Each year, sometimes as many as thousands of birds are slaughtered for a Jewish ritual called Kaporos. Kaporos is practiced by some Jews as a way to atone for one’s sins. Although there are alternate ways to practice this ritual, such as using money, some still choose to use live chickens. The birds are swung over the practitioners’ heads, hoping to transfer one’s sins to the chicken, and then the birds’ throats are slit.

Many of these rituals take place in the Brooklyn, N.Y., area where there are poor market conditions and protests of the killings have taken place. There have been accounts of birds being crammed into small crates by the dozen with questionable access to food and water. The sanitation aspect of where the birds are housed up until the slaughter is also cause for concern. Their breed is known as the Cornish hen, and these birds are bred primarily to be slaughtered for meat. They have big appetites, which causes them to get so large in size they begin to have severe joint and ligament problems. The birds may ultimately end up unable to walk, and their size opens them up to a host of additional health problems.

Rescued chickens at SASHA Farm in Manchester, Mich.
Rescued chickens at SASHA Farm.

We were first contacted by Miriam Jones of Vine Sanctuary on the East Coast to see if we’d be interested in a multi-sanctuary effort to re-home these very special birds. Karen Davis of United Poultry Concerns worked hard to secure a grant to assist sanctuaries in taking these birds and giving them a new chance at life. Between the activists and the sanctuaries, our mission is two-fold: to educate and to provide a safe place for these chickens to live their lives. The easier part is providing the birds with a safe home, but educating people and changing minds is a far greater challenge. It comes at a price.

When we first did a blog post on this topic last year, we were accused by a few individuals as being anti-Semitic. But we also had a number of local Jewish people thanking us for spreading awareness about this practice. As vocal activists, we care about all issues of social injustice and discrimination, even those that extend beyond animals. Spreading awareness of this ritual is part of our duty to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves. We are relieved there are some rabbis who are joining us by speaking out against this tradition and advocating for practicing this ritual without the use of animals. Only by working together can we educate others to embrace the idea that these chickens deserve better.

SASHA Farm agreed to take in 30 of these chickens. Each bird has a unique personality, and no two are the same. It can be hard to imagine these sweet birds being tossed around as they are in these rituals. Volunteers and staff have to be very careful handling them as many are not very fond of being held. They are, however, very curious and like to explore. They enjoy a good dust bath and lie next to one another, keeping each other comfortable and warm. Some will climb into your lap and sit with you. Walking into their coops when you are having a particularly tough day can make your frustrations seem to fade into thin air and put a smile on your face.


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