesed (meaning mercy or loving-kindness in Hebrew), was saved by Brooklyn resident Wayne Johnson, who was passing through the borough’s Crown Heights neighborhood when he saw a large gathering at a local seminary and a truck pull up to unload approximately 2,000 frightened chickens, packed four to a crate. The crowd soon formed lines to purchase the birds for $13 apiece — and then the ritual began.
Johnson voiced his disapproval of the killing in light of viable humane alternatives as people brought the chickens over to a butcher table where their throats were slit. At around 11 p.m., his protestations breached the conscience of at least one man, who declared that he no longer wanted the chicken he’d purchased to die, and handed the bird over to Johnson. On the subway ride to Johnson’s Brooklyn Heights home, a grateful Chesed gradually relaxed in the cradled arms of his kind rescuer, who called Farm Sanctuary to ask that we give his new feathered friend refuge at our New York Shelter.
Chesed’s rescue came just days after Farm Sanctuary’s Executive Director Dr. Allan Kornberg issued a public statement regarding kapparot urging all Jews to observe the high holidays in a manner consistent with the Torah’s teachings on compassion for animals. As Dr. Kornberg pointed out, this can be easily done in accordance with rabbinical law by donating money to a charitable cause. On the day after the rescue, Dr. Kornberg added, “Saving Chesed is in keeping with the true spirit of Yom Kippur. His presence at Farm Sanctuary will serve as a reminder to every visitor that all living creatures are deserving of mercy and loving-kindness.”
Chesed is just a baby, so given his traumatic experiences, it’s not surprising that he’s still a little anxious. On his first day at the shelter, he wouldn’t touch any food until someone sat down next to him, and he still emits nervous little peeps from time to time. But Chesed loves going outside to eat fresh grass and bask in the sun, and he’s clearly warming up to his caregivers (who have taken a noticeable shine to this charming boy). As one of more than 200 other chickens who Farm Sanctuary has rescued from kapparot rituals in New York City and its surrounding boroughs over the past three years, Chesed is now right where he needs to be, receiving the loving care he requires and deserves.
Once Chesed has had a little more time to overcome the trauma of his early days, we will be looking for a loving, permanent home where this sweet boy can live out the rest of his life in safety and peace. If you are able to open your heart and home to this special rooster in need, please learn more about and apply to join our Farm Animal Adoption Network today!