Tag Archives: High Holy Days

The Kapparot Ceremony with Money


Liturgy and cruelty-free guide to the traditional expiation ceremony

It seems like every year I have a discussion with several people about kapparot – the ceremony commonly understood as an expiation of sins. Most commonly with a chicken, which to many of us makes this ceremony seems like a sharp reminder of the old days of Temple animal sacrifice.

Kapparot Ceremony WoodcutAt this time, I don’t really think I need to fully explore the history or debate the ethics of this practice. As that is well written about. Nor would it even be helpful for me to join in the complaining about this tradition, which is not going away. Instead I feel that I must do something more practical, and provide the tools that people need for the most compassionate alternative. Instead of deriding a custom, I alternatively choose to help redeem and elevate it for us.

I am not at all unfamiliar with the practice. I have been around the fervently Orthodox and Haredi long enough to understand it, see it and to not judge people for their minhag. However, I have never myself felt comfortable with performing the ritual with chickens. Nor have I ever felt the need to perform it with a bird. No one has ever tried to compel me or my peers. As our tradition does offer well-known alternatives: either the use of a fish or money, in place of a white chicken. In this piece we will explore the use of money for this ritual.

The guide at the bottom of this page presents the traditional text of the kapparot ceremony with the proper wording necessary for using money in the ritual. For the ease of user the text is presented in Hebrew and translated into English, with transliteration of the key words of the ceremony. No more guessing what to say, and which words to replace! It also comes along with clear instructions and a guide to the kavannah (the inner intention, the meditation) of the ritual.

* Consider our Tradition: *

Kapparot is a deep-seated custom for many. It dates back to the period of the Geonim – the period of Jewish geniuses stretching from the late-sixth to the early eleventh-century of the common era, in Babylon. Often explained to us as being originally based up a tradition of the Persians Jews, today in the west it is most commonly associated with Chassidic and Haredi Judaism. As it is said to be a tradition encouraged by the ARI z”l, it is commonly observed among the followers of kabbalistic mysticism in both the Ashkenazi and Sephardi communities.

According to the traditional custom, one takes a white chicken – a rooster for a man, a hen for a woman, and at least one of each gender bird for a pregnant woman. During the ritual the bird is swung three (3) cycles over the head. The bird is then ritually slaughtered, and the blood of the animal is covered over with dirt as a solemn and rare mitzvah using the bracha (“Baruchal kisui hadam be’afar). Covered over as a sign of reverence, commanded by Torah. (Leviticus 17:13)

This ritual brings on shock and awe in the most unnerving fashion. And that is what it’s designed to do. To remind people of the frailty of life, of how mortal we are. And reminding us how sin can lead to our untimely death.

What kapparot is not, it is not an easy way to unload our sins. It is not a short-cut to atonement, as our rabbis remind us. It is a sobering reminder, of the specter of sin and death in our lives. But true atonement is achieved through t’shuvah – sincere repentance; with prayer and fasting, with mitzvot and good deeds. (see Isaiah ch. 1) This act is a dramatic reminder of our need to do t’shuvah, and a way of engaging a person in G’milut Chasadim – acts of loving-kindness – before Yom Kippur.

Following the custom, one is to prepare the bird and give it to the poor of the community. In this act, also alleviating need among those within the community, providing charitable meals during this sacred season.

However, over time as people began to centrally urbanize, it became much less possible for many communities to sustain this tradition with chickens; getting so many live and appropriate birds was not always possible. And furthermore, rushing to perform so many of these kosher slaughters before the holiday often left a lot of problems with improper attention being paid to shechitah to proper kosher slaughtering practices. For this reason many communities began to use money in place of the birds. Money which could be given to the poor to fulfill this mitzvah.

More and more people today have begun to use money. Indeed many people, because of reasons of sensitivity or personal ethics, have begun to use money in place of chickens. To focus on the bright side of tzedakah, as opposed to the carnality of slaughter.

But some might say, how does this connect us to old tradition? How can this bring us remembrance of mortality? Why should we use money instead?

And we can even ask, what additional and greater benefit is it to perform kapparot by this method? It is because such an act as this is one of G’milut Chasadim – one of loving-kindness, an act which is said to be superior to even the tzedakah (charity) itself:

Our Rabbis taught: In three respects is Gmilut Chasadim – acts of Loving-kindness – are greater than tzedakah – charity. Charity can be done only with one’s money, but Gmilut Chasadim can be done with one’s person [through acts] and with one’s money. Charity can be given only to the poor, Gmilut Chasadim both to the rich and the poor. Charity can be given to the living only, Gmilut Chasadim can be done both to the living and to the dead. [e.g. burying the dead, attending a funeral, etc.]

תנו רבנן: בשלשה דברים גדולה גמילות חסדים יותר מן הצדקה, צדקה בממונו, גמילות חסדים בין בגופו בין בממונו. צדקה לעניים, גמילות חסדים בין לעניים בין לעשירים. צדקה לחיים, גמילות חסדים בין לחיים בין למתים.

תלמוד בבלי, סוכה מט

Talmud Bavli, Sukkah 49b

I ask this year, and going forward, that many more of you choose to start their acts of G’milut Chasadim with true chesed – with pure kindness and mercy, and use money as kapparot. Showing kindness towards living animals, and giving as an act of kindness towards our fellow-man.


KapparotPage

The following documents are fully Open Source and free for redistribution, reproduction and editing. As a working and living project, I encourage people to make suggestions on how to improve this text. I also encourage you to personalize this text for you or your community’s needs. You may download the text here in either Open Office of PDF format:

Download: Kapparot Ceremony with Money (PDF)

Editable Document: Kapparot Ceremony with Money (ODT, Open Office format)

This is a project of Hardcore Mesorah, in cooperation with the Open Siddur Project’. I am the original transcriber of this liturgy “Seder Kapparot with Money” and translator/author of its accompanying instructional text. I am licensing the liturgical transcriptions and translations within it under the Creative Commons Zero License, and the instructions with the Creative Commons By Attribution license. Attribution may be given as ‘Contributors to the Open Siddur Project’, with the transcriber/translators name Shmuel Gonzales included in the contributors list.” September 2014 – Tishrei 5775 (First Release)


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Honey: The Sweetness of the High Holidays (Video)


Are you ready for the sweetness of the high holidays? Want to add a touch of sweetness to your holiday experience? We have previously discussed this during our look at how honey is traditionally used to symbolize the sweetness of this holidays season, we dip our challah in honey from Rosh haShanah through Sukkot.

In preparation for the New Year our friends have asked me to give a brief word about the High Holidays. I wanted to take on this material in a new video, to help us keep this season of celebration and reflection sweet from beginning to end.

Blended Honey: This generally means that it is mixed with Corn Syrup or Sugar. This label shows that an unspecified majority of this product is made of fake sugars.

Blended Honey: This generally means that it is mixed with Corn Syrup or Sugar. This label shows that an unspecified majority of this product is made of fake sugars.

In addition, I would also like to give everyone advice for selecting honey.

In the past couple decades we have been seeing an increase of fake honey flooding the market. Please be aware that in many countries the words “honey” and “syrup” are used interchangeably (example:  miel  and marmelada in Spanish), which is very ambiguous. However for our purposed in performing a mitzvah we want the real stuff.

For cost saving measures and to simplify the processing of table honey, many brands have gone to blending honey with high fructose corn syrup and/or sugar with food coloring. Others have been stripped of their natural, nutrient giving pollen. Even worse yet, in Israel there has even been many cases of fake honey syrup being sold to the public. Make sure to always buy only 100% pure and natural honey with an appropriate kosher certification, and always check the label’s listing of ingredients to make sure it’s not blended. Please see the following articles which give us some good insight into modern issues relating to honey production:


Neilah: Closing the Gates of Repentance


Reflections on Forgiveness from the Yom Kippur Amidah

Neilah

Like most people, I am also battling my body and my will during this fast day of Yom haKippurim. It is a long day, being one of the few full day-long fasts in our calendar. This is especially rare this year, as this very solemn day of rest is also paired with the weekly Sabbath day of rest. Normally we do not fasts on Shabbat. However as our tradition considers this day of atonement a thing of pure joy, the regular festive meals are suspended as we feast on some deep prayers and reflections.

And during this holiday we certainly have many helpings of prayers. This holiday of Yom haKippurim – the day of atonements – we recite our central prayer duty, the Amidah no less that five times (Ma’ariv, Shacharit, Mussaf, Minchah, and Neilah).

I am sitting here considering the words of the final prayer, the Neilah – the closing of the gates of teshuvah (repentance) and heaven. I would like us to explore the concept of atonement, through the aid of this prayer and the scriptural context from which it is drawn.

The liturgy reads as follows:

“Our G-d and the G-d of our forefathers, forgive us our wrongdoings, on this Shabbat day and on this Day of Atonements, on this day of pardoning of sin, on this day of assembly; wipe away and remove our transgressions and sins from before Your eyes, as it is stated: ‘I, just I, am He who wipes away your transgressions. For My own sake, I will not recall.’ (Isaiah 43:25)”

אלהינו ואלהי אבותינו מחול לעונותינו ביום השבת הזה וביום הכפרים הזה ביום סליחת העון הזה ביום מקרא קדש הזה מחה והעבר פשעינו וחטאתינו מנגד עיניך כאמור: אנכי אנכי הוא מחה פשעיך למעני וחטאתיך לא אזכר:

Fifth Amidah, Neilah for Yom Kippur

Here we are asking G-d, for the last time, to forgive our avonoteinu – our wrongdoings. To wipe away our p’shaeinu v’chatoteinu – our transgressions and our sins. This prayer is an important one to me, because neilah is always a tearjerker. It has full urgency, as it is our last chance to repent. We don’t want to get left outside of the gates of repentance. But at the same time it comes with all the exhilaration of accomplishment for those who engage it. All the senses are firing at once.

I would like us to look at the basics of why we go through this process at all. We will find the answer provided for us straightaway, here during the height of the High Holy Days, during the pinnacle of our celebration here in the Neilah prayer. There is one simple point that drives this holiday. We do all this simply because G-d wants to forgive us. We aren’t trying to necessarily convince G-d to forgive us, its has more to do with us getting in-line with the spirit of atonement and the theme of forgiveness for ourselves.

One of the reasons that this holiday is so hard to explain to outsiders is that the world often has a very different message about atonement, as does the common culture. In most religions its it is most often about who you go through to get redemption, or more precisely who does it for you. Who is this leader that either commands G-d’s recognition of his pardon, or who is the man who sacrifices himself to pay off your moral dept. How can we repent without such a person? When we say we are atoning the big question is, “Who is going to forgive you? Who atones for you?”

This kind of perplexes us Jews. Because as reasoning people, and knowing the Torah, we understand that the true way to atone is to ask forgiveness from the people that we have sinned against and to remedy the wrong. We have been doing this work of teshuvah (repentance), revisiting the situation and setting it right, for some weeks now. We aren’t atoning by asking G-d to forgive our interpersonal wrongs, nor our lapses in ethics. That we must do for ourselves, with the people affected.

Hopefully at this point most of our ethical and moral issues have been dealt with and considered. So why is it so heartfelt for us at this point in the service? Why does it shake us in such a way through to our very core? This is because what we are dealing with now is the issues that are between us and G-d, and between us and ourselves. Often times these prayers of Yom Kippur are heavy with prayers of forgiveness for the wrongs that we have done against ourselves and G-d alone. The things deep inside of us that need to be settled, the places that are tremendously hard to reach and painful to touch. Things that can only be settled on a heart-level.

As we approach this prayer I would hope that we can say it with all joy, because we have remedied our wrong deeds and are ready to stand atoned and forgiven. We should feel overcome by a sense of relief. Why should we stand upright now with a sense of celebration and awe? It is because we can stand forgiven if we chose to make it so today! Who is the guarantor of this pardon that we should acknowledge it?

Our prayer draws from the words of the prophet Isaiah:

“I,

I am the One who

blots our your transgressions

for My sake,

and your sins I will not remember.”

אָנֹכִי |

אָנֹכִי הוּא |

מֹחֶה פְשָׁעֶיךָ, |

לְמַעֲנִי: |

וְחַטֹּאתֶיךָ, לֹא אֶזְכֹּר: |

Isaiah 43:25

G-d declares to us that He is the one that forgives our sins, it is He alone. And He does this “l’maani / for My own sake.” Just because He wants to! What of the guilt of our sins? Of our sin’s, He says that He chooses to remember them no more.

The text of the prophet Isaiah from where this is drawn actually gives us a good look into not only why G-d wants to forgiveness us in this way, but also why it is important for us to set a day for atonement aside. This verse can be found in the paragraph of Isaiah 43:22-28.

For a moment G-d calls out to us, like a long-lost parents during the holidays. You can hear the almost distinctive tone of a Jewish mother in the voice of G-d here. You haven’t called on me or even bothered to remember me. You haven’t troubled yourself on account of Me, G-d says. Even more interestingly, He starts out by saying in verse 22 that “v’lo oti karata / you haven’t called out to me,” not even when you needed help. That is so like us, to call out only when we need something, so He mentions that form of outcry first. But here G-d is calling out to people who don’t even have the impulse in them for that. Rashi says instead they called out to idols to help them. That’s how distance the relationship has become for some.

G-d also calls out something remarkable to us. He calls out to the people who haven’t been bothered to offer sacrifice. People who haven’t bothered to offer any offerings up for G-d. What is so astounding about this verse is that even as it accuses the people of not sacrificing or giving offerings, G-d says, “I have not burdened you with grain offerings, nor wearied you with incense offerings.” (v.23) In this verse Rashi take the tone a little more directly for us at this point, saying that G-d indeed has not burdened us, in fact even the grain offerings of the Temple itself only required a mere handful. Of being wearied, Rashi chimes on how quickly we can grow tired of our service before Him. We are too tired to care, even when all He is asking is that we show a pinch of conviction and regard in our daily lives.

In the next verse we see the theme follow in the same tone. We have not bothered G-d with our offerings of money and sweet cane, nor have fat meats for offerings been brought; but the people have instead burdened Him with their sins, and wearied G-d with our many wrongdoing we commit. We just can’t be bothered sometimes, except when it comes to doing wrong.  (v.24)

And it is in this context that G-d takes the higher grounds and says to us, “I, even I erase your transgressions for My sake, and your sins I will not remember.” (v.25) G-d thus offers us His means for atonement and pardon. It is He that initiates and calls us to the table to discuss whom has been wronged in this game of life. He calls “hazikraini,” He is calling out, “Remember Me!” He challenges us, “nisaftah yachad / let us reason together.” G-d asks us to consider ourselves and our role in this universe, and the role G-d and our own will both play in our existence. He calls us to saper, to lay it all out and take a true accounting, so that in the end we can come to a just resolution. He calls to you and me. That you may be, “l’maan titz’dak / that you may be accounted just.” (v.26)

And this is really what the majority of the Yom haKippurim is spent doing. Not just feeling penitent for our wrongs, but also focusing on how to “titz’dak,” how to get right. Even if we are already right with other people, sometimes we aren’t exactly right with ourselves and G-d yet. We hold the weight of guilt and shame hanging our shoulders. The pressure of all kinds of wrongs and moral failures that we are grieved over, for which we still hold ourselves accountable for. But we are asked to give it up, because G-d wants to relieve us of that for His own sake.  Just because He wants to, because He thinks it’s best for you to live a life free and justified in your own being. G-d doesn’t want to remember anymore, and neither should you. These words in neilah are one last chance to deliver this message.

For me these are some of the reasons the prayers of neilah are so beautiful. It drives such a beautiful message home for us: Not only do we need to seek out atonement, but we also need to be willing to accept forgiveness for ourselves.

As we approach neilah I would ask us all to just hold on through one more prayer service. We are almost there, we can see the finish line. Put all your energy into the final stretch of this marathon of teshuvah (repentance). As we come together for this last tefillah and service before Hashem, let us fully embrace this prayer with equal joy and awe. And with confidence, knowing that our heartfelt prayers of repentance and atonement have been heard. We can now let these gates close, our work is done. So raise your voices high, this is just an encore!


Parshat Haazinu (2013)


Deuteronomy 32:1 – 32:52

Rosh haShanah as a Day of Remembrance

Jewish Learning with two boysI write this lesson after a full week of celebration, only now getting around to write out the lesson for this past week’s parsha. But its message has been working in my heart. This is one of our last Torah portions for the year, as we are getting close to completing Sefer Devarim – the Book of Deuteronomy. We will soon end our Torah cycle again, and renew our studies after the High Holy days with Sefer Bereishit – the Book of Genesis, the start of our scriptures. Our week was cut short by the coming of Rosh haShanah, with our weekly readings seeming to be taking second fiddle to holiday readings for now. But even this gives us a great chance to reflect more upon our lessons.

I would like us to begin, starting with our second aliyah – the second section of our Torah reading:

“Remember the days

of the age long gone by,

ponder the years of each generation;

ask your father,

and he will declare unto you,

your elders and they will tell you.”

| Zechor yemot

| olam

| binu shnot dor-vador

| she’al avicha

| veyagedcha

| zekeneicha veyomru lach

Deuteronomy 32:7

As we begin to go about our activities of the holiday season, with all its festivities and visiting with our loved ones, it can be a bit overwhelming. Of course I love the season. But some people get a bit tuckered out by all the services and family events. Sometimes its a bit overwhelming for some people. For some it is because it is the only time of year they are religious, it comes quickly and hits them like a tidal-wave. I don’t judge anyone, I just know how awkward it can be when you are out of practice. I’ve been there.

This year I’ve been so happy to see how many of my friends have been going out of their way to observe the holidays. Many returning to shul after some time of being away. But for as many people as I’ve complimented for coming out of their comfort zone and engaging the holiday, I have also heard people modestly downplay their observance as them merely using the occasion to visit their family. I have to tell you, even this alone is praiseworthy according to our Torah.

The Torah tells us that we are to zechor – to remember – the distant and far off past, the days of ages gone by. This stands out to me as a poignant call during this season of Rosh haShanah – the head of the year, the Jewish civil New Year.

This holidays we call by the classical name Yom haZikaron haZeh – or This Day of Remembrance, or “this memorial day.” Though we do have a modern Israeli holiday called Yom haZikaron (Memorial Day), in our classical prayers and siddurim this only refers to Rosh haShanah. This is because the bible first identifies it this way, a day of rest called a “zikeron teruah / a memorial of the sound of the shofar.” (Leviticus 23:24) This is because the ram’s horn is continuously blown to call us to attention and teshuvah (repentance) during this season, that part we understand. But why do we call it a “zikaron,” a memorial day? How does one make it a mikra kodesh – a holy convocation?

I believe one of the best ways of doing that is by visiting our family and loved ones, because it fulfills a very special mitzvah that we can see revealed here in this Torah portion.

I have always loved spending time with my grandparents. As a matter of fact, in my childhood I always had a tendency to prefer the company of my older relatives and their senior citizen friends. Hanging around their events they would teach me their hobbies, dances and sayings. I even learned to Jitterbug and play cards this way. But what I always loved most was hearing their stories. Their upbringing and youth, the war that shattered it all apart, then the rebuilding and the prosperity that came to follow. They taught me how to remember, they brought the past to life for me in the most vivid ways they could. Just spending time with them I would step back into their experience, playing their records, seeing their pictures, sharing their memories, and relating to their hopes.

When we talk about remembering most often we think of G-d remembering things during this season. We consider how G-d calls to remembrance our deeds and words, which He weighs on this Day of Judgment that we annually observe on Rosh haShanah. Likewise we also appeal to G-d that He remember our ancestors and extend mercy and blessing to us in their merit, we do this during the saying of the Zichronot (remembrances) of the Rosh haShanah Mussaf Amidah. In this piece of liturgy we remind G-d that our ancestors were remarkable people whom He showed mercy for, so may He do so towards us.

We rarely give much credit to the level of remembrance that us people can and should also be engaging ourselves in during this season. In this verse above that we are looking at from our parsha, we see another special way that zichronot can be observed. By reflecting on the years and seasons past, and by engaging our ancestors and elders in this reflecting.

That’s not to say that all our interactions with our kinsfolk are always the neatest and most uplifting experience. Sometimes visits come with pain as we see how our loved ones age and struggle with new challenges in their lives. Sometimes the difficulty comes from us running into those naturally crotchety family members that always have tragic history and scars to exhibit. That is just the realities and composition of any family. But in all these things, be they joyful or misty-eyed chronicles, we have something to glean from their stories and experiences

Actually according to Rashi this is precisely why we should take the time talk to our elders, because they can enlighten the path of life for us with their observations and accounts. And yes, sometimes it will be negative and hard to handle the truth of the past. Rashi points out in his commentary that he believes that zechor means to remember what G-d did to past generations to those who provoked Him. Rashi calls to remembrance the generations of Enosh and Noah that were destroyed by the waters as an act of divine judgment. About the times when people did wrong and they caused destruction for themselves and others. The words of wisdom of our elders helps us prevent tragedies to come and also readies us to face those for which we cannot avoid.

We take their stories in stride as we hear about the past and their reflections of life’s journey, because we recognize that those who have gone before are truly extraordinary people. That their lessons of their experiences ought to be recognized. Often our challenges pale in comparison to anything they experienced, and yet they survived with a fortitude and wisdom that we should also hope to be able to display under pressure.

I find the alternative explanation by Rashi to also be fascinating. He also offers us a suggestion for what we should do if we are not able to, for what ever reason, reflect on these ancestral lessons of the terrible past. His continuing commentary reads:

“Another explanation is: [If] you have not set your hearts to the past, then ‘reflect upon the years of generations,’ i.e., to recognize the future, that He has a better future for you; and to give you as an inheritance the days of Mashiach (the Messiah) and the world-to-come.” [Sifrei 32:6]

דבר אחר לא נתתם לבבכם על שעבר. בינו שנות דור ודור להכיר להבא שיש בידו להיטיב לכם ולהנחיל לכם ימות המשיח והעולם הבא:

Rashi on Deuteronomy 32:7

Rashi seems to be aware that there are many people, who for reason of sensitivity or trauma, find it hard to reflect on the past. It stirs up all kinds of issues for some of us. However, Rashi says that if this is not possible for us to take the past to heart, we should instead set our hearts upon future hopes. Listen to our fathers and elders for their words of promise. Engross ourselves in their stories of great feats and pioneering that will feed our vision for the future and offer us guidance for embarking on new frontiers. Rashi says but if our hearts can’t handle the past, then we should set our sights on the messianic-age; on the goal of a rectified planet and society, and the hopes a world-to-come. There is a better future for us!

I understand that for many people, there are other emotional hardships that might come to mind during this holiday season. Some of us may have moved far from our families, or our parents might have passed away, or for what ever reason we don’t have the benefit of familial ties to rely upon. There aren’t always those guiding and inspiring voices present in our lives. And sometimes this reality and the pain of it comes to mind during the holiday seasons more noticeably.

Rashi contends that we do not have to feel alone. We are not fatherless, we are not without the benefit of strong paternal guidance for those who need it. Rashi says that just as the young Elisha followed the words of the prophet Elijah and therefore called him “avi, avi / my father, my father,” (2 Kings 2:12) the prophets are paternal voices for us. And in the absence of our clan elders, who else can we turn to? Rashi declares that even yet the chachamim – our sages, scholars and rabbis – they are our elders and mentors. We can find comfort in the written heritage of our people, and we can find guidance through the teachings of those masters of Torah that help give these lessons a life application for our own lives. No matter how deprived we might feel at times when left on our own, we need to take heart the reality that we are still inheritors of a great tradition that does not abandon us. It’s always as close as a memory and as accessible as a folk saying.

During these weeks I would like you to consider the lessons that your grandmother would touch your heart with, and the words of courage that your grandfather would embolden you with. Draw close to your relatives, and your spiritual family as well. Don’t downplay, and thus dismiss and neglect, the merit in connecting to other people who understand you and whose lessons will ring true in your own heart. Let us spend these days of awe and celebration engaging in remembering the stores of years gone by, and telling hopeful tales of better days to come. Regarding the extraordinary people from which we come and the potential we have inherited.

Our getting together with people we love and respect is not just quaint congregating. It is a mikra kodesh, a holy convocation. In this way we fulfill a mitzvah and also bring fullness to Yom haZikaron haZeh – This Day of Remembrance.

Shavah tova!


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