Jewish Journal

Feathers fly as fugitive fowl frustrates Pico-Robertson

Why did the chicken cross the road?

Posted on Sep. 28, 2006 at 8:00 pm

The fugitive chicken struts on South Doheny Drive. Photo by Eva Noah Mia Suissa

The fugitive chicken struts on South Doheny Drive. Photo by Eva Noah Mia Suissa

For most of last week, a fugitive chicken mystified and delighted residents of the traditionally Jewish Pico-Robertson neighborhood.
Rumors of its provenance flitted about for days, then came to perch on an especially good story:
The chicken, according to neighborhood resident Rabbi Joel Rembaum, belonged to a local mashgiach, or kosher supervisor. Every year around Yom Kippur, the mashgiach, like many traditional Jews, buys a chicken in order to perform the ritual of kaparos, which means atonements. This year, it flew the coop.  
If true, that's one smart chicken.  
Early in the morning on the day before Yom Kippur, groups of Jews gather to hold squawking chickens by the feet and twirl them over their heads while chanting a prayer. After the twirling, the chickens are ritually slaughtered and given to the poor.  
The ritual dates back to the Middle Ages.
  The idea was that since the Hebrew word for man (gever) and rooster were the same, a man's sins -- and his punishments -- could be symbolically transferred to the rooster, in the same way that during the times of the Temple, people brought animal sacrifices as penance for their sins.  

Therefore, while slinging the chicken during kaparos, the person chants, "This is my exchange, this is my substitute, this is my atonement. This chicken shall go to its death, and I shall proceed to a good, long life and peace."  
For several reasons -- not the least of which is its obvious cruelty -- the custom has fallen out of fashion. Some people perform kaparos by swinging a bag of money over their head and then donate that money to charity.  
The fugitive chicken -- black and white with a rust-colored spot and a bright red cockscomb -- roams from lawn to sidewalk, from rooftop to driveway.  
"I think one family is feeding it," a resident said.  
But the story of the chicken's provenance proved as flighty as the chicken itself. Calls to local stores with and without mashgiach's met with denials.  
Speculation centered on Eilat Market, where giant Farsi-language posters advertise for kaparos on behalf of Natan Eli Hebrew Academy. A market employee said all chickens were accounted for.  
"Everyone has seen it," a local rebbetzin said, "but no one knows who's it is."
In the meantime, local animal rights groups and vegetarian activists have geared up an annual campaign to protest traditional kapparos rites. In a press release entitled, "Jewish chicken-killing ritual Kapparot is illegal, inhumane and unnecessary. It is animal cruelty," the activists call for an immediate end to the practice. The press release cites Jewish as well as other sources as opposing the ritual.
It quotes General Manager of LA Animal Services and ex-pastor Ed Boks as stating, "Some of our nation's healthiest animal husbandry practices and laws originated in the ancient traditions of the Torah. Nowhere is the practice of Kapparot even mentioned in the Torah. It is a pagan tradition that has been muddled into the religious practices of a small Jewish sect. Kapparot should have no place in the 21st Century Los Angeles community."
Via the Internet, activists are circulating notice of a protest against kapparot to be held Sunday, Oct. 1 in front of Ohel Moshe temple at 8644 Pico Blvd from 10-12:30 p.m. "begging people not to kill the chickens."  
As for the fugitive chicken, as of press time, no one had claimed it, and no one had rescued it either -- leaving the bird to fend for itself in a city of speeding cars and hungry cats.  
Now that's a sin worth atoning for.  
-- Staff Report

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