Wednesday, October 1, 2014


if a chicken is unavailable, one may substitute another kosher fowl (besides for doves and pigeons, as they were offered as sacrifices in the Holy Temple). Some use a kosher live fish; others perform the entire rite with money, and then giving the money – at least the value of a chicken – to charity.
At dawn or early in the morning before Yom Kippur, take a live chicken, fish or money which will then be given to charity and recite the following three times. Recite the first paragraph, do the rotations and then recite the paragraph again, etc.
Children of man who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, bound in misery and chains of iron --- He will bring them out of darkness and the shadow of death, and will sunder their bonds. Foolish sinners, afflicted because of their sinful ways and their wrongdoings; their soul loathes all food and they reach the gates of death --- they cry out to the Lord in their distress; He saves them from their afflictions. He sends forth His word and heals them; He delivers them from their graves. Let them thank the Lord for His kindness, and [proclaim] His wonders to the children of man. If there be for a man [even] one interceding angel out of a thousand [accusers], to speak of his uprightness in his behalf, then He will be gracious to him and say: Redeem him from going down to the grave; I have found expiation [for him].
When reciting the first twelve words below, rotate the chicken, fish or money over your head.
This is my exchange, this is my substitute, this is my expiation. This chicken shall go to death and I shall proceed to a good, long life and peace.

The Kaparot Ceremony

It is customary to perform the kaparot(symbolic "atonement") rite in preparation for Yom Kippur.
The rite consists of taking a chicken and waving it over one's head three times while reciting the appropriate text. The fowl is then slaughtered in accordance with halachic procedure and its monetary worth given to the poor, or, as is more popular today, the chicken itself is donated to a charitable cause.
We ask of G‑d that if we were destined to be the recipients of harsh decrees in the new year, may they be transferred to this chicken in the merit of this mitzvah of charity.
In most Jewish communities, kaparot is an organized event at a designated location. Live chickens are made available for purchase, ritual slaughterers are present, and the slaughtered birds are donated to a charitable organization. Speak to your rabbi to find out whether and where kaparot is being organized in your area.

The Details

The Timing
Kaparot can be done any time during the Ten Days of Repentance (i.e. betweenRosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur), but the ideal time is on the day preceding Yom Kippur during the early pre-dawn hours, for a "thread of Divine kindness" prevails during those hours.
The Chicken
Several reasons have been suggested for the choice of a chicken to perform the kaparot rite: 1) In Aramaic, a rooster is known as a gever. In Hebrew, a geveris a man. Thus we take a gever to atone for a gever. 2) A chicken is a commonly found fowl and relatively inexpensive. 3) It is not a species that was eligible for offering as a sacrifice in the Holy Temple. This precludes the possibility that someone should erroneously conclude that the kaparot is a sacrifice.
It is customary to use a white chicken, to recall the verse (Isaiah 1:18), "If your sins prove to be like crimson, they will become white as snow." In any event, one should not use a black chicken, as black is the color that represents divine severity and discipline. Nor should one use an obviously blemished chicken.
A male takes a rooster; a female uses a hen. Ideally every individual should use their own chicken. If, however, this is cost prohibitive, one fowl can be used for several individuals. So an entire family can do kaparot with two chickens—one rooster for all the males and one hen for all the females.
In the event that more than one person share a kaparot chicken, they should do the kaparot together, not one after the other. For one cannot do kaparot with a "used" chicken.
A pregnant woman should perform kaparot with three chickens—two hens and a rooster. One hen for herself, and the other hen and rooster for the unborn child (of undetermined gender). Or, if this is too expensive, one hen and one rooster will suffice (and if the fetus is female, she shares the hen with her mother).
If a chicken is unavailable, one may substitute another kosher fowl (besides for doves and pigeons, as they were offered as sacrifices in the Holy Temple). Some use a kosher live fish; others perform the entire rite with money, and then giving the money – at least the value of a chicken – to charity.
The Ceremony
  • Click here for the English text of the kaparot. Click here for Hebrew and English text in printable PDF format (courtesy of Kehot Publication Society).
  • Take the chicken in your hands and say the first paragraph ("Children of man who sit in darkness...")
  • When reciting the beginning of the second paragraph, wave the chicken over your head in circular motions three times—once when saying, "This is my exchange," again when saying "This is my substitute," and again when saying, "This is my expiation."
  • Repeat the entire process another two times. (Altogether waving the chicken over your head nine times.)
  • Rest both your hands on the bird—as was customarily done when bringing a sacrifice in the Holy Temple.
  • Take the chicken to the shochet (ritual slaughterer), who slaughters the bird.
  • Here's your chance to fulfill a relatively rare biblical mitzvah—that of covering the blood of a slaughtered bird. Take a handful of dirt (usually made available in the area) and recite the following blessing before covering the blood:
    Baruch attah Adonai Eloheinu melech haolam, asher kidishanu b'mitzvotav v'tzivanu al kisui hadam be'afar.
    (Blessed are You, L‑rd our G‑d, King of the universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us concerning covering the blood with earth.).
  • It is customary in many communities to tip the shochet for his service.
If you're reluctant to hold a live chicken in your hands, someone else can hold the chicken and wave it over your head.
Even the smallest of children are traditionally brought to kaparot, and one of their parents waves the chicken over the child's head, while saying, "This is your exchange, this is your substitute, this is your expiation..."
It is of utmost importance to treat the chickens humanely, and not to, G‑d forbid, cause them any pain or discomfort. Jewish law very clearly forbids causing any unnecessary pain to any of G‑d's creations. The repugnance of such an unkind act would certainly be amplified on this day, the eve of the day when we beseech G‑d for – perhaps undeserved – kindness and mercy. In fact, the Code of Jewish Law suggest that we take the innards and liver of the kaparot chickens and place them in an area where birds can feed off them. "It is proper to show mercy to the creatures on this day, so that in Heaven they should have mercy upon us [too]."
The same procedure outlined above is followed – sans the ritual slaughterer – if using fish or money for kaparot.

haRotzeh b'Tshuva

I Want To Come Home, But I Don't Know If Dad Will Let Me In

I would like to share a thought about Yom Kippur. As Rav Dovid Kronglass used to say, this is the most important week of the year. We have a tremendous task in front of us and that is the work of repenting. We should always bear in mind one very important fact: how desperately the Ribono shel Olam wants us back.

Every day in Shmone Esrei, we recite a blessing about Teshuva. The blessing begins with the words "Bring us back, our Father, to Your Torah, and bring us near, our King, to Your service, and influence us to return in perfect repentance before You." The blessing ends with the words "Blessed are You, Hashem, WHO DESIRES REPENTANCE (haRotzeh b'Tshuva)."

We recite these words so many times during the year that perhaps they lose their impact. However, haRotzeh b'Tshuva does not merely mean that the Almighty will accept our repentance. It means He WANTS our repentance. His desire for us to come back is so enormous that as long as we make even a minimal effort, He will be waiting there to take us back.

I recently read a short story from a Gentile author. The story is fictional but I believe it is very powerful and has a beautiful message that is directly related to the idea I just mentioned. The story encapsulates what it means when we say the Ribono shel Olam is a Rotzeh b'Tshuva.

In the story, there was a boy who finished high school and, as is quite typical of youth that age, he told his parents he wanted to discover and see the world. His father told him, "No, I want you to start college." The boy would not accept his father's advice: "I need to spread my wings a little and see what the rest of the world is like. I want to travel and see the rest of America."

The father told his son "If you leave, do not bother ever coming back. You can start college now or you can leave this house and keep on going because you will never be welcome in my house again." The boy decided to leave anyway.

He left his home in Maryland and began hitchhiking across America. He picked grapes in California and he did odd jobs here and odd jobs there just to keep himself going. As is often the case, after some time, the boy became home sick. He missed his parents. He missed home. He missed having a permanent roof over his head. He missed knowing where his next meal would come from. He started hitchhiking back to the east coast, which was his point of departure.

He got as far as Iowa, sat down on a curb somewhere and wrote a letter home: Dear Mom, I'm tired. I'm hungry. I'm lonely. I want to come home. But I don't know if Dad will let me home. Mom, you know the train track crosses our farm and near the farm is an apple tree. If Dad will let me in, I want you to tie a white towel around a branch of that tree. I will get on the train and I will look for the apple tree and check to see if there is a white towel wrapped around one of its branches. If dad still feels the same way he did the day I left when he told me not to ever come home again, I understand that there will be no white towel there and I will know that I can't come home.

The boy made it back to the east coast, near Maryland, boarded a passenger train, and started heading towards home. As the train approached the farm, he became terribly nervous. Would there be a towel there or would there not be a towel? As the train came closer and closer, he turned to the fellow sitting next to him on the train and said, "I want you to do me a favor. We are going to pass a farm with an apple tree right near the tracks. I am going to close my eyes. Just tell me if there is a white towel wrapped around a branch on that tree. I am too nervous to look myself." He was so scared that the towel would not be there, he was afraid to even look directly at the tree!

He sat on the train with his eyes tightly shut and the train passed the farm and passed the tree. The boy said to the man sitting next to h im, "What happened?" He said, "Son, there is a white towel around every branch on that tree." This said, in effect, that the father could not wait for the son to come home.

This, l'havdil (distinguishing between a trivial story and a weighty spiritual lesson), is a parable of what it means "HE DESIRES REPENTANCE". The Ribono shel Olam wants us back, passionately. Just like any father who may have had disagreements with his son, at the end of the day, "as a father has mercy on his children," how much more so in the case of the Mercy of our Father in Heaven, which knows no bounds. He certainly wants us back as much as any flesh and blood father would ever want his son back.

May we all merit to do a complete repentance and be sealed for a long good life of shalom, a year of redemption and salvation, and peace upon Israel. 


Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year, begins this Friday evening.  
Although, every Shabbat is a holy day, yet, Yom Kippur has a special holiness associated with the day.  It was the only day in the year when the High Priest (the Kohen Gadol) would enter into the holy of holies in the Temple, to pray for the Jewish people.
The prayer which begins the Yom Kippur service is Kol Nidrei, recited in a unique melody, expressing the special mode of this holy Day of Atonement.  The Cantor repeats the Kol Nidrei three times.
Q.  What is the significance of the Kol Nidrei prayer and why is it written in Aramaic?
A. Kol Nidrei is a prayer in which we declare our vows null and void.  It was created in Aramaic, rather than Hebrew, because it was the spoken language of the Jews in Babylon at the time. 
Kol Nidrei gained much significance during the Spanish Inquisition. Then, many Jews, known as "Marranos", vowed to renounce their religion under the threat of death, yet in their heart remained loyal to Judaism. 
They would gather on Yom Kippur in secrecy and use Kol Nidrei to renounce their vows to the religion that was forced upon them.   The Kol Nidrei melody chanted today has its roots in the events of that time.
Q.   Why is the Kol Nidrei repeated three times?
A.   According to the Talmud, important announcements used to be repeated three times.   The repetition of the Kol Nidrei emphasizes its importance.  On a more practical level, we repeat it so that those who came late to the synagogue should not miss Kol Nidrei.
Q.  Why do we fast on Yom Kippur?
A.  Being the day of atonement we spend the time with spiritual matters and not physical appetites.
Another reason: The Torah tells us that at the time of the Giving of the Torah, the people of Israel, "Beheld G-d while they were eating and drinking.  This excessive feasting showed a lack of respect to G-d and eventually led to worshiping the Golden Calf which resulted in the breaking of the Tablets.  Yom Kippur was the day in which G-d forgave Israel for the sin of the Golden Calf and also the day when Moshe returned with the Second Tablets.  Since their excessive eating and drinking was a factor in the breaking of the First Tablets, we correct this sin by avoiding food and drink on Yom Kippur, the day when Moshe descended with the Second Tablets.


(For that matter, I've come across many people over the years who have had a sincere interest in Judaism. They wanted to understand more and observe more. Yet they often would see religion as a meaningful diversion -- almost as a hobby. If a lecture or Jewish event occurs in the evening or on a Sunday, they would be more than happy to attend. If, however, it interferes with work -- nothing to talk about. (I knew one such person who had a real but casual interest in Judaism, yet because of the primacy of his career, found himself entertaining an important academic associate for the entire day of Yom Kippur.) I hate to put it this way, but one has to really question if such people are really ready to make a serious commitment to Judaism. Judaism as a *way* of life is truth and meaning; as a diversion from life is glorified bird watching.) 

Judaism asks what for many of us is the ultimate sacrifice -- our hard-earned incomes. Not only must we hand it over to G-d, but we must give of it freely to people who expended no effort over it -- to the poor (and of course it's their *own* fault they're poor, etc. -- we seem so qualified to play G-d when people come to our door), and to the non-working tribe of Levi. 

The message is thus, clearly, that we are no more than custodians of our wealth. It is all a gift from G-d. He could have just as easily bequeathed it to the poor man as the rich. He granted it to us in order that we use it in the manner He intended -- that we help those less fortunate and those who -- as the Levites -- are devoted fully and entirely to the study of Torah. 
Lastly, if we fail to understand this message -- if we fail to recognize the true source of our wealth -- G-d will find need to remind us. Thus, if some tithe while others do not, a partial famine will ensue. (G-d will take down the stock market, cool off the housing market, etc. -- He has no shortage of means.) Only those who withheld from others will suffer. If no one tithes, a more widespread famine will ensue, resulting from some other type of catastrophe, such as war or revolution. Finally, if even the tithing of dough is neglected, total famine will follow, resulting in widespread suffering and loss of life. 
But G-d does not only punish us to remind us of this message. He rewards as well. The Talmud writes that charity is the one commandment that we have the right to "test" G-d (Ta'anis 9a). In the Book of Malachi G-d exhorts the people: "'Bring all the tithes to the storehouse (of the Temple)... and test Me in this' says the L-rd of hosts, 'if I will open for you the windows of the heavens and pour out to you blessing without limit'" (Malachi 3:10). 
Ordinarily, we have no right to test G-d. ("I will believe in You only if You give me a sign," or "I will keep the Torah only if You give me what I want" etc.) G-d does not give free handouts. We pray to G-d and He is merciful, but this world provides no assurance that He will answer -- or that the answer will be yes. 

Charity, however, is different. We have the right to test G-d: to give more charity and fully expect to see results. (I leave this as an exercise for the reader.) ;-) It is thus literally in our hands to make G-d more evident in our lives -- to give to Him and visibly see Him give back to us. Charity thus provides us with the opportunity -- the privilege -- of letting go: of giving over a part of ourselves to G-d -- and in the process of allowing G-d to enter our lives.