BROOKLYN - A state judge ruled against a group attempting to challenge the right of Jews to perform kapparos in New York City, clearing the way for the ritual to continue, at least for now.
Supreme Court Judge Debra James avoided any direct conflict between religious liberty and animal rights claims, saying simply that the city had exclusive discretion over enforcing the health codes and other regulations cited by the suit.
The action was first brought earlier in the summer by a group calling itself “Alliance to End Chickens as Kaporos.” It challenged the city’s department of health and police force for allowing the practice to go on, as well as 24 mosdos and individuals who accommodate the practice. The group is affiliated with the Virginia-based United Poultry Concerns, an organization focused on animal-rights issues for chickens.
“They know they can’t win, the judge has said clearly that they are up against a First Amendment issue; they just want to make tzaros and cost us money,” Rabbi Shea Hecht, one of the defendants, told Hamodia.
The present ruling denied an injunction that sought to prevent Brooklyn residents from preforming kapparos this year; however, the case itself is scheduled to be tried in October. On Monday, the first day of Rosh Hashanah, Judge James rejected the motion, saying that the “public nuisance” cited did not seem sufficient to bar a ritual with such religious and historic significance.
Nick Paolucci, a spokesman for the city law department, welcomed the decision saying, “We are pleased that the court recognized the city’s authority to exercise discretion in this matter.
“I know that at the facility I run, we do not break one of the 15 laws they said we are violating,” Yaakov Hecht, who operates a kapparos center in Crown Heights, told Hamodia. “All we are doing is fighting to continue our minhagim. We had a small victory over Rosh Hashanah and hopefully will have a bigger one in the fall.”
Nora Constance Marino, the activists’ lawyer, said she was “devastated.”
The anti-kapparos group has been campaigning for several years, often staging protests near kapparos centers during the Aseres Yemei Teshuvah, focusing mainly on locations in Crown Heights. Last year an activist was caught stealing three crates of chickens from a site, but owners opted not to press charges.
A broad coalition has been put together to represent the Orthodox community in the upcoming court case. Attorneys David Joslowitz and Baruch S. Gottesman are handling the case on a pro bono basis and are pushing for a motion of dismissal.
“The practice of kapparos is described by the Rema as a minhag vasikin, an ancient custom, ‘v’ein l’shanos — which should not be changed.’ So it is gratifying that Justice Debra A. James has rejected the legal challenge brought by a chicken rights group seeking to bar the practice of kapparos,” Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel, executive vice president of Agudath Israel of America, told Hamodia. “At the same time, we respectfully urge all who are involved with the practice of kapparos to act with special care to ensure that the chickens are handled — and the practice carried out — in a manner that is sensitive to such considerations as tzaar baalei chaim and proper hygienic practices.”