JERUSALEM - A ritual sacrifice of chickens that are also twirled about one's head to atone for sins ahead of the Yom Kippur holiday has come under fire in Israel where animal activists want it outlawed.
The custom known in Hebrew as "kaparot" is commonly practiced by Ultra Orthodox Jews before the annual Day of Atonement, a 25-hour period of fasting and prayer observed by Jews the world over starting at sunset Friday.
In Israel, where a majority of Jews view themselves as secular or non-observant, a small group of Ultra Orthodox has angered the wider public by slaughtering chickens to cleanse themselves of sin.
Many spin the chickens above their heads either before or after they are butchered, and utter a traditional prayer for forgiveness, calling the doomed bird "my substitute, my atonement" to help usher in a "long life in peace."
The slaughtered animals are generally donated to the poor for consumption. Many Jews observe the ancient ritual by means of coins or goods spun about the head instead of chickens.
Some 2,000 Israelis in Tel Aviv, Israel's main cultural hub, have signed petitions this year demanding the public sacrifice of chickens be banned, after complaints that some of the butchering took place in open view before the last holiday.
City hall has responded by urging the ritual be confined to butchers' stalls and synagogues.
"Thousands of chickens are being tortured. This is a public nuisance and a difficult violation of sensitivities for many living in Tel Aviv," city councilor Reuven Ladiansky wrote to the mayor, according to the Ynet news Web site.
Rabbi Naftali Lubert retorted that "the chickens you eat are also slaughtered," Ynet said. He also accused detractors of inciting further tensions between non-observant and religious Israelis already often at odds over their lifestyle differences.
(Writing by Allyn Fisher-Ilan; Editing by Paul Casciato)