Thursday, October 2, 2014

KAPPAROT: To do or not to do kapparot with chicken?

In many communities, there is a Minhag of doing Kapparot in the eve of Yom Kippur, what is the best way to do the Kapparot, with chicken or with money for charity?
First of all, we need to clarify that there is no Mitsva in the Tora to perform the Kapparot, or any kind of animal sacrifice, in the eve of Yom Kippur. In our days, as Maimonides explains "en sham el-la teshuba", there is nothing else but Teshuba to atone for our sins.  Teshuba is a serious mental and emotional process of retrospection, which consists in the admission and confession of our flaws and bad habits, which ultimately should lead us to improving our behavior .

Kapparot is a practice which was initiated by the common people -not by the rabbis- at the time of the Geonim (year 800-1000 CE).  The Kappara made with a live animal suppose to help inspiring our Teshuba. By seeing the Shehita (slaughtering) of the chicken, we realize the extreme fragility of our lives. We then realize the appropriateness of doing Teshuba, reflecting on our own mortality.   This is, by the way, the frequent explanation for the effect that the qorban, in the times of the Bet haMiqdash, had in the sinner's consciousness.

However, soon after the custom of Kapparot became more popular some prominent Rabbis like Ramban (Nahmanides) raised their voices against this practice. Maran Rabbi Yosef Caro (1488-1575) the author of the Shulhan Arukh, the supreme Code of Law for all Jews, disapproved the practice of Kapparot with chicken in the eve of Yom Kippur, explicitly and with very harsh terms.   Moreover, in the first edition of the shulhan 'arukh (Venice 1565) it is written in the title of siman 605, where Rabbi Yosef Caro discuses Kapparot מנהג כפרות בערב יום כפור מנהג של שטות הוא. "The custom of Kapparot in the eve of Yom Kippur is a foolish custom". In later editions the editors erased the last line. (see the original edition of the Shulhan 'arukh  here

Why such opposition to the Kapparot?

First, as Nahmanides said: mishum darke haemori "because it is similar to the practice of idol worshipers" . (Even today, many cults like Macomb, Vodoo, etc. use a small chicken as a sacrifice to their deities. You can Google for example "Eshu" or "Elleggua"  major idol-warriors of Santeria which must be worship by sacrificing to them a small chicken). 

Second, the fact that the Kappara performance looks like the Korbanot performance, made many rabbis very concerned: because slaughtering an animal as a sacrifice outside the Bet haMiqdash (haqrabat hutz) is a serious Biblical transgression . For this reason many rabbis in the past forbade the consumption of the chicken that was slaughter in the fashion (or intention) of a qorban (The Rishba, while still opposed to the Kapparot with chicken, allowed to eat that chicken, which was usually given to the poor, because it is not one of the animals who were offered as a sacrifice in the Bet haMiqdash).

Third, since so many people want to do Kapparot on the eve of Yom Kippur, the Shehita might not be done with enough care and attention in terms of the checking of the the knives and other ritual details. This is the point brought by Rabbi Obadia Yosef z"l (who in the past supported the Kapparot) to favor the performance of Kapparot with Tsedaqa (see  this).

There is yet another problem, which should be of a great concern when thinking about doing chicken Kapparot. Because of the great demand and the short time to slaughter so many animals, the chicken are too often mistreated in the process, left for days in cages without food or water. This is a serious transgression of an explicit Biblical prohibitions instructing us to treat animals with respect and avoid unnecessary suffering (tsa'ar ba'ale hayim). The new Ashkenazi Chief rabbi of Israel, Rabbi David Lau addressed this issue last year (see here ).

Lastly, if the person who does the Kappara would give directly the slaughtered chicken to a poor person, as it used to be done in the past, then we could view this Kappara as a form of Tsedaqa. But people who do the Kapparot would very often take seriously the idea of transference of his sins into the chicken and therefore not they, not even needy people would be eating those chicken "full of sins". Many of these chicken are not eaten but just wasted. And if one kills an animal unnecessarily (not to be eaten) one is transgressing another explicit Biblical prohibitions bal tashchit, i.e., unnecessary waste of the blessings, in this case an animal life, that God granted us.

In conclusion, the best way of doing Kapparot is by giving Tsedaqa (=charity for needy people).  In this case, none of the above mentioned problems would apply, and in addition before Yom Kippur begins, you will be fulfilling the beautiful Biblical commandment of charity. Which is a Mitsva with no negative side effects. On the contrary, Tsedaqa was regarded as the most imortnat Mitvar 'ase, as Maimonides writes: "We have to care about the Mitsva of Tsedaqa more than [we care about] any other positive commandment" (MT, Matanot 'aniyim 10:1).  Tsedaqa brings a great zekhut (merit) to the giver, and a great relief to the recipient  וצדקה תציל ממות

See this video where rabbi Shelomo Aviner, Rosh Yeshibat Ateret Cohanim explains the ways of doing kapparot and mentions, among other things, that rabbi Kaddouri z"l and Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach z"l made kapparot with Tsedaqa instead of chicken.  
                                     Redemption of Kaparot Atonement through Charity -- a Double Obligation

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Hilkhot Teshuba 3:1-8 Teshuba and the tipping point

In the third chapter of his Hilkhot Teshuba Maimonides explains that in terms of religious behavior, there are three categories of people: rasha', tsadiq and benoni.

The rasha' (the bad guy) is the person whose balance of good deeds against bad deeds is negative. The tsadiq (a righteous person) is the one who has done more good than harm. And the benoni (the average person) is defined by Maimonides as the person whose good and bad deeds are in a state of equilibrium (3:1).
At a later Halakha (3:4) Maimonides explains that the calculation of our own fault and merits is inaccessible to us. This estimate does not depend on the number of Mitsvot we have done, as if the Tora would be a system of "points" in a scoreboard. Actually this calculation is only known to God. Why? Because He is the only one who knows, for example, what our real positive potential is. If my potential is 10 and I reached 7,  I have less merit than the person whose potential is 5 and reached 5.
Another example, only HaShem knows the intensity of the negative psychological forces that might be driving a person to do what he or she does. The more intense these forces are, the more merit has the individual who overcomes them. For one person it may not be very difficult to avoid stealing because he might have a natural inclination to honesty. For another individual, not  stealing or lying might be a huge challenge.
The balance of our merits and faults, says Maimonides, is only known to God.
This thought leads Maimonides to the following question: Since I cannot know if in God's eyes I am or am not a righteous person, how do I have to see myself?
If I see myself as a great guy, I might rely too much on my merits and remain in a state of inertia, doing nothing to improve my life. On the other hand, if I see myself as a bad guy, I might think I'm already beyond redemption (= ye-ush, a state in which we give up) and will do nothing to improve.
Maimonides concludes (3:8) that a person should always perceive itself as a perfect 50/50. As if my good and bad deeds are at a delicate balance, between merits and sins, permanently. Knowing that I am in that state of equilibrium, the next action I do will definitely count! What I will do in the next few minutes is extremely important because it will determine whether I am a good or a bad person.
Thus, my next action becomes the tipping point of my entire personality. What I do next will determine who I really am.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

TESHUBA, in front of a camera

"What is considered a perfect act of repentance? When one is faced with the same opportunity to repeat the original transgression, but now he does not do it because he has repented... however, when one does not repeat the original transgression, [and refrains from sinning] because now he fears people will find out... his repentance is still accepted, but it is not considered a perfect repentance"  

To explain a perfect scenario of Teshuba, Maimonides gives the example of a man who is involved in an adulterous relationship and later on repents. The ultimate test of his repentance would take place if that man is eventually faced with a similar opportunity but now he refrains from repeating the transgression, because he repented, and because he has reached a new understanding: now he realizes that following his material impulses will hurt him, driving him away from God.
However, if that man faces a similar scenario but now he refrains from sinning because he fears somebody will find out about his affair, his Teshuba is still acceptable, but it is not considered a complete Teshuba. Why? Because this man might have changed his conduct not because of his repentance and his renewed understanding, but just because of social embarrassment, fear of losing his job, etc.
A modern example:  Very often we read in the news about a public figure, usually someone involved in politics, who was caught doing an immoral act. Many times these people would come in front of the TV cameras and publicly express their regret and apologize for what they have done. This is definitely an act of repentance. However, because of its timing, this act of Teshuba is questionable in terms of its credibility and genuineness. Why? Because the whole process of repentance, regret and apologies happened as a consequence of being caught. It is possible that what prompts this person to repent is his fear to loss his  reputation, his job, his family etc., rather than his moral conscience.    
Following Maimonides words, the perfect act of repentance in this case would have taken place if, while still involved in an illicit relationship or other immoral act, before being caught and with no external impediment to continue with it, one would decide out of his own conscience, to stop, repent and change.
That would be a perfect a and complete Teshuba