Hundreds of Ultra-Orthodox Jews in New York City flocked together this week to perform Kaporos, the ritual slaughtering of chickens for Yom Kippur.
Considered one of the most important holidays on the Jewish calendar, Yom Kippur is a time for Jews around the world to take stock of their sins and ask for forgiveness from God.
The New York City borough of Brooklyn has one of the highest populations of Orthodox Jews in the world, outside of Israel. For these faithful, Kaporos is an essential part of their religious practice.
Believers grab hold of a live chicken and swing the clucking animal three times around their heads, symbolically asking God to transfer their sins to the birds. The chickens' throats are slit with a sharp knife, and the meat is then donated to the poor.
"The whole idea of atonement is to bring your heart. And when you do this, and a live being is going to die instead of your heart, it makes you more passionate. That's why we use the animal,” Suffolk County Hasidic Rabbi Berel Sasonkin told the Gothamist.
But for outsiders, it’s a hard tradition to understand.
On Tuesday in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Crown Heights, about 40 animal rights activists picketed the ceremony with signs, screaming out, “Murderers!”
“It violates Jewish teachings requiring compassion for animals,” Karen Davis, president of United Poultry Concerns, told The New York Daily News. “This is really an affront to Judaism.”
Davis claims that last year, 2,000 roosters died in their crowded cages, after being left starving and exposed to the elements for days.
And instead of being donated, some chickens are merely thrown into garbage bags and shipped to landfills, The News reports.
"I just don’t know what kind of compassionate God would be okay with it,” Jenny Brown, manager of a farm animal sanctuary, told Gothamist.
Other protesters asked the Jewish believers to use money instead of chickens during the ritual -- which is a common alternative.
But the Jews who practice kaporos claim it’s they have a right to practice their religion in the way they see fit.
Avi Shafran, a spokesman for the Agudath Israel of America, pointed out that chickens regularly face similarly gruesome fates inside factory farms.
“We think animal rights activists would better expend their energies by focusing on Butterball, not Borough Park,” Shafran said.