Thursday 17 September 2015

060) Kappores - With or Without a live chicken?

There is much controversy around the issue of using live chickens for the performance of Kappores [1]. I have always opted for the traditional way of performing kappores with a rooster, explaining to ‘detractors’ that there is no significant difference between kappores and normal shchita (kosher slaughtering), in that a shochet (slaughterer) is anyway present at the ceremony and performs a normal regulation shchita afterwards. So if you eat chicken, you may as well do kappores.

But the kappores ceremony does raise a number of practical challenges. The fact is that in reality there is often the possibility that chickens will suffer before and during the process of the ceremony. Sometimes the chickens are held for hours or even days in tightly packed cages where they wait without food or water. Furthermore, the people performing the rite are not always schooled in the correct manner in which to hold a chicken, and can cause pain if not break bones of the chicken while rotating it around the head.

Let’s take a look at some classical views regarding this issue:


The first mention of the practice of kappores is by Natronai ben Hilai, a Gaon in the academy of Sura, Babylonia at around 850 C.E., who says that although it is the practice of Babylonian and Persian Jews, it is of non -Jewish origin.


The original version of  the Shulchan Aruch before censorship.
According to Rabbi Yosef Karo, the author of the Shulchan Aruch, “We should stop this custom, because (as the Mishna Berurah[2] explains) it resembles the ways of the Emorim (darkei haEmori - who practiced magic, superstition and witchcraft).”[3]  
This rather outspoken view, against what Rabbi Karo also calls a ‘foolish custom’, is significant because he was a major halachic codifier.

The interesting thing is that although his statements against kappores appeared in the first 18 printings of his work, somehow in the 18th century they got censored and omitted (and to a large extent are still omitted in some modern day publications).[4]

The Ramban[5] also opposed the custom of kappores stating it was of non-Jewish origin and that there can be no ‘vicarious sacrifice’ outside of the Temple in Jerusalem. He called those who performed the rite ‘idol-worshippers’.


In stark contrast to the Rabbi Yosef Karo, the Ramo (representing the Ashkenazi community) mentions that the custom is in fact very old and has roots going back to the Geonim.[6] He says that historically all Ashkenazi countries upheld this custom as well as, surprisingly, even the Sefardic countries (who seemed to ignore Rabbi Yosef Karo who wrote primarily for Sefardic communities). Therefore, he maintains that we should not change this custom, as it is well rooted deep within our past.

The Mishna Berura[7]  explains away the objection that the custom may be similar to ‘black magic’, by saying that the ‘transposing of sin’ is not necessarily a foreign concept to Judaism, as some Rishonim equate it to the offering of a sacrifice (for an inadvertent sin in Temple times), where the sin is also said to be ‘transposed’ or ‘exchanged’.  
The Hebrew word gever can mean both man and rooster; hence a rooster may substitute for a man.


The Chaye Adam acknowledges the fact that the custom of Kappores is deeply rooted within our tradition, but suggests that it has assumed a status of importance that it never had before. He says “It has become ingrained in the hearts of the masses that all of the atonement of Yom Kippur depends upon it. It is almost as if Kappores and eating matzah are of equal importance. The masses think that without a rooster they will not attain atonement on Yom Kippur.”[8]

The Chaye Adam continues to say that because the chickens push against each other in large numbers (as would happen in a kappores ceremony which is usually performed in large gatherings requiring large numbers of chickens), and the slaughters are usually overburdened and tired with ‘grimaced faces’, and chances are the knives are not checked for sharpness as often as they should – there is a reasonable possibility that people would be eating non kosher (neveilah) chicken. Then he says “If people would listen to is better for them to swing money around their heads. This was indeed the custom of earlier generations.”[9]


Rabbi Chaim David HaLevi[10] adds a further dimension to the discussion by introducing the concern for cruelty to animals (tzar ba’alei chaim).[11] He writes “And why, particularly on the eve of the holy day do we need to be cruel to animals...and slaughter them without any mercy, at a time when we stand to request life for ourselves from the living G-d.”

No one can argue the fact that the use of live chickens for kappores is a very well established custom. It is also well supported by our mystical tradition. Therefore those who follow that custom certainly have precedent upon which to rely. 

I was happy to read in a local advertisement for kappores, “Please make every effort to handle your chicken in the most careful and sensitive way as to avoid harming or hurting the chicken.” The kappores in our community is taking place under the guidance of a civic animal protection organisation.

At the same time those who wish to use money in lieu of chickens also have very good (historical and ethical) precedent.

While it is true that the ‘cruelty to animals’ principle can be overridden when it comes to a ‘vital issue’ concerning the community; And while it is also true that a well established custom like kappores may be indeed be considered a ‘vital issue’;  - There is, however, the halachik permissibility to use money instead of chickens and still perform kappores appropriately. This means that the use of chickens may no longer be considered a ‘vital issue’.[12]

Thus there is a strong case for the use of money as a substitute for (and maybe even a preferential way to perform) kaporres, as opposed to using live chickens.

I’m still going to do kappores this year the old fashioned way, with a rooster, the way I have always done it in the past. But I am richer knowing that some say it is rooted in paganism, and is a silly custom which should not be perpetuated, and may have involved a degree of censorship by interested parties, and may even be idolatry, and may if I am not careful cause hurt to an animal, and it may not be right to ‘slaughter without mercy’ on the day before we ask for life– at least I have that knowledge and information clearly in my head and am under no illusions.

This state of tension between knowledge and belief is, according to the Kotzker Rebbe, the truest form of spiritual experience.

At least with regard to kappores I might just be a 'rational mystic'.

[1] Kappores (or atonement) is a pre-Yom Kippur custom of ‘swinging’ a chicken around one’s head, whereby the chickens are said to symbolically take on the sins of the individual performing the rite. The chickens are then kosher slaughtered and either eaten or given away to the needy.
[2] Orach Chaim 605,1.
[3] Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim, 605,1 (in the name of the Rambam and Rashba).
[4] See Kotzk Blog 53) Hey, Teacher Leave the Text Alone (UPDATE).
[5] Nachmanides 1194 – 1270.
[6] The period of the Geonim immediately followed on from the Talmidic era, and preceded that of the Rishonim.
[7] Orach Chaim 605,1.
[8] Chaye Adam klal 144,4 and brought in Mishna Berura 605,2 and Kaf HaChaim 11.
[9] As the Magen Avraham 81,2 writes in the name of Rashi.
[10] 1924 – 1998. He served as the Sefardi Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv-Jaffa. His Aseh Lecha Rav is a collection of responsa. (As an aside, Rabbi Chaim David HaLevi was the first rabbi to issue a prohibition against smoking).
[11] Shut Aseh Lecha Rav vol 3, p.67.
[12] I thank my friend Ori S. for drawing my attention to this argument, which he saw
 in the writing of one of his teachers.

Thursday 3 September 2015

059) Secular Education - A Great Divide?

The first published translation of a classical science text into the holy language .
(Vilna 1780)
Many would be surprised to discover that there is a kaleidoscope of opinion regarding whether or not a Jew may undergo a secular education. For someone born into western civilization, it seems hard to imagine that this basic ‘right’ is even up for discussion. For others it is equally surprising that anyone would even want to study anything other than the Torah.

Although there are many sources that forbid secular studies, there are just as many that take a  very different view. The ensuing debate is rather colourful and most enlightening, highlighting a ‘great divide’ within the Orthodox community.


According to the Ramo, it is forbidden to engage in a fixed programme of secular studies. However, he says that the occasional study of secular wisdom would be permitted.[1] Some have suggested that the reason for this ruling is not bittul Torah (wasting time that could otherwise have been spent on Torah study), but rather bizayon haTorah (bringing disgrace to the superior value of Torah by ‘displacing’ it with something secular).


Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the founder of the Lubavitch movement writes “The impurity of science is greater than the impurity of idle speech ...Thus it is forbidden, unless one employs this as a useful instrument (such as a means of earning a livelihood).”[2]


I am aware of a teaching of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov that I am fond of quoting (although I forget where I saw it). It says something to the effect that the passionate pursuit of anything neutral, that is not expressly forbidden by the Torah, may be counted as Torah study as both have the same result, namely, keeping one away from sin. Yet, nonetheless, he was against secular education, intimating that faith and rationalism cannot go hand in hand without one yielding to the other.


Rabbi Elchanan Wasserman writes “If you must sit in a school with non-Jews and befriend them, it is forbidden...If you do not have to befriend them and you do not study heresy, and you study in order to make a living, then is permitted and is a mitzvah.”[3]


According to the late Chareidi leader, Rabbi Elazar Shach[4], all forms of secular education, even at high school level, are expressly forbidden. He singled out the study of history and psychology specifically, as absolute ‘heresy’. Furthermore, studying a trade was only permitted when one’s livelihood was under immediate threat. He said that if anyone who had undergone a secular education, and still achieved success in Torah study, it was ‘maaseh satan’(a result of satanic forces).[5]


Rabbi Moshe Feinstein said in an address to his students that in America one does not need a college degree to make a living and that anyway we should be content living with less if necessary.[6] On the other hand, a young man once asked the pragmatic Rabbi Feinstein if he could go to college, and he was told that if his parents insist that he attends, he may indeed attend.[7]


Not so well known is the view of the Vilna Gaon, who actually encouraged secular studies, especially by our talmidei chachamin or scholars. He felt that secular knowledge would, on the contrary, broaden the scholar’s knowledge of Torah, create a kidush haShem among non-Jews who would come to respect the prowess of the Torah scholar, and also serve to prevent religious Jews from wandering off the path (since they would already have had some sanctioned exposure to the secular world).[8]
The Vilna Gaon translated books on geometry into Hebrew, such as his Sefer Uklidos (Book of Euclid), and was consulted on matters of astronomy and mathematics by both Jewish and non-Jewish scholars.
In 1778, Rabbi Baruch Schick of Shklov, one his closest students, wrote “I heard from his holy mouth that according to what a person is lacking in knowledge of the ‘other wisdoms’, correspondingly he will be lacking one hundred portions in the wisdom of the Torah.”[9]
Rabbi Hillel of Shklov commented that the Vilna Gaon had ‘...delved considerably into secular studies in order to master the Torah, make a kidush haShem in the eyes of the non-Jews, and to bring the redemption nearer!”[10]


Rabbi Shimshon Refael Hirsch[11] and Rabbi Azriel Hildershimer, with their Torah Im Derech Eretz philosophy, established schools in Germany in the mid 1800’s which provided both Torah and secular education, and laid the foundations for the establishment of the Orthodox movement.
This was vehemently opposed by the Chareidi movement, established in 1865, which forbid secular education outright[12].


In 1946, the Torah Umaddah movement was formed by Rabbi Yosef Soloveitchik and others affiliated to Yeshiva University.[13] This movement (which became the originator of Centrist Orthodoxy) actually sees benefit in secular studies for their own sake and as an end in itself. Rabbi Soloveitchik strove to create a system of ‘synthesis’ between the best Torah scholarship, and the best secular scholarship in western civilization. He said “A person who is secure cannot be an extremist.”[14]As Rabbi Norman Lamm writes “Torah...and science... together offer us a more over-arching and truer vision than either one set alone.”[15]


It’s interesting to see that while Religious Zionists generally concur with the Torah Umaddah philosophy, they maintain that secular studies are valuable only insofar  as they benefit the State of Israel, but not for their own sake. Thus they would encourage the study of architecture as opposed to, say, the study of music.


The Peninei Halacha explains that in Talmudic times, the basic learning curriculum was completed by the age of twenty, after which the student would get married and then leave the world of full time study and start to work in order to support his family. During the ‘work’ phase, he would of course make time to continue and further his Torah studies, part time.[16]

This may come as surprise to many who today grow up in some factions of contemporary Torah society that have created a ‘new’ model of full time Torah Study and no work. The full time Kollel system for the masses has no real basis in the historical Torah world.

The Peninei Halacha continues by suggesting that the Talmudic model should still be followed today. Namely, that up to the age of about twenty, the student should be involved in developing the fundamentals or ‘yesodei haTorah’, after which he must participate in the ‘yishuvo shel olam’ by working, or studying for a profession and making some contribution to society whilst at the same time returning to, and maintaining an ongoing regimen of Torah study.


The debate around the value and permissibility of secular education is today, essentially between Chareidim and those to their left. However, the deliberation takes on very different dimensions when one looks at the statistics.

Contrary to popular perception, the Chareidim in Israel and America now number about two thirds of the general religious Orthodox community. And they are growing much faster than any other segment of the population. Also, the non-Chassidic Chareidim have now outnumbered the Chassidim.

While it is beyond the scope of this article to discuss the issue of Chareidism apropos Centrist Judaism, these numbers are hugely significant. Since Chareidim are generally opposed to secular education and since they generally believe in full time Torah study without the option of a profession (or even work) - the voices in favour of a more balanced approach to the issue, are simply being drowned out.

When sheer force of numbers, solely, determines the outcome of a debate, there no longer is a debate.
All indications are that the majority of the next generation of religious Jews will predominately be unschooled in secular matters. 

[1] Ramo 246,4. This is based on a Talmud Yerushalmi, Sanhedrin.
[2] See Tanya, Likutei Amarim, 8.
[3] See Kovetz Shiurim by Rabbi Elchanan Wasserman, 2,47.
[4] 1899-2001.
[5] See Michtavim Umaamarim vol. 1
[6] This speech is published under Vaad LeHaromas Keren haTorah, New York, 1978.
[7] See New Rulings From Rav Moshe Feinstein, by Rabbi Yair Hoffman.
[8] See Peninei Halacha Likutim 1, p. 29.
[9] From the introduction to Sefer Uklidos.
[10] See Kol Hator 5,2.
[11] 1808 – 1888.
[12] See Kotzk Blog 41) A Short History of Chareidim.
[13] The phrase ‘Torah Umaddah’, however, is said to have originated with Rabbi Yonatan Eybeschutz (1690 – 1764), although it may have had a different connotation then.
[14] See A Reader’s Companion to Ish Ha-Halacha, Introduction.
[15] Norman Lamm, Torah Umaddah, p. 236.
[16] See Peninei Halacha, Likutim 1, p. 4.