KAPPARAH (plural, kapparot = "means of atonement"):

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An animal used as a sort of vicarious sacrifice on the day previous to the Day of Atonement. As a rule, a cock is taken by a male, and a hen by a female person, and after the recitation of Ps. cvii. 17-20 and Job xxxiii. 23-24 the fowl is swung around the head three times while the right hand is put upon the animal's head. At the same time the following is thrice said in Hebrew: "This be my substitute, my vicarious offering, my atonement. This cock [or hen] shall meet death, but I shall find a long and pleasant life of peace!" After this the animal is slaughtered and given to the poor, or, what is deemed better, is eaten by the owners while the value of it is given to the poor.

Kapparot Ceremony Before the Day of Atonement.(From a woodcut, Augsburg, 1530.)

The custom has been strongly opposed by such authorities as Naḥmanides, Solomon ben Adret, and Joseph Caro as a pagan one in conflict with the spirit of Judaism, which knows of no vicarious sacrifice. But it was approved by Jehiel b. Asher and by his son Jacob (Ṭur, Oraḥ Ḥayyim, 95), and by Samson b. Zadok and others who followed the authority of Hai Gaon and other geonim (see the literature in "Bet Yosef" to Ṭur, l.c.). The ritual appealed especially to cabalists, such as Isaiah Horowitz andIsaac Luria, who recommended the selection of a white cock with reference to Isa. i. 18, and who found other mystic allusions in the prescribed formulas. Consequently the practise became general among the Jews of eastern Europe (see Isserles, "Darke Mosheh" on Ṭur, l.c.), and the word "kapparah," as a connotation for a thing that is sacrificed, is quite prominent in the Judæo-German dialect (see Tendlau, "Sprichwörter und Redensarten," 1860, No. 198).

Sacrificed by an Elder.

As the reason for the particular preference for a chicken as a vicarious offering, it is stated by the Geonim (quoted by Asheri on Yoma viii., No. 23) that it was suggested by the use of the Aramaic word "geber" for both "man" and "cock." Some rich people, however, would occasionally take a ram instead, with reference to the ram of Isaac (Gen. xxii. 13). It appears, moreover, from the passage last cited that originally a "sheliaḥ" (="an elect officer of the community") officiated as the atoning priest at the ceremony. Accordingly a saint or elder of mystic power is still recommended for the purpose in "Kol Bo," lxviii.

Another and apparently an older practise in geonic times was that of planting beans or peas in palm-leaf baskets for each child in the house two or three weeks before the New-Year. Then on the day before New-Year the children would swing the baskets containing the ripened plants around their heads three times, saying, "This be in lieu of me; this be my substitute and my exchange," and would then throw them into the water (Rashi, Shab. 81b). This is obviously a survival of the pagan rite connected with the so-called "Adonis gardens," Ἀδώνιδος κῆποι = "niṭ'e na'amanim" (Isa. xvii. 10; see Marti's and other commentaries). In Solomon b. Adret's time the kapparot ceremony was performed for the youths only (see "Bet Yosef," l.c.). According to S. I. Curtiss, "Primitive Semitic Religion To-Day," p. 203, Chicago, 1902, the Moslems of the villages of the Syrian desert still sacrifice a cock for each new-born son and a hen for each daughter born.

Common practise has established the rule that in case chickens can not be procured, geese or fish or even plants may take their place; but doves or other animals that were brought upon the altar of the Temple should not be used (Abraham Abele, in "Magen Abraham"; Shulḥan 'Aruk, Oraḥ Ḥayyim, l.c.).

  • M. Brück, Rabbinische Ceremonialgebräuche, pp. 25-30, Breslau, 1837.
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