Jewish congregation allowed to use chickens in slaughter
Farmington Hills — Shlug Kapores will go on for Congregation Bais Chabad of Farmington Hills, an orthodox Jewish congregation that ran afoul of the U.S. Department of Agriculture for its use of chickens in a ritual slaughter.
Just after 3:30 p.m. Monday, Deena Ismail, a supervisory investigator with the USDA, announced the regulatory organization had no problems allowing a one-time exemption for a slaughter of 800-1,000 chickens the USDA had previously denied. Judge Mark Goldsmith presided over the case.
That denial sparked an emergency injunction by the congregation to allow its ritual to go on as planned at 6 p.m.
Shlug Kapores, according to Chabad.org, is a rite that “consists of taking a chicken and waving it over one’s head three times while reciting the appropriate text. The fowl is then slaughtered in accordance with halachic procedure.”
The monetary value of the chickens can be given to the poor, or the chickens themselves can be used to feed the needy. The congregation plans to give the chickens to area Jews in need.
Shlug Kapores takes place between Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year and Yom Kippur, a day of atonement and fasting considered the holiest day on the Jewish calendar. This year, Yom Kippur begins Tuesday evening.
“This tradition has a flavor to it that’s attractive,” Rabbi Chaim Moshe Bergstein said.
According to the complaint, Shlug Kapores is the best-attended, “financially, the single most important event” for Congregation Bais Chabad, and a means of outreach to the local Jewish community.
Shlug Kapores transfers a person’s sins to the bird, which is then killed in accordance to kosher practices so it does not suffer.
The person who kills the bird after the ritual is called a shokhet. Congregation Bais Chabad relies on a shokhet from Cleveland, Rabbi Avraham Labe Ginsberg. This, says the complaint, demands coordination and timing.
“It cannot be held on the Sabbath, and the slaughtered birds have to get to the poor families,” the lawsuit reads.
Because the facility Bergstein normally sends chickens to was not available, he was sent scrambling to find another facility. He chose Amanah Poultry and Grocery in Hamtramck, a halal butcher.
“Halal and kosher practices are very similar,” the complaint explains.
After visiting Amanah Poultry, Bergstein found that “Mr. (Ahmed) Hassan’s poultry practices are exactly the same as required under Jewish law; his slaughter area is also perfectly suited to handle the number of birds and process them correctly.”
That, along with a shokhet who can kill the birds, would make the meat kosher.
“There are no kosher poultry slaughter facilities in Michigan,” according to the complaint.
After the hearing ended, the USDA was to contact the butcher, Hassan, and let him know the ritual could go on as planned. The organization may or may not send an inspector to watch.
Using Islamic butchers has been the practice for Congregation Bais Chabad for 15 of the 25 Bergstein has been overseeing Shlug Kapores, he said. While kosher slaughtering is very expensive and dirty, and there is no infrastructure for it locally, Bergstein said “it’s an art that’s necessary.” Using halal butchers and bringing in a shokhet is as close as the congregation can get these days.
Congregation Bais Chabad ran into trouble on Friday when Hassan spoke to a USDA inspector about handling the Shlug birds. The USDA “objected on the basis of USDA requirements that any kosher slaughter facility be certified and inspected,” which would take months, far beyond the window needed for Shlug Kapores.
Attorney Gilbert Borman, who represented the congregation in federal court, first heard of the issue Friday afternoon, but didn’t work on the complaint on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, because he was representing an orthodox client.
There was no guarantee the emergency injunction would even be heard, Borman said. Judges’ schedules might work and opposing counsel may not be available. Both things worked out in the congregation’s favor on Monday, as did USDA’s willingness to compromise.
The one-time-only nature of the agreement was what attorney Borman sought in his complaint.
For 2015, at least, Shlug Kapores would go on as it had for thousands of years.