Judge lifts restraining order allowing California synagogue to perform animal ritual

Just as the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur began Tuesday night, a federal judge lifted a temporary restraining order against a California synagogue performing a ritual where chickens are twirled in the air before they're slaughtered.

Judge Andre Birotte Jr. had granted the order last week at the request of an animal rights group called United Poultry Concerns, and he scheduled a hearing for Thursday. But that would have meant Yom Kippur would be over by the time he ruled, so Birotte moved up the hearing to Tuesday.

The ritual known as Kaporos is typically performed in the run-up to Yom Kippur, which began Tuesday evening and ends Wednesday evening. It was not clear whether Chabad Irvine would perform it this year at all in spite of the decision.

But its attorneys praised the lifting of the order as a victory nonetheless.

"We are grateful to Judge Birotte for taking emergency action to ensure that the Jewish synagogue members' First Amendment rights were safeguarded during Yom Kippur," attorney Matthew Martens said in a statement.

The order would have required the synagogue to perform the ritual only at a slaughterhouse to abide by the law. Some from the Orange County Jewish community, not acting as Chabad Irvine, did just that at a slaughterhouse in Westminster, California, on Monday night.

The ceremony involves whirling a chicken above one's head while reciting a prayer. Practitioners believe the person's sins will be transferred to the chicken. The bird is then slaughtered in a kosher manner.

Chickens used in the ceremony were once given to the poor, but they are now generally disposed of because of food-handling laws.

The attorneys who brought this lawsuit and another that is proceeding in state court, say the temporary setback doesn't mean they'll drop the federal suit.

They say it is illegal in California and most other states to intentionally kill an animal as punishment for sins.

"The fact that the temporary restraining order is lifted doesn't say anything about the merits of the case," attorney Bryan Pease told the Orange County Register. "The lawsuit will continue, and the judge will continue to look at the legal issues."

Pease and David Simon are working with United Poultry Concerns, a Virginia-based animal rights group that says it promotes "the compassionate and respectful treatment of domestic fowl."