Sunday, October 12, 2008

From the Red Heifer to Chicken Envelopes

In Israel the changing of the seasons from summer to fall are unmistakable. There is a coolness in the air, clouds are in the sky, light morning showers sometimes fall, trees seem greener, and the chicken envelopes appear in the mailbox. Yes, it is that time of the year again for the traditional fall Jewish holidays.

In biblical times the Day of Atonement, or Yom Kippur, was observed strictly according to the commands of the Law of Moses as written in the Torah. There was fasting, slaughter of the Red Heifer, scape-goating, and so forth. Everything was to be done exactly according to the minutiae God commanded Israel to do each year to receive national atonement. Today it is, um, a bit different (hence the chicken envelopes).

Some ultra orthodox groups have the tradition of killing a chicken just before Yom Kippur to symbolize the atoning animal sacrifices of the biblical commands since there is no Jewish temple in which to fulfill the injunctions because, after all, as Leviticus 17 states, without shedding blood there can be no atonement for the soul.

So, the tradition of these orthodox is to take a chicken (male chicken if you are male, female chicken if you are female [and two chickens if you are pregnant (which is an unusual Jewish concept of sin, pertaining to the unborn)]) and, while saying the appropriate prayers for forgiveness, twirl the live chicken around your head three times and then kill it and eat it just before the Yom Kippur fast begins.

Now not everyone in Israel has access to chickens, or really if they did they do not have time to go and perform this act. So instead, these orthodox groups send our said chicken envelopes with clear printed instructions for people to give 18 shekels (about $5) to pay for the cost of a chicken and an orthodox person will perform the chicken twirl for you. All you have to do is put the money in the aforementioned envelope, say the prayers as you twirl the money-laden envelope around your head three times, then deposit that baby in the mail and (assuming you fast appropriately), VoilĂ ! Virtual atonement hath occurred.

So there you have the evolutionary transformation from the Red Heifer at the Holy Temple to chicken envelopes in the mail. Who would have thunk it could be done that way?