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Chapter 131:1
Erev Yom Kippur

1. It is customary to perform the "Kapporos" ceremony in the pre-dawn hours of the day preceding Yom Kippur, (1) since [the attribute of] mercy is dominant at that time.

[For this ceremony,] one takes a non-castrated rooster to be used on behalf of a man, and a hen on behalf of a woman. For a pregnant woman one takes both a rooster and a hen - a rooster, in case the fetus is male, [and the hen for the mother]. If the fetus is female, the single hen is sufficient for the mother and her daughter. Indeed, even [when] people [do not share family ties,] two people can use the same chicken (2).

White chickens should be chosen [for the ceremony] as an allusion to [Isaiah 1:18]: "If your sins are scarlet, they will become white as snow." When purchasing the chickens, however, one should not outwardly express preference for white ones, and pay a higher price for them, because [limiting oneself to white chickens] resembles a pagan practice ("darchei ha'emori"). Rather, if one finds a white one among a group of chickens one has purchased, one should select it [for this ceremony].

Each person should hold [the chicken he is using for this ceremony] in his right hand and recite the paragraph beginning with "B'nei odom... (found in all prayer books). Then, he should swing the chicken around his head three times, saying the phrase beginning with "Zeh chalifosi...("This is my substitute") with each circle. If one swings a chicken around the head of another person, one should say, "Zeh chalifos'cha...("This is YOUR substitute"). One should swing the chicken around one's own head before performing the ceremony for someone else. The chicken should also be slaughtered in the pre-dawn hours, directly after the ceremony is performed.

A person should not think, however, that this ceremony itself actually atones for him. On the contrary, [he should look at the ceremony as symbolic in nature, realizing] that everything that is being done to the chicken should really be done to him [as punishment] for his sins. [This will make] him regret his sins, and, as a result, the Holy One, blessed be He, in His mercy, will accept his repentance (3).

It is customary to leave the intestines, the liver, and the kidneys in a courtyard or on a roof, where the birds can take them, for it is fitting to show mercy toward all created beings on this day, so that G-d will have mercy on us. [Another reason for throwing away the chicken's digestive organs] is that [birds often] eat [food that was not given to them, thus it can be viewed as] stolen [food], and [discarding these organs containing this "stolen property"] makes us conscious of the need to distance ourselves from theft.

If chickens are not available, one may take a goose or any other animal that is not fit to be offered as a sacrifice. Some say that even fish are acceptable. Pigeons are not, however, for they are used for sacrificial purposes, and it might appear that one intends to offer sacrifices outside [the Temple].

Some people customarily give [the chickens used for this ceremony] to the poor. It is preferable to redeem the chickens and give the money to the poor (4).

FOOTNOTES:

(1) Although it is preferable to perform the "Kapporos" ceremony on the day preceding Yom Kippur, if this is not possible the ceremony may be performed on another day of the Ten Days of Repentance.

(2) There are other authorities who require each individual to use a chicken of his own. According to this view, a pregnant women should use three chickens: a hen for herself, a rooster in the event that the fetus is male, and a hen in the event that the fetus is female.

(3) It should be noted that the Ramban and the Rashba actually wrote that the "Kapparos" ceremony should not be performed because it resembles witchcraft and other pagan practices; the Shulchan Aruch himself followed this line of reasoning and writes in 605:1 that one should not participate in the custom. However, the Ramah (Ibid.) writes that since this custom is mentioned in the writings of many of the Gaonim, and many of the later authorities (Acharonim), it is considered to be a "minhag vasikin" ("an old custom of the righteous"), and should not be eliminated.

Other authorities have attempted to eliminate the custom because the people doing the slaughtering would become so tired due to the volume of chickens being slaughtered in quick succession, that they would not be in the appropriate state to check their knives properly (the fact that this was happening at night also contributed to the problems); as a result, many people would be eating non-kosher chickens due to invalid slaughtering. To avoid this problem, many authorities recommended that the "Kapporos" ceremony be performed on other days during the Ten Days of Repentance, rather than having everyone do it on Erev Yom Kippur. Alternatively, one may avoid all problems by performing the ceremony by swinging money instead of a chicken around one's head, and then giving the money to charity (See Mishna Berura 605:2).

(4) The poor might be offended by the fact that you have given them the chicken upon which you have "placed all your sins" (Mishna Berura 605:5).

 

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