A custom’s fascinating history

A custom’s fascinating history

I agree with your editorial and the opinion of many halachic authorities that it is preferable to use money when performing the ritual of kapparot, but I disagree with dating the original practice to the 9th century. The concept of vicarious atonement goes back to the sin offering in the Torah itself, as well as to the scapegoat on Yom Kippur. The Babylonian Talmud offers hints of kapparot-like customs, including reporting on the slaughtering many fowl on Erev Yom Kippur. Kapparot probably started in the Amoraic period, but the history and evolution of this custom is fascinating.

Kapparot soon became widespread, especially in Ashkenazic countries. While the 13th century authorities Rabbi Shlomo ben Aderet and Nachmanides abolished it in their communities, they acknowledged that reliable scholars in Ashkenaz approved of it. Once the students of the 16th century kabbalist Rabbi Isaac Luria endorsed it, the practice became more firmly entrenched.

The author of an authoritative compendium of Jewish law and practice, Rabbi Avraham Danzig, criticizes those who put more emphasis on this custom than on the actual observance of Yom Kippur. He also criticizes this practice because ritual slaughterers cannot properly process so many chickens non-stop, with the result that the recipients of these chickens might be eating non-kosher ones. Besides, in today’s economic times, needy families would probably prefer cash than a chicken laden with someone else’s sins.