Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Ethical Dilemma

Last week, I attended a couple of protests against the Jewish ritual of Kapparot. Kapparot is an attempt to "kaper" (atone) for one's sins by transferring them to a live chicken or money, then giving it to charity. When chickens are used, they are picked up either by the feet or wings and waved over or swung around the head of the person performing the ritual three times while they recite a prayer. The chicken is then slaughtered and her flesh goes to feed poor people. There is some variation in how that happens, but that's the gist.

I'm going to skip over the experience of the protests themselves and how I feel about the whole thing in favor of one point: the chickens are transported in boxes too low for them to stand in and given no food or water from the time they're packed up until the time they're killed. The boxes are also stacked so if a chicken in the top box relieves herself, everyone below her gets a surprise.

Almost everyone I pointed this out to said it was wrong (there are specific laws in the Jewish bible to protect animals from "unnecessary" suffering) and something should be done to change it. They also felt there was nothing they could do about it. One even asked me to open a humane, organic Kapparot chicken company, saying that almost everyone would go to me, even if it would cost more, to keep the chickens from suffering.

One person said he had contacted the people who order the chickens, trying to get them more humane conditions, but it didn't work. He said he also contacted PETA, to see if they could help, but they did nothing. He then asked if I would be able to get a few people together next year to supervise the chicken transport, see that they're in comfortable crates, feed the chickens during the day, and do everything else necessary to make their last day on earth easier on them. I gave him my phone number, but I'm 99% sure he won't call.

But what if he does? I hate the words "abolitionist" and "welfarist" and generally think they're used by people who spend too much time philosophizing and not enough time acting, but that's really what this comes down to.

I don't want to help these people kill more chickens. I want the practice to end completely. I think we may be able to end it in our lifetimes, but I know it won't end next year. So why not help the chickens spend their last hours comfortably, with love and attention? I think this is different from the "happy meat" issue, since more chickens will not be used just because people feel better about how they're treated. The people who perform this ritual will do it, and those who don't won't, regardless of the chickens' well being.

In addition to caring for the chickens, I think developing a decent relationship with the People In Charge, may encourage them to give us more chickens to take to a sanctuary (they gave us a few this year). Also, most of these people have probably never seen chickens treated as anything more than an object. If we are able to stay with the chickens while people are performing the ritual and let them see us caring for them the way they care for their dogs, or their children (maybe even wearing t-shirts with a message about using money instead, maybe printed in English, Hebrew and Yiddish) it may drive the point home, especially for the young people.

So. What do you think? Would this be enabling people to murder chickens or would it be an act of mercy? What would you do?


vegan.in.brighton said...

That's a difficult one. I definitely understand wanting to do something to help the chickens & in this case I think I would try to organise other people (perhaps some of the 'happy meat' people?!) to help. Maybe you could try to contact agencies / groups (like peta) to see if they'll do something? I think if I had to be involved in looking after the chickens on their final day I would probably freak out about the animals I'd bonded with being killed & run away with them all!

Jenn said...

I think it's an act of mercy -- because at this point in time, I think chickens will be murdered regardless -- but seeing the chickens being cared for like any other pet can definitely help get rid of the idea that they're "just food", esp towards the younger generations.