The Jewish Chronicle - - Judaism -

IF YOU lose some money or cut your fin­ger, some­one might say to you in a com­fort­ing tone, “It should be a kap­pa­rah.” They would mean by this that they hope the an­noy­ing, but rel­a­tively mi­nor loss or dam­age will off­set and so avoid the oc­cur­rence of some­thing worse.

The word it­self comes from the verb kiper, mean­ing to cover or ig­nore. (It can also mean to deny; one who is “ ka­farb’ikar” de­nies the ex­is­tence of God.) From this kap­pa­rah comes to mean “ex­pi­a­tion;” some­thing that wipes out or erases guilt or sin.

The Eve of Yom Kip­pur in Meah Shearim, Jerusalem is marked by the pic­turesque rit­ual of kap­parot. A cock is taken, swung around the head three times while the pen­i­tent de­clares “this is my kap­pa­rah, with the idea that any loom­ing mis­for­tune as a re­sult of sin some­how be trans­ferred to the an­i­mal. Some rab­bini­cal au­thor­i­ties have de­nounced kap­parot as a hea­then su­per­sti­tion (Rabbi Yosef Karo called it a “stupid custom”.) The rit­ual en­dures through its raw emo­tional power.

Yom Kip­pur is the day of kap­pa­rah. We are re­spon­si­ble to for do­ing teshu­vah; mak­ing an ac­count of our deeds, re­gret­ting our past sins and sin­cerely re­solv­ing to do bet­ter. Kap­pa­rah, how­ever, is be­yond our con­trol. This is the grace through which God erases the mem­ory and the con­se­quences of sin in the merit of our teshu­vah and ob­ser­vance of Yom Kip­pur.

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