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The ritual of kaparot [lit. atonement], which is usually done just prior to Yom Kippur (usually the day before), where one waves a chicken or an [unspecified] amount of money over one's head in a circular motion three times while chanting a text, and then gives the ritually used object to charity, seems difficult to understand. If charity can atone for sin, why does one need to wave it around one's head? Can this ritual be performed any time of year? Where did the idea of chickens come from, and why a chicken more so than any other animal?

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aparently many hold that using the chicken is a big problem (not related to tzar ba'alei chayim) theyeshivaworld.com/article.php?p=140409 –  user1668 Sep 24 '12 at 16:28
    
@GershonGold, I thought that was rooster. –  Seth J Sep 24 '12 at 17:04
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2 Answers

Kitzur Shulchan Aruch (131:1) states:

ואל יחשוב האדם שזוהי כפרתו ממש, אלא יחשב כי כל מה שעושין בעוף הזה, היה ראוי לבוא עליו בעונותיו. ויתאונן על חטאיו, והקדוש-ברוך-הוא ברחמיו יקבל תשובתו.

A person should not think, however, that this ceremony itself actually atones for him. On the contrary, [he should look at the ceremony as symbolic in nature, realizing] that everything that is being done to the chicken should really be done to him [as punishment] for his sins. [This will make] him regret his sins, and, as a result, the Holy One, blessed be He, in His mercy, will accept his repentance (3). (Translation from here)

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I wish I could +2. –  Seth J Sep 24 '12 at 17:05
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wow, so basically what one's says "ze kaparasi..." etc. is a lie? This also fails to explain the need to wave around the head or the use of money or chicken. –  user1668 Sep 24 '12 at 17:51
    
@PM Both valid questions. I'll try to look more into it if I can find the time. –  Michoel Sep 24 '12 at 18:23
    
thanks very much! –  user1668 Sep 24 '12 at 19:19
    
@PM Elef Hamagen to Mateh Efrayim 604 (Ois 4) explains that "כפרה" does not denote "atonement" but rather "ransom" as in Yeshayuahu 43:3 "נתתי כפרך מצרים" (I have given Egypt as your ransom), and some other examples. [Still looking for a reason for the waving..] –  Michoel Sep 24 '12 at 23:47
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Nitei Gavriel Yom Kippur 10:2:4 says that a chicken was selected for the following reasons.

A: It is not too expensive.

B: It should not seem like a Korbon (Makriv Kodoshim BaChutz). And a chicken is not used as a Korbon.

Nitei Gavriel Yom Kippur 10:17 says that it can be done also with live fish and money, and you also wave the money around your head.

Nitei Gavriel Yom Kippur 10:7 says that if it was not done during the Aseres Yemei Teshuva it may be done on Hoshana Raba. It seems from here that it is specific for this time of the year.

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This doesn't address 1)why do you wave it around your head or 2)can you do it throughout the year? –  Seth J Sep 24 '12 at 15:58
    
@SethJ apparently not throughout the year, based on Nitei Gavriel YK 10:7. –  Ze'ev Felsen Sep 24 '12 at 19:17
    
"it can be done also with live fish": in a bowl, or quickly, I suppose. –  msh210 Sep 24 '12 at 20:01
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