The Rabbinical Council of America and the Orthodox Union voice their concern regarding a US District Court decision which could further limit the free practice of religion.
On October 7, 2016, the United States District Court for the Central District of California filed a temporary restraining order interfering with an ancient religious ritual. The pre-Yom Kippur ritual of kapparot involves the waving a live chicken over one’s head in a dramatization of the consequences of sin, ahead of Yom Kippur, the national day of repentance. The chicken is then slaughtered, and traditionally donated to the poor. While many Jews today substitute money in place of a live fowl, which is then donated to charity, many still perform the ritual as it was performed for centuries.
A lawsuit, United Poultry Concerns v. Chabad of Irvine et al., was filed to prevent the ritual from taking place. The suit alleges that the ritual as implemented by Chabad of Irvine constitutes an “unlawful business practice” under California’s Business and Professions Code because the practice violates the state’s ban on “intentional and malicious killing of animals” other than for use as food (California Penal Code Sec. 597(a), 599c).
The restraining order enjoined Chabad from killing chickens in exchange for a fee or donation pending a hearing, scheduled for after Yom Kippur.
The Rabbinical Council of America and the Orthodox Union are deeply concerned over the court’s interference in the free exercise of religion, should the complaint hold up at the hearing. Rabbi Mark Dratch, Executive Vice President of the RCA, stated: “The California code allows for the slaughter of animals in other circumstances; its silence on such actions for religious purposes was never intended to be a barrier to religious expression. The religious content of our lives is as important to society as the food we eat. We are deeply concerned about the implications of this decision. It comes in the midst of other government actions that aim to limit religious expression when it clashes with values embraced by parts of society. We see this as a worrisome trend.”