Rabbi Avrohom Reit has just released his latest work: Zeh Kaporosi: The Custom of Kaporos. The author, a noted talmid chacham and close confidant of Rav Dovid Feinstein, might just be the first person to compile a work that deals exclusively with the enigmatic custom of Kaparot. The presentation is exceptionally crisp, clear, and comprehensible. Complementing the text are small sized real-life photographs (some of which might not be for the squeamish!). It is a one-stop shop for everything Kaparot.
The sefer opens with the origins of the kaparot custom. Readers may be surprised to learn that Kaparot –in some form at least- might date back to the Talmudic era, with Rashi testifying about a custom to use a plant for Kaparot. The author presents the relevant literature from the Talmud, geonim, and rishonim that discusses the performance and evolution of the ceremony. Indeed, there is a full explanation and commentary on all the aspects of Kaparot from start to finish. Readers will learn that there are many different aspects to the Kaparot ceremony, including symbolism and association with korbanot, blessings, “distracting the Satan,” the akeida, and more. One will certainly come away from this sefer realizing that Kaparot is far more than simply “transferring one’s sins to a chicken.”
Although the text is essentially well-balanced –- as it must be for a somewhat controversial topic such as this — the author is somewhat obsessive in his pro-Kaparot agenda. In fact, it is not an exaggeration to suggest that some readers might come away with the impression that those who do not perform Kaparot are not fully observant. He also makes it clear that, in his opinion, the legitimacy of Kaparot performed with anything but a chicken (to the exclusion of fish and money which have become popular in many circles) is questionable at best. Indeed, even in the chapter on using money for Kaparot, there is a veiled accusation that the “minhag” to do so is essentially baseless and canonized by none other than the 1987 edition of the Artscroll Siddur.
Footnotes are generally limited to primary sources and those which are most accessible. There is a useful Hebrew appendix at the back of the sefer which contains many of these and other sources in their original. In addition to the main topic of Kaparot, there are also sections that deal with the issues of tza’ar baalei chaim, a general overview of the mitzvah of kisui hadam, and a very thorough step-by-step practical guide to kashering chickens at home.
I would like to take this opportunity to comment on some of the interesting halachot discussed in the chapter on kisui hadam. The author states that one who recites the accompanying blessing after performing kisui hadam has recited a bracha levatala. Although the blessing should certainly be recited before performing the kisui hadam –in accordance with normative halacha– it might be inaccurate to say that one who recited the blessing after covering the blood has recited a bracha levatala.
In the opinion of the Behag, and others, the blessing should actually be recited after performing the kisui hadam. This is because these authorities are of the opinion that from the start of the shechita until the kisui hadam is completed is one long continuous mitzva. According to this approach, when one begins to cover the blood after the shechita, one is essentially in the middle of the mitzva! And a blessing is never recited when one is in the middle of performing a mitzva! In other words, the blessing recited on the shechita is essentially the “bracha rishona” of this one long mitzva, and the blessing recited after all the blood has been covered is the “bracha achrona”.
As mentioned, however, normative halacha is not in accordance with this view, as most authorities rule that the shechita and the kisui hadam are two distinct and independent mitzvot. According to this approach, the blessing should definitely be recited before performing kisui hadam. Nevertheless, the Pri Chadash takes the view of the Behag into consideration and rules that one who accidentally went ahead and covered the blood before reciting the blessing may nevertheless recite the blessing afterward. This also seems to be the view of the Yeshuot Yaakov 19 and Shaagat Aryeh 26.
Additionally, while the author correctly notes that one is not required to ensure that every last drop of blood is covered when performing kisui hadam, it is interesting to note that the Chinuch 187 and others do indeed require that the blood be entirely covered. An extra handful of sawdust should make complying with this opinion quick and easy.
Finally, the issue of whether or not one should recite shehecheyanu when performing the mitzvah of kisui hadam for the first time is also an intriguing topic. The Rema, YD 28:2 and the Mateh Efraim are of the opinion that shehecheyanu should indeed be recited when performing kisui hadam for the first time. On the other hand, the Shach, YD 28:5 and the Pri Chadash, YD 28:5 rule that it should not be recited. Although Rabbi Reit advises against reciting shehecheyanu, he offers readers the option of preparing a new fruit (or presumably a new shirt) for those who wish to do so. According to this approach, when reciting the shehecheyanu one should have in mind that it is intended to cover both the mitzva of kisui hadam as well as the new item.
Although chickens around the world have already come out in fierce opposition to this new sefer, do not be swayed by their claims of Amorite influence. The sefer is exceptionally well done and superbly written for all audiences. With its supplementary sections, it is sure to serve well as a reference guide throughout the year and not just during the Kaparot season. Whether you’re the type that considers Kaparot to be on par with issues such as Shabbat, Kashrut, and Nidda or alternatively, on par with issues such as upsherin, nittel nacht, and silly red strings, this is certainly a valuable sefer and a worthwhile contribution to the world of Halacha and Minhag literature in English.
Rabbi Ari N. Enkin, who performs some form of Kaparot in most years, is a resident of Ramat Beit Shemesh and a researcher and writer of contemporary halachic issues. He is the author of “The Dalet Amot Halacha Series” (5 Vol.) among other works of halacha. He welcomes books of a halachic nature for review. firstname.lastname@example.org