JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Waving chickens above their heads, ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel performed the ritual of "kaparot" ahead of Yom Kippur, the most sacred day of the Jewish calendar, which begins at sundown on Tuesday.
In the Mea Shearim neighborhood of Jerusalem and in other cities around Israel, religious Jews said prayers as they performed the traditional rite with the birds, which then go to slaughter.
The participants called for forgiveness, symbolically passing their sins to the doomed bird while calling it "my substitute, my atonement".
Most participants used white chickens. A small number chose to use a darker-colored bird. The slaughtered chickens are generally donated to the poor.
The custom is intended to symbolize the cleansing of sins in the build-up to the 'Day of Atonement' the period of fasting and prayer that is observed by Jews the world over.
In Ashdod, on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea, some also performed the ritual known as Tashlich, in which people empty their pockets into a source of water, casting their sins out to sea.
The worshippers threw bread on to the sea to draw fish toward them, so that they can symbolically bear the sins away.
(Reporting by Amir Cohen and Ronen Zvulun; Writing by Stephen Farrell; Editing by Richard Balmforth)