Outrage as French authorities warn of Jewish 'chicken thieves'

Implication in authorities' letter described as 'outrageous, insulting and slanderous'


French Jews have responded angrily after a local district warned farmers to be wary of chickens being stolen in the run up to Yom Kippur for use in an atonement ceremony.

The French department of Hauts-de-Seine, a western district of Paris, sent an e-mail to all owners of cattle and poultry earlier this month warning them to exercise “the utmost vigilance” in the run up to the Muslim holiday of Eid-al-Adha and the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur.

Prior to Yom Kippur, orthodox Jews perform a ceremony known as kapparot – atonement. While the ceremony can be performed while waving money around ones head, the traditional form of the ceremony involves waving a chicken instead. After they are waved, the chickens are slaughtered.  The Muslim ceremony of Eid-al-Adha involves the slaughter of a “beast of the herd”, usually a sheep. 

As reported by Le Parisien, the letter, from the Hauts-de-seine Department of Population Protection (DDPP), told owners about the two festivals and urged them “not to let the animals wander, as malicious people may try to capture them for clandestine slaughter”. Late last week, Francis Kalifat, the President of the Council of Jewish Institutions in France (Crif), described the department’s letter as “outrageous, insulting and slanderous”. 

Joel Mergui, president of the Consistoire, the organisation administering French Jewish congregations, told La Croix on Friday that he was “taken aback to find out, in the papers of August 22, that I had suddenly and collectively, with all my co-religionists, become a potential chicken thief”. 

According to Le Parisien, French police uncovered a sheep trafficking ring in Châtenay-Malabry, in the southwestern suburbs of Paris, in 2013. Roma travellers were reported to have stolen around 200 sheep and sold them for use in the Eid-al-Adha festival. There appears to be no record of chickens being stolen for use in the kapparot ceremony and, indeed, by Jewish law the use of stolen items for the ceremony would be forbidden.  

A spokesperson for the department subsequently told the French newspaper that the letter was a case of “prevention…which was not intended to cause offence”.

The kapparot ceremony has previously caused controversy in New York, where animal rights activists attempted to sue pracitioners. A judge rejected the activists' argument.

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