The Knesset Economic Affairs Committee on Tuesday refused to approve new directives issued by the Agriculture Ministry for regulating the custom of kapparot – a practice conducted before Yom Kippur in which a live chicken is ritually lifted over a person’s head before being slaughtered.

The committee rejected the directives because they state that the custom will be permitted only with the consent of local authorities, which, according to the committee, are not able to supervise over it.

Committee chairman MK Eitan Cabel (Zionist Camp) demanded that the Minister of Agriculture Uri Ariel (HaBayit HaYehudi) and the Director-General of his office work to regulate the kapparot practice in another way. He said that the current regulations were overly stringent and if implemented would prevent the performance of the kapparot ritual.

The custom has become increasingly controversial in recent years due to arguments raised by animal rights groups that the ritual entails significant suffering to the birds, including being left for hours and even days in small cages, frequently without food and water, and often outside in the sun.

The ritual can also be performed by substituting the chickens with money that is then donated to charity.

Last year, the Agriculture Ministry issued strict guidelines prohibiting the slaughter of chickens outside of permanent slaughterhouses, which led to vigorous opposition from parts of the haredi community that are accustomed to performing the kapparot custom.

To allow slaughter outside of a permanent slaughterhouse, the ministry issued new guidelines that included strict regulations on transportation times for the chickens, mandated the presence of veterinarians and inspectors at slaughter sites, and introduced various stipulations to ensure that the chickens do not suffer during the process.

In addition, the head of the local municipal authority could choose to permit or disallow slaughter outside of slaughterhouses as long as the Veterinary Services Administration was satisfied that the regulations were being upheld.

According to attorney Simcha Rottman, who submitted a High Court of Justice petition last year against the Agriculture Ministry’s regulations, the current guidelines require that a mobile slaughterhouse be erected at every site, which he claimed would cost at least NIS 10,000. He also argued that the manpower required for inspection of the sites would be hard to supply and finance.

The chairman of the Israel Veterinary Association agreed with Rottman that the regulations essentially require a roadside slaughterhouse to be erected and that such a demand was not realistic.

Cabel said that he could not approve regulations that would turn people into criminals, but that a balance needed to be struck between allowing the custom to be performed and protecting animals from unnecessary suffering.

“I will not issue regulations that the public cannot uphold,” Cabel said, adding that giving the authority for banning or permitting slaughter outside of slaughterhouses to local municipal authorities was not desirable.

He asked the ministry to formulate a different arrangement and provide the required inspection. A representative of the ministry said, however, that it was not authorized to provide inspection outside of permanent slaughterhouses.

MK David Bitan (Likud) backed Cabel`s claim, saying ”if the responsibility is handed over to the local authorities – it will not happen (the ritual).”

MK Uri Maklev (United Torah Judaism) said the current directives would prevent the custom from being performed in the open and that “Jews in Israel will be forced to do kapparot underground.”

Maklev said the coalition would be toppled if the current regulations are upheld.