The Hebrew word kapparah means atonement and kapparot is a Jewish ritual practiced by some Jews during the 10 days of repentance preceding Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement.
In this ritual, the penitent swings a live chicken over their head three times thus symbolically transferring their sins to the chicken. The chicken is then slaughtered and donated to the poor for consumption at the pre-fast meal. In some cases, coins are substituted for a live chicken — many Jewish communities have rejected the use of chickens on grounds of tza’ar ba’alei chayim (cruelty to animals) — but certain ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities, both in Israel and in the Diaspora, continue the tradition of using live chickens for kapparot.
Photographer Orna Naor went out last week on the night before Yom Kippur to document the ritual and the people who practice it still. The result is an arresting photo-essay that presents a range of realities: a photo op for the secular Israeli press interested in snapping shots of what they will convey to the general public as a barbarism devoid of meaning, the mystical sense of those who do believe their sins can be transmuted through prayer and vicarious sacrifice, and the practicalities of performing a centuries-old rite on the eve of the holiest day of the Jewish calendar in the year 5774.
More images from this series and other photos from Israel can be viewed on Orna Naor’s Facebook page.