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Religious ritual 1, chickens 0

(RNS) A state court rules Orthodox Jews may swing chickens before slitting their throats in a pre-Yom Kippur ritual.

People participate in the Jewish religious holiday of Kaporos in the Brooklyn borough of New York City, on Oct. 9, 2016. Photo courtesy of Reuters/Stephanie Keith

(RNS) A group seeking to end the ritual slaughter of thousands of chickens in New York City’s Brooklyn borough has suffered a legal setback.

The Alliance to End Chickens as Kaporos asked the New York state courts to order local police to enforce public nuisance, safety and health codes to prevent Orthodox Jews from engaging in “kaporot,” the annual ritual slaughter of barnyard chickens.

In a decision on Tuesday (June 6), five New York Supreme Court justices said they could not compel police to enforce laws that require the discretion and personal judgment of officers.

They also reinforced the religious rights of those who practice kaporot.

“(A)lthough they may be upsetting to nonadherents of such (a) practice, the United States Supreme Court has recognized animal sacrifice as a religious sacrament and decided that it is protected under the Free Exercise Clause of the Constitution,” the decision states.

Kaporot is performed in the 10 days between Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement and the most holy day of the year to many Jews. In the ritual, men, women and children swing a white chicken — a sign of purity — above their heads three times as they pray for their sins to be transferred to the chicken.

Then the chicken is slaughtered in a kosher manner by slitting its throat. The meat — or the monetary equivalent — is donated to the poor.

The alliance, a project of United Poultry Concerns, an animal rights organization based in Virginia, has tried for several years to end kaporot, in which it says thousands of chickens die cruelly and violently. The group would like participating Jews to substitute money, as a charitable donation, or a nonanimal object in the ritual.

The alliance has been unsuccessful in preventing kaporot in Southern California, too.

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