Melbourne’s flying chickens of atonement

Melbourne’s flying chickens of atonement

Look up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s a plane carrying chickens to (symbolically) capture the sins of the Jews of Melbourne, Australia!

Yes, on Sunday, Yom Kippur eve, a pilot took to the skies with three chickens to carry out the kapparot ritual that was otherwise off-limits for that city’s locked-down Jews.

Kapparot, practiced by some Orthodox Jews, involves swinging a live chicken over your head three times and reciting a prayer to transfer sins to the bird. The chicken then is slaughtered and donated to the poor.

This year, with large gatherings off-limits because of the coronavirus pandemic, people who practice kapparot have struggled with how to carry it out. A Brooklyn organization is offering to deliver chickens to people’s homes. (A picture in a New York Times story about low rates of mask-wearing in Brooklyn’s Orthodox neighborhoods showed a man holding a live chicken, with no explanation.) In Israel, where the government has imposed stringent rules meant to reduce sky-high covid-19 infections, kapparot is among the reasons permitted for travel.

In Melbourne, the entire city is locked down. So an enterprising philanthropist with access to an airplane decided to conduct a symbolic version above the heads of all of Melbourne’s Jews, by flying in circles over the city with chickens.

The hour-long low-altitude flight was reported by the website Dan’s Deals, a popular budget travel site run by an Orthodox Jew who lives in Cleveland. The site showed the flight’s path over the city, with a dense set of circles over the city’s heavily Jewish neighborhoods, including Caulfield and St. Kilda.

According to Yeshiva World News, the plane carried three chickens, two male and one female. It is traditional for men to swing roosters and women to swing hens.

“I don’t think anyone here thinks they could be yoitze” — having fulfilled their ritual obligation — “with the fowl flyover,” a Melbourne resident wrote in a comment on Dan’s Deals. “But it was definitely a nice start to the day.”


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