There is a ceremony in Judaism known as Kapparah, in which a rooster or hen is put to death on the eve of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, as a vicarious sacrifice for sin. Once widely observed, it is nearly obsolete in modern times. The atoning nature of the ceremony is described in the followng extracts. At the end of the page is a sample of the liturgy for the ceremony.

The Jewish Encyclopedia

Very significant, as showing a deep-rooted desire for some form of atoning sacrifice, is the custom–known already in the time of the Geonim, and found in Asia and Africa (see Benjamin II., “Acht Yahre in Asien und Africa,” 1858, p. 273), as well as in Europe (Asheri Yoma viii.23; Mahzor Vitry, p. 339; Kol Bo lxviii.; Shulhan ‘Aruk, Orah Hayyim, 605), though disapproved by Nahmanides, Solomon ben Adret, and Joseph Caro (Tur Orah Hayyim, l.c.)–of swinging over one’s head, on or before the eve of Atonement Day, a fowl, usually a rooster or hen; solemnly pronouncing the same to be a vicarious sacrifice to be killed in place of the Jew or Jewess who might be guilty of death by his or her sin.

–Jewish Encyclopedia, “Atonement.”


The Jewish Encyclopedia

KAPPARAH (plural, kapparot= “means of atonement”). An animal used as a sort of vicarious sacrifice on the day previous to the Day of Atonement. As a rule, a cock is taken by a male, and a hen by a female person, and after the recitation of Ps. cvii. 17-20 and Job xxxiii. 23-24 the fowl is swung around the head three times while the right hand is put upon the animal’s head. At the same time the following is thrice recited in Hebrew: “This be my substitute, my vicarious offering, my atonement. This cock [or hen] shall meet death but I shall find a long and pleasant life of peace!” After this the animal is slaughtered and given to the poor, or, what is deemed better, is eaten by the owners while the value of it is given to the poor.

The custom has been strongly opposed by such authorities as Nahmanides, Solomon ben Adret, and Joseph Caro as a pagan one in conflict with the spirit of Judaism which knows of no vicarious sacrifice. But it was approved by Jehiel b. Asher and by his son Jacob (Tur, Orah Hayyim, 95), and by Samson b. Zadok and other who followed the authority of Hai Gaon and other geonim (see the literature in “Bet Yosef” to Tur, l.c.). The ritual appealed especially to cabalists, such as Isaiah Horowitz and Isaac Luria, who recommended the selection of a white cock with reference to Isa. i. 18, and who found other mystic allusions in the prescribed formulas. Consequently the practise became general among the Jews of eastern Europe (see Isserles, “Darke Moshch” on Tur, l.c.) and the word “kapparah,” as a connotation for a thing that is sacrificed, is quite prominent in the Judaeo-German dialect.

–Jewish Encyclopedia, “Kapparah.”


A Kapparah Ceremony

ORDER OF CAPUROTH.

It is the custom to atone with fowl on the morning preceding the day of atonement, or a day before. Male persons take a rooster, female, a hen, and a pregnant woman takes both, a rooster and a hen. If there is no fowl, it is allowed to atone with money, provided the money is after wards given to the poor. Before atoning one says: “a soul instead of a soul.” Then the following should be said three times:

Children of men, such as sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, being bound in affliction and iron, He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death, and break their bands in sunder, Fools because of their transgression, and because of their iniquities, are afflicted. Their soul abhoreth all manner of food and they draw near unto the gates of death. Then they cry unto the Lord in their trouble and he saveth them out of their distress. He sent his word and healed them and delivered them from their destructions. Oh that men would praise the Lord for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men! If there be a messenger with him and interpreter, one among a thousand, to shew unto man his uprightness: Then he is gracious unto him, and saith, Deliver him from going down to the pit: I have found a ransom.

If one atones for himself this is to be said three times:

This is my change, this is my redemption. This rooster is going to be killed, and I shall be admitted and allowed to a long, happy and peaceful life.

A woman that atones for herself, shall say this three times:

This is my change, this is my compensation, this is my redemption. This chicken is going to be killed, while I shall be admitted and allowed, a good, happy and peaceful life.

If two men atone together, they shall both say this three times:

This is our change, this is our compensation, this is our redemption. This rooster is going to be killed, while we shall be admitted and allowed a long, happy and peaceful life.

If two women atone for themselves together, they shall say this:

This is our change, this is our compensation, this is our redemption. This chicken is going to be killed, while we shall be admitted and allowed a long, happy and peaceful life.

If one atones for another man, he shall say this three times:

This is thy change, this is thy compensation, this is thy redemption. This rooster is going to be killed, while thou shalt be admitted and allowed a long, happy and peaceful life.

If one atones for another woman, he shall say this three times:

This is thy change, this is thy redemption. This chicken is going to be killed, while thou shalt be admitted and allowed a long, happy and peaceful life.

If a pregnant woman atones for herself, she shall say this:

These are our changes, these are our compensation, these are our redemptions. These roosters are going to be killed, while we shall be admitted and allowed a long, happy and peaceful life.

–Prayer Book for the Day of Atonement by A. Th. Philips (NY: Hebrew Publishing Company, 1931), pp. 1-2.