Traditions that Conflict with Teachings


Judaism provides strong protections for anymals, but there is room for improvement in aligning practice with teachings. For example, there is wide acceptance of anymal experimentation and many Jews choose an omnivorous (flesh, dairy, and eggs) or vegetarian (dairy and eggs) diet despite vegan diet (no anymal products). (For full coverage of the vegan diet, see 4.3 “Vegan: Point/Counterpoint.”) This portion of the website draws attention to additional disquietudes—places where scriptures do not align with actions, teachings, and traditions—including a blood ritual called kaporos, practiced by only a small minority of Jews, and traditional interpretations of both the place of humanity amid creation and our understandings of the snake in Genesis 3.

  1. 4.5 Disquietudes: Traditions that Conflict with Teachings
    1. Kaporos
      1. The Ritual of Kaporos
      2. Disquietudes of Kaporos
      3. Alternatives to Kaporos
      4. Kaporos Summary
    2. Humility—A God-Centered Universe
    3. The Snake of Genesis 3
    4. Conclusion
    5. Featured Sources
    6. Endnotes

(To view all Judaism topics, visit 4.1 Judaism: Introduction and Outline)

I thought then and still think now that in Israel, of all places, the treatment of animals should be better than in countries that have no religious tradition of concern for animals.

Nina Natelson, founder and director of Concern for Helping Animals in Israel (CHAI) and Hakol CHAI) in Kemmerer, Animals and World Religionsii

Photos courtesy of Jo-Anne McArthur, We Animals Media.

Free ranging, independent Macaque with baby.

Photos courtesy of Jo-Anne McArthur, We Animals Media.

Macaque with baby in a research breeding facility.
I. Kaporos

Each year, on the eve of Yom Kippur, thousands of chickens are killed in the bloodletting ritual of atonement called Kaporos,iv which is practiced by a comparatively small number of Jews.v

  1. The Ritual of Kaporos

    Kaporos is sometimes performed at home, but many participants travel to Kaporos sites to participate in this blood-ritual of atonement. On site, they choose an adolescent chicken from among hundreds or thousands of birds stacked crate on crate. The adolescent birds are then held with wings forcibly pinned behind their backs and swung three times over a supplicant’s head. During the ritual, the participant recites a prayer:

    This is my exchange, my substitute, my atonement; this [bird] shall go to its death, but I shall go to a good, long life, and to peace.vi

    The chicken’s throat is then slit and the value of the bird (or the body) may be donated to a charitable cause.

  2. Disquietudes of Kaporos

    Isaiah 1:12-17

    Trample my courts no more;
    bringing offerings is futile;
    incense is an abomination to me.
    New moon and sabbath and calling of convocation—
    I cannot endure solemn assemblies with iniquity.
    Your new moons and your appointed festivals
    my soul hates;
    they have become a burden to me,
    I am weary of bearing them.
    When you stretch out your hands,
    I will hide my eyes from you;
    even though you make many prayers,
    I will not listen;
    your hands are full of blood.
    Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;
    remove the evil of your doings
    from before my eyes;
    cease to do evil,
    learn to do good;
    seek justice,
    rescue the oppressed,
    defend the orphan,
    plead for the widow.

    There are at least five important reasons to end the bloodletting of Kaporos.

    1. Kaporos is not mentioned in the Torahvii or Talmud and has never been required in Judaism. Scriptures do not instruct us to kill to atone for sins. The latter prophets speak strongly against blood sacrifice, suggesting alternatives that align with Jewish law and ethics, alternatives that fulfill the expectation that we serve and protect creation. (For more on our divinely ordained duty to serve and protect creation, see 4.2.I.F “Duties Assigned by God.” For more on scriptures and sacrifice, see 4.3.II “Sacrifice.”)
    2. Kaporos brings suffering and premature death to chickens and, in the process, breaches core Jewish ethics and law, which require mercy, compassion, and tsa’ar ba’alei chaim (not to harm). Footage taken onsite reveals that some of the chickens are alive and visibly suffering long after they have been “killed,” revealing a lack of halachic procedures—Jewish law requires a clean and complete kill. Additionally, the birds are often left in their cages without food or water, and in all weather conditions, for extended periods of time. Their bones are frequently broken in handling or in the moving of cages (wings, toes, and sometimes legs). Such treatment breaches the teaching of tsa’ar ba’alei chaim and represents an abrogation of our responsibility to serve and protect creation. (For more on divinely ordained human responsibilities, see 4.2.I.F, “Duties Assigned by God”).

      These chickens are packed into transport crates which are callously thrown to the ground when delivered, often breaking off the birds’ toes. The crates are stacked and remain that way for many hours or days. The birds have no access to food or water, and many die from dehydration, heat prostration, starvation or infection. The survivors are yanked out by their delicate wings (which often break) and swung around a practitioner’s head three times, then handed to a shochet (ritual slaughterer) who cuts their necks and throws them upside down into an inverted cone to choke on their own blood and die an agonizing death.

      Rina Deych, founding member of Alliance to End Chickens as Kaporosviii

Photo courtesy of Freedom Farm.

Hens roosting for the night at Freedom Farm, a vegan sanctuary in Moshav Olesh, Israel.
    1. Kaporos expresses a cold indifference to life and loss of life. Scriptures teach that life rests in the hand of the Creator and is to be respected: Chickens are God’s and not ours. Rather than atone for sins, destroying an innocent creature of God—one that is not ours to destroy—would seem much more likely to heap sin on sin.

      Jules was sweet-natured, warm and affectionate to the core. He was a natural leader, and the hens loved him. Our dusky brown hen Petal, whom we’d adopted from another sanctuary, was devoted to Jules. Petal had gnarly toes, which didn’t stop her from whisking away from anyone she didn’t want to come near her; otherwise she sat still watching everything, especially Jules. Petal never made a sound; she didn’t cluck like most hens - except when Jules left her side a little too long. Then all of a sudden, the silent and immobile hen with the watchful eye let out a raucous SQUAWK, SQUAWK, SQUAWK, that didn’t stop until Jules lifted his head from whatever he was doing, and muttering to himself, ran over to comfort his friend.

      Karen Davis, Ph.D., founder of United Poultry Concernsix

Photo courtesy of Holly Wills and United Poultry Concerns.

Karen Davis of United Poultry Concerns with Nicholas & Nathaniel.
    1. Kaporos furthers the problem of food shortages and shows brazen indifference to the starvation that plagues families around the world. After the ritual, bird after bird is thrown into trash bag after trash bag, each one soon overflowing. Even among those who eat chickens, there is no need for thousands of whole, dead birds with feathers stained in blood. More importantly, in a world where some nine million humans die annually for want of food, Jewish law and ethics do not permit raising tens of thousands of chickens—feeding them precious grains in the process—only to slit their throats and throw their bodies into trash bags to bloat and rot.

      Undercover investigations have revealed that ritually slaughtered kosher chickens allegedly earmarked for "the poor" were instead thrown into the trash.


Photo courtesy of Steve Linde and The Jerusalem Post.xii

Volunteers picking vegetables with Israel’s leading food rescue and redistribution network, Leket Israel.
    1. Scriptures require that we preserve human health. Anymal markets have brought and continue to bring deadly diseases to humanity, including AIDS, SARS, Swine Flu, Bird Flu, and COVID-19.xiii (For more on scriptures and health see 4.3.V.2 “Medical: Caring for Humanity.”)

      During Kaporos, an estimated 100,000 chickens are trucked into Brooklyn; held in crates on the street for up to a week; and swung in the air by practitioners before being killed in approximately 30 open air slaughterhouses erected on residential streets. The blood, feces and body parts of the chickens contaminate the sidewalks and streets for several days.xiv

      Kaporos is, in effect, the largest live animal wet market in the country and the only one in which the customers handle the animals before the animals are killed.. . . . According to a toxicologist who studied fecal and blood samples taken during Kaporos, the ritual “constitutes a dangerous condition” and “poses a significant public health hazard.”

      Donny Moss, founder of TheirTurn.netxv

  1. Alternatives to Kaporos

    Proverbs 21:3

    To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice.

    Most Jews honor the day of atonement using a ritual, “mentioned in many prayer books—including the highly regarded Artscroll Siddur”xvi—a ritual that spills no blood and preserves and even enhances “the sense of repentance and the tradition of charity”:xvii

    Money is put into a handkerchief which the person swings three times around his or her head while reciting: “This money shall go to charity, and I shall go to a good, long life, and to peace.” [xviii]

    In this ritual of repentance, “no innocent creature has to suffer and die for a person’s misdeeds.” [xix] Instead of breaching Jewish ethics or laws , Jewish teachings are honored and upheld because money used in the ceremony is sent to the poor.

    Kapparot is not consistent with Jewish teachings and law. Repentance and charity can be better accomplished by using money instead of a slaughtered chicken.

    Shlomo Goren, previously Israeli Chief Rabbixx

    I used to use chickens, but it made a mess in the home and sometimes it died on the way. It was not simple. Hence, I did hataras nedarimxxi and began with using money. Giving money is preferable anyway, since it is not dirty, and we eliminate the issue brought up by the Ben Ish Chai, that a chicken sees the other being slaughtered and becomes fearful and its lung collapses.

    Meir Mazuz, Rabbi)xxii

  2. Kaporos Summary

    Judaism certainly does not instruct humanity to attempt to foist sins off on innocents and then slit their throats. The Kaporos ritual is not scriptural, and is therefore not required. To enact this ritual is to breach core Jewish ethics: Scriptures require that we show compassion and mercy, and that we protect health and life. Ironically, those who perform the ritual of Kaporos breach many core Jewish ethics and laws while engaging in a ritual to atone for sins. It is therefore not surprising that the vast majority of Jews engage in bloodless traditions of atonement on the eve of Yom Kippur.

    Not only does this practice break 15 city and state laws, but it violates mandates and imperatives in the Torah and Talmud, not the least of which is tsa’ar ba’alei chaim.

    Rina Deych, founding member of Alliance to End Chickens as Kaporos.


Courtesy of Shamayim: Jewish Animal Advocacy.xxiii

II. Humility—A God-Centered Universe

Humility is a central ethic of the Hebrew Bible, an ethic that is strongly reinforced in the creation narrative. But traditional interpretations of the story of creation reinforce human tendencies to exceptionalism and arrogance, overlooking deeper and more pervasive lessons of creaturely humility and commonality of Creation. Human exceptionalism pushes against what creation conveys—only God is separate and distinct from what has been created.

We are all God’s living creatures, fellow servants of God. We were made on the 6th day—along with other land-dwelling creatures, and where creation is concerned, nowhere does scriptures teach of community rather than indicate either hierarchy or “othering.” The Bible carries a strong ethic of humility, even embedding this virtue in our bones.

Tradition has long held that scriptures teach of a hierarchy in creation, but how is this possible in light of the two different orders of creation provided in Genesis? Genesis 1 begins with God creating elements of the earth and universe, then living creatures—culminating in land animals, the last of which is a human being. In contrast, Genesis 2 begins with basic earthly elements, then man, vegetation, more complex inanimate matter, living creatures, and finally woman. These two orders of creation prevent any reasonable interpretation of the Genesis creation accounts as a hierarchy, along with any sense that humanity is in some way the pinnacle or most important/privileged aspect of creation.

Critically, humans are not given dominion over the earth; we are only given vegan dominion over anymals. Moreover, the first man is assigned the task of serving and protecting creation with the aid of anymals and woman. Nothing about Genesis indicates that humans are the pinnacle of all that exists. God alone is the creator, the pinnacle, the core, the Life of all life.

Nor can we claim anything over other living creatures after death: We share both the breath of life and frailty of flesh (kol basar). All living beings perish and return to dust. Ecclesiastes 3 (18-21) acknowledges humans as living creatures among living creatures with “no advantage.” Recall Ecclesiastes 3:18-21:

I said in my heart with regard to human beings that God is testing them to show that they are but animals. For the fate of humans and the fate of animals is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and humans have no advantage over the animals; for all is vanity. All go to one place; all are from the dust, and all turn to dust again.

Jules developed a respiratory infection that left him weak and vulnerable. . . . His exuberance ebbed out of him and he became sad; there is no other word for the total condition of mournfulness he showed. His voice, which had always been cheerful, changed to moaning tones of woe. He banished himself to the outer edges of the chickenyard where he paced up and down, bawling so loudly I could hear him crying from inside the house. I brought him in with me and sought to comfort my beloved bird, who showed by his whole demeanor that he knew he was dying and was hurt through and through by what he had become. . . . One morning our veterinarian placed him gently on the floor of his office after a final and futile overnight stay. Jules looked up at me from the floor and let out a low groan of “ooooohh” so broken that it pierced me through. I am pierced by it now, remembering the sorrow expressed by this dear sweet creature, “Gentleman Jules,” who loved his life and his hens and was leaving it all behind.

Karen Davis, Ph.D., founder of United Poultry Concernsxli

Photo courtesy of Karen Davis.xlii

Gentleman Jules at United Poultry Concerns.

The book of Job (Hebrew Bible) further affirms the animality of humanity and the sole sovereignty of God. In this narrative, when Job indicates anymals as lower and lesser, God leads him to recognize that he is their kin. When Job complains, “I am a brother of jackals, and a companion of ostriches” (Job 30:29), God does not disagree but instead asks, “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding” (Job 38:4). The Creator continues at length (Job 38:25–29):

“Who has cut a channel for the torrents of rain,
and a way for the thunderbolt,
to bring rain on a land where no one lives,
on the desert, which is empty of human life,
to satisfy the waste and desolate land,
and to make the ground put forth grass?
“Has the rain a father,
or who has begotten the drops of dew?
From whose womb did the ice come forth,
and who has given birth to the hoarfrost of heaven?”

God continues in Job 39:1-10

“Do you know when the mountain goats give birth?
Do you observe the calving of the deer?
Can you number the months that they fulfill,
and do you know the time when they give birth,
when they crouch to give birth to their offspring,
and are delivered of their young?...
Who has let the wild ass go free?
Who has loosed the bonds of the swift ass,
to which I have given the steppe for its home,
the salt land for its dwelling place?
It scorns the tumult of the city;
it does not hear the shouts of the driver.
It ranges the mountains as its pasture,
and it searches after every green thing.
Is the wild ox willing to serve you?
Will it spend the night at your crib?
Can you tie it in the furrow with ropes,
or will it harrow the valleys after you?”

In this last portion, the Creator reminds Job, who seems to have forgotten his rightful place, that many aspects of nature and many anymals have been created intentionally, fully, and rightly outside of and beyond the realms of humanity (further restricting our vegan dominion). [xlviii]

The Creator provides a final and blunt reminder (Job 40:15) that we are creatures among creatures, stating of the hippopotamus, “which I made just as I made you.” At length, Job finally grasps his creatureliness in contrast with God’s divinity and recognizes that he is “brother of jackals, and a companion of ostriches” (Job 30:29). Here God reminds that humans are not divine, but that we are living creatures among living creatures, created and sustained by the Almighty. If we see living creatures as lowly and lesser, so much the worse for humanity.

The falling of rain is greater than the giving of the Law, for the giving of the Law [is] a joy only to Israel, while the falling of rain is a rejoicing for all the world, including the cattle and the wild beasts and the birds.

Rabbi Tanhum b. Hiyya commenting on Midrash Tehillim, acknowledging our place in the universe.[xlix]

I held Muffie a lot. Occasionally I would take her with me in the car, where at first she would always exercise her curiosity, looking out the window and poking about the seats and floor. Soon she would snuggle down next to me for the rest of the trip. To the end, she sat at my side, wherever we were.

Karen Davis, Ph.D., founder of United Poultry Concernsxlv

Photo courtesy of Karen Davis.xlvi

Muffie and Fluffie at United Poultry Concerns.
III. The Snake of Genesis 3

(This subsection of the website is the original work of Dr. Lisa Kemmerer).

If snakes were in a popularity contest, among all other animals, they would surely lose. Around the world, snakes are often perceived as animals to be feared or hated. Unfortunately, the reality is that most of the antipathies that surround snakes are guided by ignorance or misunderstanding.

Save the Snakesxxvi

Snakes of the world suffer greatly because of the human tendency to fear snakes. Harmless snakes are often killed and snakes that might harm are often killed when they might just as well be left alone or relocated (if among humans). More than half of the world’s snakes are either threatened, near threatened, or we lack data to know their survival status.xxvii Where snakes are concerned, there is much room for improvement in our relations with God’s creatures. Taking a closer look at the snake of Genesis 3 and correcting misconceptions about this narrative is a good first step.

Israel is a unique nation for snakes, housing forty-two species, nine of which are venomous, and almost all of whom dwell in the desert dunes. Israel’s national snake, The Palestine viper, is one of only two species of northern Israel. Snakes are shy. Most active between April and November, they partially hibernate in the winter. Finding Israeli’s summer heat unbearable, snakes are largely nocturnal, emerging after sunset.

Israel between the Linesxxviii

The snake of Genesis 3xxix has a remarkably bad reputation. In referring to or retelling the story, the focus has always been the snake’s deliberate efforts to cause Eve and Adam to disobey God. This tendency has been so strong that, when Jewish scriptures were adopted into Christianity, this new religion identified the snake with Satan or even thought the snake to be Satan. xxx Fortunately, a fresh read reveals much to admire in this creature of God.

Photo courtesy of Save the Snakes.xxxi

Choti Singh of Save the Snakes, with a snake.

Genesis 3 portrays the snake as the neighbor of Eve and Adam, and similar to many neighbors, pauses to chat at the garden fence. The snake is described with the Hebrew word “'arum.” Forms of this word appear elsewhere in scriptures, for example, to describe the intelligence of one no less than David (1 Samuel 23:22, translated as “cunning,” with positive connotations) and in Job (again translated as “crafty”). In Job the term is used to weigh human intelligence against the knowledge of God, coming up short, as one would expect. But there is nothing negative in the term—all things come up short when compared with God, and there is no shame in this for living creatures. The point of the passage is to remind humanity to be humble and remain focused on the Creator—no matter how intelligent we might be among living creatures.

'Arum also shows up in Proverbs—seven times, translated as “prudent” and “clever.” 'Arum is translated once as “prudent” in Proverbs 12:16:

Fools show their anger at once,
but the prudent ignore an insult.

'Arum is also translated a handful of times as “clever” in Proverbs:

  • 12:23

One who is clever conceals knowledge,
but the mind of a fool broadcasts folly.

  • 13:16

The clever do all things intelligently,
but the fool displays folly.

  • 14:8, 15, and 18:

It is the wisdom of the clever to understand where they go,
but the folly of fools misleads.

The simple believe everything,
but the clever consider their steps.

The simple are adorned with folly,
but the clever are crowned with knowledge.

  • and 22:3 (repeated in 27:12)

The clever see danger and hide;
but the simple go on, and suffer for it.

In every instance in Proverbs, 'arum indicates intelligence and has strong positive connotations. Why would the use of 'arum in Genesis 3 be negative?

A closer look at what is actually written in Genesis 3 gives readers no reason to shun the snake, though it does provide one way of understanding the age-old human fear of snakes. Most importantly, a closer read shows that the author viewed the intelligent snake in a positive light. In fact, early Jewish (Ophite) Gnostics held the snake in high regardxxxii and there is an ancient and strong tradition among Jewish Gnostics of reading Genesis 3 without even the slightest negative connotations for the snake.

Despite their unwarranted reputation, snakes are critically important animals for our world. Snakes maintain balance in the food web and therefore keep ecosystems healthy. . . . Snakes are truly interesting and amazing animals, which are celebrated or worshiped in cultures around the globe. Yet, due to increased conflict with humans, many snake species are under threat of extinction.

Save the Snakesxxxiii

Photo courtesy of Save the Snakes.xxxiv

True to the term “'arum” the snake of Genesis 3 is clever—the snake clearly knows more than Eve or Adam. In speaking, the snake reveals knowledge and understanding beyond that of the first humans. The dialogue centers on God’s rules regarding which trees humans may eat from, and the consequences of eating from the forbidden tree. When Eve reports that God has prohibited the consumption of any fruit from a specific tree, lest they die (Genesis 3:3), the snake corrects her: “You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:4–5).

Genesis tells us that Eve understood her neighbor to be a good source of information. She believes what the snake has said—and she desires to know good and evil—so she samples the forbidden fruit, simultaneously offering the fruit to Adam: “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate” (Genesis 3:6). Scriptures tell us that the snake has spoken the truth—after eating the forbidden fruit, the “eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked” (Genesis 3:7).

Because they have become aware of their nakedness, the Creator knows that they have eaten the forbidden fruit. When questioned by God, Adam blames the Creator for providing him with a woman, and also the woman for sharing the fruit: “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate” (Genesis 3:12). In turn, the women blames the snake: “The serpent tricked me, and I ate” (Genesis 3:13).

But scriptures demonstrate that the snake did not trick Eve. The snake has simply spoken the truth: By eating the forbidden fruits, humanity gained knowledge, thereby becoming a little more like the Creator (Genesis 3:5). Importantly, the snake did not tell Eve to eat of the forbidden fruit. Nonetheless, for centuries Judaism has blamed the snake rather than place responsibility where it belongs—squarely on the shoulders of Eve and of Adam, who each chose to taste of the fruit that they were instructed not to eat.

Trekking with a group of snake lovers, it became clear that perhaps the feared snake simply has a bad reputation. Snakes always give a fair warning before an attack, shaking a rattle, releasing scent, or showing the belly.... To put it into perspective, Bar says that “0.7 people die per year from a snake bite, and about 400 people die per year from car accidents.”

Israel between the Linesxxxv

Photo courtesy of Save the Snakes.xxxvi

Kelly Donithan Ph.D. of Save the Snakes, holding a snake.

Apparently, the first people desired greater knowledge, which scriptures tell us comes with a price—but the snake of Genesis 3 does nothing more than correct human ignorance/error with regard to the forbidden fruit. While the snake speaks a truth that ultimately results in Eve and Adam choosing to disobey God, it is not customary (in law or ethics) to blame those who speak the truth for the illegal or immoral actions of others who hear and respond to this truth. For example, if one person tells another that there is gold in a nearby home, and the informed person then breaks in and steals the gold, the informant has committed no crime.

Importantly, there is no indication in Genesis that the snake has evil intent—that the snake intends to lead humanity astray or wants them to choose one way or the other. The serpent simply has understanding that humanity does not have and provides this information.

Unfortunately, what unfolded was not according to God’s plan, and as a consequence, all are cursed. God punishes the woman with increased pains in childbirth and with the domination of men; the man is given thorns and prickles where he toils to produce food from the land. As for the snake, God says, “Because you have done this, cursed are you among all animals and among all wild creatures; upon your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike your head, and you will strike his heel” (Genesis 3:14-15).

As snakes become more active with the rising temperatures, the Ministry of Environmental Protection and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority have received many complaints about injuries to snakes. These include reports about snakes being trapped with adhesive and pipe traps, which result in serious injuries to snakes, and cause them to suffer. . . . These traps are prohibited and using them to capture snakes is a criminal offense.

(Ministry of Environmental Protection)xxxvii

Importantly, God’s curse exposes a state of enmity between snakes and humanity as a change: The narrative of Genesis reveals the snake and Eve as amiable earlier in the story, speaking together in such a way as to reveal a sense of community across species. Inasmuch as enmity is a change from what was created, it is contrary to God’s intent as revealed in the Creator’s original plan. Also of importance, this curse does not require humanity to dislike or harm snakes (any more than it requires men to dominate women or women to suffer in childbirth). Indeed, scriptures such as Isaiah 11:8-9 inform of a future in which inter-species harmony will be reestablished, a Peaceable Kingdom where the Creator’s original plan will be reinstated: Importantly, God’s curse reveals enmity between snakes and humanity as a change: the snake and Eve spoke together in such a way as to reveal a sense of community across species. And inasmuch as this neighborly relationship is a change from what was created, it is contrary to God’s original plan. Also of importance, this curse does not require humanity to dislike or harm snakes (any more than it requires men to dominate women or women to suffer in childbirth). Indeed, later scriptures inform of a future in which inter-species harmony will be reestablished, a future Peaceable Kingdom where the Creator’s original plan will be reinstated—and we are to work to help bring this about.

Isaiah 11:8-9:

The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder's den.
They will not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain.

Snakes are beautiful and mysterious animals who have an unearned negative reputation. Some people have even come to fear these stunning animals, but they have more reasons to fear us than we do to fear them.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animalsxxxviii

Photo courtesy of Save the Snakes.xxxix

Choti Singh of Save the Snakes, protecting snakes and people by relocating a venomous snake.

Interestingly, punishments given by God indicate that the first human beings were akin to ignorant and gullible children in comparison with the snake, and that God intended that we remain so. In light of who humans have proven to be—what we have done with our intelligence by way of climate change, warfare, and factory farming—the wisdom of the Creator is everywhere apparent. (For more on the ill effects of anymal agriculture, see 4.3.V “Vegan Moral Imperative: AMORE—Five critical reasons to choose vegan.”)

Snakes are considered protected animals [in Israel] and serve as an important part of the ecosystem . . . harming them is against the law.

Jerusalem Postxl

Genesis 3 reveals snakes as intelligent and thinking beings—which of course they are. God has endowed all living creatures with intelligence necessary not only to survive, but to thrive across millions of years.

The Genesis 3 snake narrative explains certain hardships of life and why they exist despite a loving and all-powerful Creator who made a perfect universe, and most of all, the importance of obedience to God. But Genesis 3 also reminds that snakes—along with all other anymals and woman—were created to work together as fellow living creatures, to help Adam serve and protect creation and to keep him company. Genesis 3 reminds that the Creator initially established (and therefore intended and prefers) neighborly relations between all creatures, including snakes—that God intended us to live peaceably with one another and that peace will again be realized on earth: We are expected to work toward the Peaceable Kingdom according to God’s purposes, and this includes protecting and caring for snakes.

Many snakes in Israel are protected wildlife that are beneficial. . . . The public should not harm them or try to catch them. In addition, capturing snakes requires professional knowledge, experience, and is only permitted with a special, private permit issued by the Nature and Parks Authority. . . .

What to do if you see a snake? If you are in an open space, don't come close to the snake. (Remember you are in its natural territory.) If you are in an urban area, and the snake should be caught, for safety's sake, please be sure to only hire a snake catcher with a valid permit. (Request to see the permit.) You can find a list of authorized snake catchers on the Israel Nature and Parks Authority website (Hebrew only).

Note that exterminators licensed by the Ministry of Environmental Protection are not authorized to catch snakes. They must have a separate snake-catching permit from the INPA.

(Ministry of Environmental Protection) [xli]

Photo courtesy of Save the Snakes.xlii


Kaporos, practiced by a comparatively small number of Jews, is not a religious requirement and violates core Jewish laws and ethics. It is not possible to atone for wrongdoing by doing wrong. Kaporos fails to show mercy, compassion, and tsa’ar ba’alei chaim, instead expressing cold indifference to God’s creatures (and to life itself). Kaporos also threatens the lives and welfare of humanity: Kaporos is wasteful and furthers the problem of world hunger. Additionally, Kaporos creates anymal markets in crowded human communities, posing a threat to human health. An alternative ritual of atonement, using coins instead of chickens, is much more common and ought to completely replace the use of chickens—sooner rather than later.

Along with her new independence, Muffie showed an increasing solicitude for Fluffie. They had always been close. In the early days, Muffie had expressed a certain deference toward Fluffie that now seemed to modify in her sense of Fluffie’s weakened condition. She and Fluffie often stood stock still together for long periods with their wings and little rosebud faces touching like two warm brown flowers growing side by side on the frosted lawn.

I held Muffie a lot. Occasionally I would take her with me in the car, where at first she would always exercise her curiosity, looking out the window and poking about the seats and floor. Soon she would snuggle down next to me for the rest of the trip. To the end, she sat at my side, wherever we were.

Karen Davis, Ph.D., founder of United Poultry Concernsxliii

Photo courtesy of Jo-Anne McArthur, We Animals Media.xliv

Rooster at Farm Sanctuary.

Human beings have tended to seek out places in scriptures that might support human exceptionalism—a view of the universe in which human beings were entitled to dominate and exploit to their advantage. Indeed, the creation story reveals humans as distinct in but one way—the first man is given vegan dominion over other creatures (but not over the earth) with whom we are to work to serve God in the world. Judaism is a God-centered religion, and Genesis clearly describes a universe where God is separate and distinct while human beings are but living creatures, servants of God alongside jackals and ostriches.

A fresh, close read of Genesis 3 calls into question the traditional interpretation of this narrative. The snake of Genesis 3 is intelligent, neighborly, and speaks the truth. Genesis 3 shows the Garden of Eden before the sin of disobedience, a world where a snake and a human being pause to talk, expressing friendly relations as established by the Creator (and therefore preferred and expected to be reintroduced). A careful read of Genesis 3 offers much that is positive about snakes, encourages respect, compassion, and tsa’ar ba’alei chaim, which seems particularly important in a world with more and more humans and fewer and fewer snakes.

Snakes, while feared around the world, are also revered and celebrated in many cultures. In some societies snakes are often viewed as good fortune and in others, the snake created the world. Being predators, the benefits of snakes are now being recognized as providing humans with an ecological service. However, snakes are seriously under threat. Some snake species have become threatened due to habitat destruction, urban development, disease, persecution, unsustainable trade and through the introduction of invasive species. Many snake species are endangered and some species are on the brink of extinction. As a society, . . . we can at least respect their right to exist without harm and appreciate their vital role in maintaining Earth’s biodiversity.xlv

(Save the Snakes)

Photo courtesy of Save the Snakes.xlvi

Hiral Naik of Save the Snakes, moving a snake to safety.

Photo courtesy of Save the Snakes.xlvi

Bush Viper
Featured Sources

Gershom, Yonassan. Kapporos Then and Now: Toward a More Compassionate Tradition. lulu.com, 2015.

Schwartz, Richard. “The Custom of Kapparot.” https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/the-custom-of-kapparot-in-the-jewish-tradition

“Kapparo.” Shamayim: Jewish Animal Advocacy. https://www.shamayim.us/#!/page/kapparos

“Kaporos.” United Poultry Concerns. https://www.upc-online.org/Kaporos/

“A Wing and a Prayer: The Kapparot Chicken-Swinging Ritual.” United Poultry Concerns. http://upc-online.org/Kaporos/a_wing_and_a_prayer.html

Davis, Karen (Ph.D.). “United Poultry Concerns’ Campaign to End Chicken Kaporos.” Alliance to End Chickens as Kaporos. March 19, 2013. https://www.upc-online.org/Kaporos/ and http://www.endchickensaskaporos.com/museum.html

Kemmerer, Lisa. “Kaporos: Multiculturalism, Ethics, and Anymals.” Animals, Race, and Multiculturalism: Contemporary Moral and Political Debates. Ed. Luís Cordeiro-Rodrigues and Les Mitchell. Palgrave, 2017. 225-254. (Download here http://lisakemmerer.com/articles.html.)

“As Summer Begins, Ministry and INPA Remind Public that Snakes are Protected Wildlife and Trapping Them with Glue or Pipes is a Criminal Offense.” Gov.il: Departments: News: Ministry of Environmental Protection. Oct. 6, 2020. https://www.gov.il/en/departments/news/snake_capture

Morgan, Diane. Snakes in Myth, Magic, and History: The Story of a Human Obsession. ‎ Praeger, 2008.

For more books on snakes, see suggestions at Save the Snakes:


[ii] Nina Natelson in Kemmerer, Lisa. Animals and World Religions. Oxford, 2012. 203-04.

[iii] Courtesy of We Animals Media. https://stock.weanimalsmedia.org/groups/

[iv] Spelled as Kaparos, Kaporos, Kapparos, or Kapparot, translating as atonement/atonements, scapegoat, and sacrifice. For more on this topic, see Davis, Karen (Ph.D.). “United Poultry Concerns’ Campaign to End Chicken Kaporos.” March 19, 2013. United Poultry Concerns. https://www.endchickensaskaporos.com/museum.html

[v] The Day of Atonement is the last of the ten days of penitence that begin with Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) and is the most solemn religious fast of the Jewish year.

[vi] Schwartz, Richard. “The Custom of Kapparot.” https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/the-custom-of-kapparot-in-the-jewish-tradition. Also, “The Kaparot Ceremony.” Chabad.org. http://www.chabad.org/holidays/JewishNewYear/template_cdo/aid/989585/jewish/Kaparot.ht

[vii] When referencing and exploring core Jewish and Christian texts, this website uses the English translation generally preferred by scholars, the New Revised Standard Version, which can be accessed here: https://www.bible.com/bible/2016/GEN.1.NRSV

[viii] “Draw the Line at an Unholy Ritual.” New York Daily News: Voice of the People. Sep. 23, 2020. https://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/ny-letter-sept-23-20200923-wrhkyo3oezdxboida7o2u7pph4-story.html

[ix] Davis, Karen. “Gentleman Jules, My Story of Jules and His Loving Soul.” United Poultry Concerns: Holiday Greetings from United Poultry Concerns, Dec. 2017. https://www.upc-online.org/holiday/17/

[x] Curtesy of United Poultry Concerns. https://www.upc-online.org/holiday/17/

[xi] “Kapparo.” Shamayim: Jewish Animal Advocacy. https://www.shamayim.us/#!/page/kapparos

[xii] Courtesy of Linde, Steve. “Feeding Israel’s hungry.” Jerusalem Post. March 30, 2019. https://www.jpost.com/jerusalem-report/feeding-israels-hungry-584853

[xiii] For more on zoonosis, see:

[xiv] Moss, Donny. “Animal Rights Activists Rescue 510 Chickens from Slaughter.” Dec. 7, 2020. https://theirturn.net/2020/12/07/animal-rights-activists-rescue-chickens-from-kaporos-slaughter/

[xv] Moss, Donny. “Kaporos, Largest Live Animal Wet Market in the United States, Opens Ahead of Yom Kippur.” Sept. 19, 2020. https://theirturn.net/2020/09/19/kaporos-wet-markets-yom-kippur/

[xvi] A very well-known and highly regarded prayer book.

[xvii] “A Wing and a Prayer: The Kapparot Chicken-Swinging Ritual.” United Poultry Concerns. http://upc-online.org/kaparos/a_wing_and_a_prayer.html

[xviii] “A Wing and a Prayer: The Kapparot Chicken-Swinging Ritual.” United Poultry Concerns. http://upc-online.org/kaparos/a_wing_and_a_prayer.html

[xix] “A Wing and a Prayer: The Kapparot Chicken-Swinging Ritual.” United Poultry Concerns. http://upc-online.org/kaparos/a_wing_and_a_prayer.html

[xx] Shlomo Goren quoted at “Kaparos” at United Poultry Concerns. https://www.upc-online.org/kaparos/

[xxi] Annulling of oaths.

[xxii] Meir Mazuz (Rabbi) quoted at “Kapparo.” Shamayim: Jewish Animal Advocacy. https://www.shamayim.us/#!/page/kapparos

[xxiii] Shamayim. https://www.shamayim.us/

[xxiv] Shamayim. https://www.shamayim.us/

[xxvi] Courtesy of “Why Snakes?” Save the Snakes. https://savethesnakes.org/s/why-snakes/#more-3182

[xxvii] “The world's most Endangered Snakes.” The International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species (the most comprehensive information source on global extinction risk status).

[xxviii] “The Snake Scene in Israel.” Israel between the Lines: About Live in Israel. Aug. 8, 2019.


[xxix] For both the New Testament and the Hebrew Bible, animalsandreligion.org uses the Biblical translation that scholars accept as the most accurate, the New Revised Standard Version. https://www.bible.com/bible/2016/GEN.1.NRSV

[xxx] Hendel, Ronald, Norma Dabby, and Sam Dabby. “Was the Snake in the Garden of Eden Satan?”

Sept. 9, 2012. Updated 2017. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/was-the-snake-in-the-garden-of-eden-satan_b_1900973

[xxxi] Courtesy of Save the Snakes. https://savethesnakes.org/team/

[xxxii] Rasimus, Tuomas. “Ophite Gnosticism, Sethianism, and the Nag Hammadi Library.” Vigiliae Christianae 59.3, Aug. 2005: 235-263. https://www.jstor.org/stable/1584571; “Ophite: Gnostic Sects.” Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Ophites

[xxxiii] “Mission and Purpose.” Save the Snakes: Purpose. https://savethesnakes.org/purpose/

[xxxiv] Courtesy of Save the Snakes. https://twitter.com/savethesnakes/status/1102193113571835905

[xxxv] “The Snake Scene in Israel.” Israel between the Lines: About Life in Israel. Aug. 8, 2019.


[xxxvi] Courtesy of Save the Snakes. https://savethesnakes.org/team/

[xxxvii] “As Summer Begins, Ministry and INPA Remind Public that Snakes are Protected Wildlife and Trapping Them with Glue or Pipes is a Criminal Offense.” Gov.il: Departments: News: Ministry of Environmental Protection, Oct. 6, 2020. https://www.gov.il/en/departments/news/snake_capture

[xxxviii] “This List Will Change How You Feel About Snakes.”People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals: Animals are not Ours. https://www.peta.org/features/list-will-change-feel-snakes/

[xxxix] Courtesy of Save the Snakes. https://savethesnakes.org/team/

[xl] “Israeli Health System Prepares for Snake Season by Getting Antidotes: The Height of Snake Season is Usually in The Month of May According to Health Ministry Estimates.” Jerusalem Post: Israel News. April 29, 2021. https://www.jpost.com/israel-news/israeli-health-system-prepares-for-snake-season-by-getting-antidotes-666741

[xli] “As Summer Begins, Ministry and INPA Remind Public that Snakes are Protected Wildlife and Trapping Them with Glue or Pipes is a Criminal Offense.” Gov.il: Departments: News: Ministry of Environmental Protection. Oct. 6, 2020. https://www.gov.il/en/departments/news/snake_capture

[xlii] Courtesy of Save the Snakes. https://twitter.com/savethesnakes/status/1102193113571835905

[xliii] Davis, Karen. “Muffie & Her Friends Remembered with Love & Lessons Learned.” Poultry Press. Spring 2019. https://www.upc-online.org/pp/spring2019/muffie_and_her_friends_remembered_with_love_and_lessons_learned.html

[xliv] Courtesy of We Animals Media. https://stock.weanimalsmedia.org/groups/

[xlv] “Why Snakes?” Save the Snakes. https://savethesnakes.org/s/why-snakes/#more-3182

[xlvi] Courtesy of Save the Snakes. https://savethesnakes.org/team/

[xlvii] Courtesy of Save the Snakes. https://savethesnakes.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/snakebite-women-champions.png

[xlviii] Vischer, Lukas and Charles Birch. Living With the Animals. Geneva: WCC, 1997. 9.

[xlix] Schochet, Elijah Judah. Animal Life in Jewish Tradition: Attitudes and Relationships. NY: KTAV Publishing, 1984. 146.