Halakhic Positions of Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik
by R. Aharon Ziegler
The custom of Kaparot on Erev Yom Kippur is the subject of a long-standing controversy. The waving of chickens over people’s heads as a Teshuva ritual before Yom Kippur, leading to the chicken’s slaughter, has engendered much opposition over centuries. Great authorities like the Rambam and Rashba attempted to end this practice that they found religiously objectionable. R’ Yosef Karo, in Shulchan Aruch [Orach Chaim 605:1] also opposed it. However, the practice continues with great popularity and the support of many authorities, including the Rama.
Even today the practice is still mired in controversy. Not only has objection to it been sustained over centuries but, as the Aruch HaShulchan [par. 5] states, rabbinic authorities actively tried to abolish the practice. Only popular devotion prevented their success. In Yerushalayim, where I live, the custom is gaining ever more popularity each year. Some people substitute money for the chicken, waving cash overhead in a symbolic call for repentance.
Rav Soloveitchik did not observe this custom. His family had long thought that no Brisker, steeped in Talmudic rationalism, would ever tolerate such a practice.