The California Department of Food and Agriculture said Friday that it has ordered the shutdown of two Pico-Robertson operations that were participating in a traditional Orthodox Jewish ritual that involves the slaughtering of chickens.
"I told them what they're doing is against state law," said Rhett Dunn, a Food and Agriculture investigator. "They have to be properly registered."
Bait Aaron, a Sephardic Orthodox outreach organization, and Ohel Moshe, a synagogue, were performing the ritual -- known as kaparot -- this week in the lead-up to Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement. Bait Aaron's operation was in a makeshift tent behind a building it rents on Pico Boulevard. Ohel Moshe's practitioners were operating out of a temporary plywood structure in the synagogue's parking lot, also on Pico.
The ancient ritual, practiced by a relatively small group of very observant Orthodox Jews, aims to provide believers an opportunity to atone for their sins. A practitioner holds a chicken under the wings and circles it over the penitent's head or nearby, reciting an appropriate prayer. He then kills the chicken with a sharp blade and drains its blood. The chickens typically are then dressed and donated to charities such as the Midnight Mission.
Faith leaders and animal rights activists have for several days staged protests of the practice, calling it inhumane. They contend that many of the dead chickens have ended up in trash bins.
After extensive coverage of the issue this week in the Jewish Journal and the Los Angeles Times and on TV and radio, officials with the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health and the state visited the two sites Friday morning. Protesters said the officials saw evidence of dead chickens in plastic garbage bags being dragged to the trash.
Dunn said the practitioners cooperated. Yom Kippur begins Friday evening.
"They were very, very friendly and helpful," he said. "I provided them with information so that if they want to do it next year they can go through channels."
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