Orthodox community, Lakewood residents at odds over Yom Kippur tradition

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An Orthodox Jewish tradition involving the slaughtering of thousands of chickens is coming under fire by a group of Lakewood residents.

Photos and videos of dead chickens in a backyard went viral on social media this month, drawing hundreds of complaints and dozens of calls to News 12 New Jersey.

The tradition is known as Kaporos, and it is performed during the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur. It is a ritual of atonement.

“Every Jewish person takes a chicken, says a little prayer, swings the chicken above his head for three times and then the chicken gets slaughtered and given to the poor,” says Kaporos organizer Mordecai Schwartz.

The ritual was performed behind an abandoned home on the 200 block of Fifth Street in downtown Lakewood. The participants slaughtered 5,000 chickens in the backyard and then covered the area up with sawdust and lime. The mixture was hauled away, according to Schwartz.

But neighbors say that the whole situation seemed barbaric. One neighbor, who did not wish to be identified, and others took photos of the scene Wednesday after the ritual ended Tuesday night. The photos showed dead chickens on top of crates, dead chickens in crates, and at least one bag full of dead chickens.

“It looks like a murder scene. It looks like something out of a horror movie,” one neighbor said.

But Schwartz says that he believes that the photos are staged and that the criticism is rooted in anti-Semitism.

“We are doing this for a thousand years. And our neighbors are fully agreeing to have it for a few days that we are having it. We are having it the five days between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur,” Schwartz says.

Critics say that most of the chickens ended up in the trash after they were killed and were not donated to feed those in need as promised.

“You can't have all those dead chickens, all those carcasses in one spot, blood on the street,” says Lakewood resident Bill Sleight. “One place I saw it was running out onto the streets, the blood. That's how I found the place."

A spokesperson for the Ocean County Health Department says that the department fielded many phone calls from concerned residents. But Schwartz says that the tradition was done by the book.

“It’s all legal. It’s all approved by the state agencies that take care of these things,” he says.

The critics say that they want to see chickens replaced with bags of money, which can then be donated to charity.

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