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A New Digital Kapparot Before Yom Kippur

Background

The custom of kapparot dates back to the Talmud. According to this tradition, on the day before Yom Kippur, people take a chicken, swing it three times above their head, symbolically transferring their sins to it before the chicken is slaughtered and then donated to charity. 

There is something powerful about observing the ritual slaughter, something that few do nowadays. While there is little doubt that partaking in such a ritual can be a humbling reminder of humanity’s place in creation, it is also a barbaric ritual. This does not even mention the trauma it can create, especially in children. 

Just because something has been practiced for thousands of years does not mean it must continue as it has been. This is especially timely as the COVID-19 pandemic has forced our community to redo many of our rituals anyway. 

A New Kind of Giving

It is not a new idea to suggest that money can take place of chickens in the kapparot ritual. What I am proposing takes the tzedakah piece of this ritual and embodies it with additional meaning, adding a more personal and more meaningful touch into something many people would be doing anyway.  

At High Holidays, many synagogues hold food drives. It is far more efficient for food pantries to receive monetary contributions which do not have to be sorted, do not expire, and the food pantry can stretch the dollars to purchase even more than what the individual donations can. 

Eliminating the food drive and giving people the opportunity to donate through a modernized kapparot would provide for an enhanced experience. Ironically, with some people moving to an online format for worship, this ritual has even more potential and a greater reach.

Implementation

The ritual of kapparot is actually quite simple. One takes the money (check or the intended amount written on a piece of paper), places it in a handkerchief or pouch, waves it above the head three times and says: “This is my exchange, this is my substitute, this is my expiation. This money will go to tzedakah and I will enter and proceed to a good, long life and to peace.”

So how would this work as a digital ritual? Here are seven proposed steps:

 

    1. A short explanation of kapparot and this event will be advertised through various channels. Participants will register and receive a Zoom link.
    2. The program will begin with soft music, introductions and then participants sharing what they are hoping to get out of this experience. The enclosed texts could be used as a guide:The facilitator can adjust this opening text study according to the backgrounds and needs of the participants.
    3. The chat should be utilized in addition to people just speaking aloud.
    4. The facilitator will then ask the participants to place their “offering” in an envelope, handkerchief, sock, etc. This can be done creatively. They could even a hold a phone to represent an online donation! The facilitator will provide the information (i.e. website, mailing address) for the food bank. 
    5. Swing the pouch or handkerchief over your head three times as you recite the following blessing:
    6. Participants will then be asked to prepare their donation to be sent to the food pantry.
    7. The ritual will end with the group offering each other blessings for the new year.

This digital ritual gives everyone a chance to get “in the mood” for High Holidays, and it provides everyone the joy of doing a mitzvah for others, even those who do not typically lead services and/or read Torah. This online kapparot is qualitatively different from an onsite kapparot because Zoom allows for people to connect with each other face-to-face and heart-to-heart even as we also focus inward on the work of the season.

The silver lining to this digital / hybrid / multi-access moment is that it allows us to experience an intimacy we might not otherwise. Ironically, we are now in smaller groups online, we have the chat feature, and instead of being at a large service where we are passively listening to prayers which may or may not speak to us (and some people may opt out because of it), we have the newfound opportunity to explore these prayers, discuss their meaning, and also reinvent what we do… including the ancient ritual of kapparot. We can productively raise money for the food pantry, include everyone whether they can physically be in the same place or not, and give new ownership to an ancient ritual. The chickens will thank us!

 


Lisa Rothstein Goldberg, MSW, MAJCS is a rabbinical student at the Academy for Jewish Religion (NY). She has a love of Jewish learning and making ritual meaningful to the modern world. She earned her MSW from University of Maryland at Baltimore and her MA in Jewish Communal Service from Baltimore Hebrew University. She lives in Louisville, Kentucky with her husband and their two daughters.

Go to Nineveh: A Two-Jonah Duet for Yom Kippur

Here is a new retelling of the book of Jonah, for three voices, drawing on the past year’s events to open up the book’s timeless wisdom. Here’s how it begins:

 

Jonah 1, God and Jonah 2 face the congregation in a line, from stage-right to stage-left, so Jonah 1 appears to be standing on the left with God between them.

GOD: 

The word of the Eternal came to Jonah, son of Truth: Go at once to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim judgment on it, for their wickedness has come before Me.

JONAH 1:

I don’t want to go to Nineveh!
They’re anti-maskers. They say COVID is a hoax.
Their disdain for science risks us all.

      JONAH 2:

I don’t want to go to Nineveh!
They’re like sheep. They want Big Government to control everything.
Their disdain for liberty risks us all….

 

Download the script here: Go to Nineveh – A Two-Jonah Duet (PDF)

Also available as google slides suitable for screenshare: Go to Nineveh (Slides)

 

 

Rabbi Rachel Barenblat and Rabbi David Evan Markus are among the co-founders of Bayit: Building Jewish. 

Martyrology slides for Yom Kippur from R’ Evan Krame

From founding builder R’ Evan Krame comes this set of slides for the martyrology service which in many synagogues is an integral part of Yom Kippur. He highlights twentieth century female martyr Marie Schmolka as a way of honoring  people who gave their all to build a better future.

These slides are suitable to use with your own adaptation of Holy at Home, or with whatever slide deck you’re using for Zoom high holidays this year.

Download the slides and teaching here:

 

 

By Rabbi Evan J. Krame.

Isaiah + Sounds of Silence: video

Last year we shared a Yom Kippur haftarah from founding builder R’ David Markus — Isaiah 58 + Sounds of Silence. (At that link you can find a recording of the haftarah plus a marked-up PDF of the text annotated with haftarah trope.)

In response to a request on the Dreaming Up High Holidays 2020 Facebook group, R’ Shafir Lobb combined the recording from Soundcloud, the image from the blog post, and the text of the haftarah into a video suitable for screenshare during this pandemic year:

The video can be downloaded from google drive here.

If you are leading Zoom (or other digital) services during this pandemic year, you are welcome to use the video in your services, and/or to chant the haftarah yourself if you’re comfortable with haftarah trope.

May we all be sealed for goodness in the year to come.

 

Shafir Lobb

Haftarah by R’ David Markus. Video by R’ Shafir Lobb, rabbi of Congregation Eitz Chayim in Port St. Lucie, Florida.

Red thread

A sketchnote arising out of Red thread: a ritual for Yom Kippur by Rabbi Evan Krame.

Red thread ritual for Yom Kippur

spool of red thread

This ritual seeks to connect us with atonement and make us aware of our interconnectedness. The only required element is red thread, cut into discrete lengths (a foot long, all the same length) handed out at the start of the ritual. The ritual begins with a short teaching about the red thread, followed by an activity involving the thread directly. This could be used as a prelude to the Musaf repetition of “Al Chet” (in communities that do Musaf) or as a component in the Avodah service on Yom Kippur afternoon. At the close, there’s an opportunity for people to talk with each other about what the ritual was like and how it impacted them. — Rabbi Evan J. Krame

 

 

  • Opening teaching

The red thread is Jewish folk talisman, said to ward off the evil eye. Red thread also appears in the story of Tamar (Genesis 38:28-30), in the story of Rahav (Joshua 2:18), and in association with the Mishkan / Temple rituals and clothing. Red thread can represent the boundary between the sacred and profane; it can also be a symbol of protection and promise. Proverbs (31:21) also mentions the virtuous woman who creates protection for her family with red wool. 

Mishnah (Yoma 4:2, 6:8) and Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah also describe how red string was used in the Yom Kippur scapegoat ritual. The high priest would place his hands on the scapegoat, confessing the sins of Israel and asking for atonement. He would tie a red string between the horns of the scapegoat, and another strip around the neck of the second goat to indicate where it should be slaughtered.

 

  • Red thread

Today we incorporate the red thread into a ritual of acknowledging and atoning for errant behavior.

[Hand out red threads.]

What are some modern sins that might not have been given expression in the classical Al Chet prayer? Let’s name a few of them: 

[Harvest responses from the room. Solicit interpersonal / communal answers — damage to the environment, poverty and homelessness, etc.]

Take your red thread and turn to the person next to you. Stand close to one another, each holding an end of the thread, with the thread hanging slack between you. As we acknowledge our failings, each person moves your body in the way I am about to describe. With each expression, take a very short step with your left foot, moving it slightly forward and in front of the right. The second step should bring your left foot fully in front of the right, which will make the red thread more taut. The third step will move the left foot past the right and the string will be stretched.

[Mention three sins]

Now let’s come up with three ways to repair the world and unravel the dynamic that created these broken places. As each possibility for repair is listed, move your foot back, so that we end the exercise in the same posture in which we began:

[With each repair, people will move back to their original places.]

 

  • (Optional) How did this feel?

Turn now to your partner and speak quietly for a few moments. How did this ritual feel for you? What role did the red thread play in connecting you? What meaning did you find in the position of your bodies relative to one another? Take turns speaking about your experience. We’ll bring everyone back together again with a niggun when it’s time to move on.

 

*

 

See also: this beautiful red thread sketchnote by Steve Silbert arising out of this ritual!

Using stones for Yizkor

This ritual seeks to connect the Yizkor prayers, recited four times a year, with an embodied experience of memory and connection. The only required element is a basket of stones — smooth river-washed stones are available at landscaping supply stores — which are handed out during the service. The central act is placing the stones together on a central location (often the amud or Torah reading table), in silence, while allowing music and memory to open our hearts.  — Rabbi Evan J. Krame

 

 

  • Opening

In our tradition, we bring not flowers but stones to a gravesite. That’s what Jacob did for Rachel when he created a matzevah (monument), as we read in Torah:

Over her grave Jacob set up a pillar; it is the pillar at Rachel’s grave to this day. (Gen. 35:22. )

וַיַּצֵּ֧ב יַעֲקֹ֛ב מַצֵּבָ֖ה עַל־קְבֻרָתָ֑הּ הִ֛וא מַצֶּ֥בֶת קְבֻֽרַת־רָחֵ֖ל עַד־הַיּֽוֹם׃

Many of us no longer live near the cemeteries where our parents, aunts, uncles and grandparents are buried. We may not have the opportunity to place a stone in remembrance of those who brought us into the world or nurtured us. 

Some of us have siblings or children who have preceded us in death, whose absence is hard to bear. Being far from those graves can be especially painful. 

And even when we live near the graves of those whom we’ve lost, we’re not at those graves now, today, as we recite these Yizkor prayers in memory. But we can still take a stone, and use it as a focus for our remembrance.

 

  • Stones

Take a stone now. Hold it, and think of the person or people you are remembering today.

[Invite people to go row by row to select a stone, or pass stones out row by row. While stones are being handed out, the following instruction may be offered:]

We’ll take silent time for the Yizkor memorial prayers.

After we hear the words of Psalm 23, come place the stone on the bimah, and return to your seats in silent dedication. 

[Volunteers direct the community in coming up, row by row, to place their stones while “Turn, Turn, Turn” is sung.]

 

  • Closing

Remembering and honoring those we have lost, we come together again as a community. Though each of us is remembering someone different, we’re connected in the shared experience of mourning and memory.

We move now into Mourner’s Kaddish and El Maleh Rachamim…