On July 30, PETA sent a letter, a video and still photographs to Dr. Thomas Friedan, NYC's commissioner of health. PETA is concerned about the handling of chickens during the kapporot ritual held every fall during the week before Yom Kippur. Of special concern is the large kapparot factory set up in Crown Heights.
The letter was supposed to remain private. Someone of Friedan's staff or the staff's of the cc'd office holders leaked the letter to the rabbis, who tipped VIN. (A quick look at the cc'd office holders will show you that Brooklyn's DA, Charles Hynes, received the letter, the video and the photographs. Hynes runs an especially porous office, although the leak could have come from any of the recipients, especially from Rabbi Weiss, head of Kosher Law Enforcement for the city.)
PETA alleges unsanitary conditions, violations of health and other regulations and poor animal handling – some of which violates the law.
I watched the video (it was just put up online less than 2 hours ago. You can view it here.) I think PETA's strongest case is made regarding the unsanitary conditions and violations of local and state law. The handling of the animals by the people using them for kapporot largely seems fine to me. But the handling of the animals before and after kapporot by the staff leaves much to be desired.
PETA notes animals are often left for days without food or water, and rejected animals are simply left caged to die of dehydration.
VosIzNeais, the Satmar news blog known mostly for ripping off hundreds of stories from newspapers and publishing them without attribution or links, was given the story by Brooklyn rabbis. VIN implies incorrectly that PETA wants to force Jews to replace kapport done with live chickens with kapporot done with money. But the letter, reprinted in full after the jump below, does not make this claim. Then VIN reports:
Rabbanim of all sects are greatly alarmed and have called for an emergency, mass asifah for this upcoming week.
To make sure the masses are inflamed, the "rabbonim" are also linking this to Dr. Friedan's attempt to regulate metzitza b'peh, the oral-to-genital-suction done by the mohel on the baby's open circumcision wound.
The mass demonstration will no doubt ensure the unnecessary cruelty and health violations of all types continue unabated.
July 30, 2007
Thomas R. Frieden, M.D., M.P.H., Commissioner
New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene
125 Worth St.
New York, NY 10013
RE: Cruelty-to-Animals and Health Violations During the Kapporos Ritual in Brooklyn, N.Y.
A video (9 minutes, 11 seconds) and still photos are enclosed. The footage was taken in October 2005 and September 2006 in Crown Heights, N.Y.
Dear Mr. Frieden:
Kapporos is a religious slaughter ritual performed in the ultra-Orthodox/Hasidic Jewish community the week before Yom Kippur. Thousands of chickens are roughly handled in the largest kapporos ceremony in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, and then sacrificed in a makeshift slaughter area on a public street. The slaughtered chickens are later trucked back to a processing facility to be prepared as food. These massive slaughters have been taking place without any apparent regulation or enforcement.
Because of the mounting incidents of cruelty to animals recorded on video and published in media reports as well as the public health hazards involved in operating a de facto slaughterhouse on a busy urban street, the issuing and conditions of any permits for the kapporos ritual must be examined. It is a serious health concern that children handle live, feces-covered, and possibly diseased chickens and wade through the blood of slaughtered poultry. The risk of communicable avian diseases and bacterial contamination is alarming, and the inhumane treatment and mishandling of animals at every stage of the process must be prevented. Below is a full description of violations and concerns pertaining to sanitation (regarding human health and food safety) as well as cruelty to animals during transportation, handling, and ritual slaughter.
Note: The next kapporos slaughter period is scheduled for the week between Monday, September 17, and Friday, September 21, 2007. The largest kapporos event takes place near the intersection of Eastern Parkway and Kingston Avenue in Crown Heights, Brooklyn.
We are writing to you in advance to request that measures be taken to ensure that any communities or congregations participating in poultry slaughter for kapporos are in full compliance with all municipal, state, and federal laws. We also request that a methodical enforcement plan be developed.
It is important to note that there is no religious requirement for slaughtering chickens on kapporos and that most Modern Orthodox Jewish congregations do not practice this form of the ritual. Even Chabad Lubavitch—the organization behind the largest kapporos street slaughter event—sanctions, on its Web site, alternatives to chicken slaughter for kapporos, including symbolic sacrifices, such as donating money to charity. Although PETA would prefer that chickens not be slaughtered, we do request that authorities insist that basic animal welfare laws be strictly observed and health codes be strictly enforced during the practice of this ritual.
To this end, we urge you to consult with Dr. Joe Regenstein from Cornell Univ ersity, who is a specialist on kosher and halal foods, and Dr. Temple Grandin, who is a world-renowned expert on animal welfare and slaughter methods in particular. Both have written extensively about kosher slaughter and serve on the Animal Welfare Technical Committee of the Food Marketing Institute and the National Council of Chain Restaurants. Through this process, we hope that clear standards and increased scrutiny and enforcement along with education will minimize the negligence and egregious conduct seen in previous years. We have already been in contact with Dr. Regenstein on this matter, and he is eager to help your departments develop clear guidelines for kapporos that will ensure that organizers are in legal compliance without conflicting with the religious components of this ritual. He commented that, at this point, the practices that he observed in the enclosed video are not even up to the basic standards of the National Chicken Council, the United Egg Producers, and the American Meat Institute.
Dr. Regenstein can be reached at:
In 2006, Dr. Regenstein attempted to set up a private discussion with Yossi Fraenkel, the organizer of the large kapporos ceremony in Crown Heights, in an effort to discuss Dr. Regenstein's plan to improve practices and ensure that the event is in full compliance. However, Mr. Fraenkel declined. If necessary, Mr. Fraenkel can be reached at:
Please also note that the Community Council of Brooklyn representative we spoke with cited that, in her long tenure at the office, the only permits required for kapporos organizers (that she is aware of) have been for Dumpster disposal. During the 2005 and 2006 kapporos ceremonies in Crown Heights, there was no visible presence of any enforcement/inspection officials—city, state or federal—to oversee transportation, handling, slaughter, and sanitation, and the only police activity was to block off intersections.
Below is a comprehensive list of health concerns and cruelty violations filmed at the 2005 and 2006 kapporos events in Crown Heights. A videotape of this footage is also enclosed for your review.
Alleged Cruelty Violations
Chickens—while still conscious in the bleeding-out cones, where they are placed immediately following the ritual-cut slaughter—had their heads pulled off by teenagers who were working in the slaughter area.
Bleeding-out cones (i.e., cut-off traffic cones) were too small, and many chickens jumped out of the cones onto the ground following shechita (ritual slaughter). Because of the rapid slaughter rate, many birds were removed from the cones prematurely while they were still conscious and tossed to the ground onto piles of dead and other dying chickens.
Many chickens—while still conscious and struggling following shechita (religious slaughter—were shoved into garbage bags. The bags were then tied up, leaving the chickens to suffocate.
Birds crammed into extremely crowded cages were left exposed to the elements and unattended without any food or water. In other locations in Brooklyn, the ASPCA had to respond to multiple similar incidents of neglect and abandonment, which sometimes continued for days before and after the ceremony. In one highly publicized notorious incident in October 2005, "surplus" birds (chickens who were not slaughtered during the ceremony) were abandoned in a parking lot. The chickens were crammed into crates, stacked on top of one another, and left out in the rain for days. These birds were encrusted with dried feces, urine, and blood. Many suffered from severed toes, plucked-out eyes, and severe dehydration. ASPCA agents had to sift through the pile of discarded chickens in order to rescue the remaining live ones.
Volunteers and hired workers crammed injured and sick chickens into reject crates along with chickens who had already perished.
Participants, including children, were given no training or instruction on how to handle birds. Birds were teased and violently handled and exhibited distress as a result. Participants who had no training awkwardly grabbed chickens and swung them over people's heads during the ceremony, causing the chickens to vocalize in pain and fear.
Volunteers and hired workers threw crates containing live chickens several feet to the ground—without any regard for the safety of the animals.
Health Risks and Violations
Thousands of chickens were trucked in and parked on major public streets. Cages were piled high on the crowded transport trucks, causing chickens to be covered in feces and urine that had seeped and fallen through from the cages above. These included sick, dying, and dead birds—some of whom were filmed arriving in an advanced state of decomposition. The public was exposed to the birds in this dangerous and debilitated condition.
Dead chickens who perished during transport were thrown aside onto the public streets and sidewalks. Flies swarmed over the rotting carcasses as pedestrians walked by and children examined the corpses. Volunteers and hired workers—many of whom are children and teens—separated the obviously sick and dying chickens from other birds. Most workers didn't wear any protective gear (e.g., gloves, smocks, masks, hair/beard nets).
Individuals and families that participated in the ceremony (which consists of waving chickens over their heads) handled live, feces-covered chickens. Most did not wear gloves.
Children also handled the live chickens during this ceremony, mostly without gloves.
There were no wash stations or sanitary wipes of any kind.
There was only a token separation between the makeshift slaughter area and the public ceremony area. Participants stood by the slaughter area, passed chickens to the slaughterer, and stood only a few feet away while they watched the slaughter. Participants were regularly splashed with blood, feces, and body parts from the slaughter and walked through the residue on the ground.
Shochetim (kosher slaughterers), paid workers, and volunteers were splashed with chickens' blood and body parts with little protective gear, and the slaughter rate was so fast that the shochetim and the workers stood in piles of carcasses four to five chickens deep.
Slaughtered chickens sat out in the heat in the slaughter area for as long as several hours. The garbage bags with carcasses—which were destined for poultry processing—contained either no ice at all or only nominal amounts of ice. Only after hours of sitting in the heat were the birds' bodies loaded into the back of a van. The projected length of time between slaughter and processing when the birds' carcasses and flesh weren't refrigerated was alarming.
Following the slaughter, blood, liquid residue, and some body parts littered the ground—sometimes for days.
We respectfully request that all these cruelty and public health issues be resolved before the September 2007 kapporos ceremonies. We have submitted this in advance of the kapporos ceremonies in the hope that positive measures will be taken that will prevent the worst abuses. PETA will again have a presence at the 2007 event to investigate any egregious behavior, but we hope that by addressing this matter now, it will avoid any public exposé that could cause embarrassment to the Hasidic community and the enforcement and administrative agencies responsible. We look forward to your response.
Thank you for your attention to this issue.
cc: Charles J. Hynes, District Attorney, Kings County District Attorney's Office
Pearl R. Miles, District Manager, Community Board No. 9
Patrick J. Brennan, Commissioner, Mayor's Community Assistance Unit
John Huntley, D.V.M., Director, Division of Animal Industry
Rabbi Weiss, Kosher Law Enforcement, New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets Brooklyn Office
Haroon Mian, District Manager, Food Safety and Inspection Service