MANHATTAN (CN) – One year after attempting to stop the practice in a Brooklyn court, opponents of a Hasidic ritual slaughter asked a Manhattan judge to force the city to save the chickens before Yom Kippur.
Borough Heights resident Rina Deych, a 59-year-old nurse, recounted in a phone interview how she thought her Orthodox Jewish grandfather had been sharing stories from the “Middle Ages” when he spoke of the ritual of kaporos.
Not mincing words, her lawsuit in Manhattan Supreme Court describes the practice as “felony animal abuse” and “torture.”
“The ritual involves practitioners grasping live chickens by their wings and swinging them above the practitioner’s heads,” the 43-page complaint states. “The purpose of this act is allegedly to transfer the practitioners’ sins to the birds. After violently swinging the birds, the chickens’ throats are then slit, allegedly absolving the participants of their sins.”
Deych, who is a registered nurse, says that her activism opposing the practice spans “decades.”
She co-founded the Alliance to End Chickens as Kaporos five years ago with eight others, including the president of Jewish Vegetarians of North America, the leader of United Poultry Concerns, and Hasidic Rabbi Yonassan Gershom.
Using the Hebrew word for Jewish law, Deych said it was “perfectly halakhically acceptable” to substitute the birds with coins in observing kaporos.
Though the group originally took to Kings County Supreme Court with their claims late last year, that case floundered because of procedural issues.
Speaking about the new July 2 lawsuit, the alliance’s attorney said that the ritual slaughter violates several state and local statutes and health codes.
“You can’t break the law and claim religious freedom,” Nora Marino, an attorney based in Great Neck, N.Y., said in a phone interview.
Creating a “public health hazard,” kaporos participants erect “make-shift slaughterhouses on the public streets and sidewalks on the city of New York,” the new complaint states.
“Dead chickens, half dead chickens, chicken blood, chicken feathers, chicken urine, chicken feces, other toxins, and garbage such as used latex gloves and filthy tarps consume the public streets,” it continues. “There is no oversight and no remedy for toxic contaminant-filled debris or cleanup.”
Marino said that her clients retained toxicologist Michael McCabe, from the firm Robson Forensic, to support the lawsuit’s claims regarding the public-health threat.
“The events involved in Kaporos constitute a substantial public health risk that could have catastrophic and epidemic consequences,” the complaint states.
Deych says that she has observed this in her own career.
“As a registered nurse, I was very upset to find blood and feathers and children holding diseased animals,” she said. “It’s a very unhealthy situation.”
With Yom Kippur expected to fall on the evening of Sept. 22 this year, weather can also be a concern.
“This usually happens when it’s quite warm outside, so the entire neighborhood is like a Petri dish,” Deych added.
The complaint alleges that kaporos violates six sections of New York City health codes, four sections of New York state agricultural statutes, and various other laws and regulations.
The 19-count complaint names New York City, the NYPD, and nearly 20 other religious leaders and congregations as defendants.
The Alliance to End Chickens as Kaporos seeks an order of mandamus “preventing the NYPD and city defendants from aiding and abetting the affiliate defendants to engage in illegal acts.”
A spokesman for the New York City Law Department said the city will review the complaint.
National Committee for Furtherance of Jewish Education, one of the defendants, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
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