The מחבר (סימן תר”ה סעיף א’) brings the minhag of those who shecht a chicken on Erev Yom Hakippurim as a kapparah. The מחבר does not like this minhag and holds it should not be done. It may be a problem of דרכי האמורי – following the practices of the goyim. The רמ”א strongly disagrees as this minhag is already brought down from the Geonim. He says that this is the minhag all over, and since it is a very early minhag one should not do differently. The כף החיים says that today this is also the minhag of the Sephardim. The אור לציון explains that even though the מחבר says not to do this minhag, still the minhag of the אריז”ל was to do it with chickens. The Sephardim accepted upon themselves the psakim of the Arizal even when it disagrees with the psak of the מחבר.
The minhag is to use a male chicken for a man and a female chicken for a woman. If a mistake was made it does not have to be done again. For a pregnant lady the minhag is to use two chickens, a male and a female, because maybe the baby is a boy. Some have the minhag to use three for a pregnant lady. This is the opinion of the Arizal who was makpid to use only one chicken per person. Reb Shmuel Kamenetzky shlit”a says that many are not מקפיד and use only one chicken for a pregnant lady.
Why are kapparos done for an עובר if it never did aveiros? The Steipler explains this is in case something bad was decreed on it. Reb Scheinberg zt”l says that it is for previous gilgulim. There is a machlokes in the poskim if this minhag applies even before forty days. If a woman is not sure if she is pregnant she does not have to take an extra chicken. The פרי מגדים says that one does not have to suspect that she is pregnant with twins and use five chickens two male and three female. Reb Elyashiv zt”l says that one can rely on an ultrasound and does not have to use extra chickens. Dayan Weiss zt”l holds that it is better not to rely on the ultrasound. Two people can use one chicken as long as it is being done at the same time. Once a chicken was already used for one person it cannot be used again for another person.
The minhag is to use a white chicken based on the passuk אם יהיו חטאיכם כשנים כשלג ילבינו – though your errors will be like scarlet, they will become white as snow. The Mishna Berura says that one should not make a big deal about this as it may be considered דרכי האמרי. Rather if there is a white one there he should take that one without even mentioning the fact that it is white.
When swinging it over the head one should say זה חלפתי, תמורתי, כפרתי which is the acronym for חת”ך the name of the מלאך in charge of life. A person should think that everything that is being done to the chicken should really be happening to him. Through his teshuva, Hashem removed the bad decree from him and put it on the chicken. What happens to the chicken is like the four death punishments from בית דין. Throwing the chicken after shechita is like being stoned. Grabbing the chicken by the neck, shechting it and putting it in fire afterwards is like שרפה – being burned, הרג – being killed with a sword, and חנק – being choked to death. There are pessukim that are said before saying זה חלפתי. The יעב”ץ says that one should hold the chicken in his right hand when saying זה חלפתי.
The פרי מגדים says that kapparos can be done anytime during עשרת ימי תשובה. Reb Nissim Karelitz zt”l says that if the chicken was not shechted before Yom Hakippurim he did not fulfill the minhag. There is a discussion in the poskim when is the best time to shecht the chicken. The main thing is to make sure it is not done in a rush, making the shechita pasul and the chicken a נבלה. If the chicken was found to be a נבלה not related to the shechita, kapparos does not have to be done again. Some hold that if it became a נבלה because of the shechita, then kapparos must be done again.
The רמ”א says the shechita should be immediately after placing his hands on the chicken similar to what is done by a korban. Others hold that סמיכה should not be done. The רמ”א says the intestines should be thrown on the roof or in the courtyard so the birds can eat it. This shows the מדת הרחמנות that you have on the birds. Just like you have mercy to feed the birds, Hashem will have mercy on you to provide you with פרנסה. The אלף למטה says that today the minhag is to give everything to the poor.
The חיי אדם writes that one may also use money for kapparos. Reb Shmuel Kamenetzky shlit”a says that if one wants to change his minhag from chickens to money, he does not need התרת נדרים. לכתחילה one should do the kapparos himself. One should not use maaser money to pay for the chickens. The רמ”א says the minhag is to give the chickens to poor people or to redeem them with money that is then given to the poor. For this as well maaser money should not be used. If one did not do kapparos before Yom Hakippurim, he can do it until Hoshana Rabbah.1
Prepared by R’ Avrohom Yehoshua Ziskind
1Sources:משנה ברורה,דרשו,קובץ הלכות,פסקי תשובות