Tashlich comes from the Hebrew word meaning ‘to cast’ and is symbolical in reference to the intention of casting away sins. It is an ancient and meaningful Jewish custom and a traditional ceremony done during Rosh Hashanah. The ritual is performed by casting pieces of bread or other foods into flowing water. Sins are symbolically carried away by the water as a way to start the new year free of previous sins.
Tashlich is usually performed on the first day of Rosh Hashanah but if the first day falls on Shabbat, Tashlich is not done until the second day. It can also be done on any day up until the last day of Sukkot. Sukkot is considered to be the last day of the judgment time period that starts with Rosh Hashanah.
Tashlich was inspired by the prophet Micah. ( From Micah 7:19,)
God will take us back in love;
God will cover up our iniquities,
You [God] will hurl all our sins
Into the depths of the sea
The participant recites the following blessing and then tosses bread or other food into the flowing waters:
“Who is like You, God, who removes iniquity and overlooks transgression of the remainder of His inheritance. He does not remain angry forever because He desires kindness. He will return and He will be merciful to us, and He will conquer our iniquities, and He will cast off our sins into the depths of the seas. Give truth to Jacob, kindness to Abraham, like that you swore to our ancestors from long ago.” (Micah 7:18-20)
Water is symbolic of kindness and the request that God treat the participant with kindness during the new year. Flowing water with fish is considered to be the best kind as fish are not subject to “evil eye”. Fish also do not have eyelids and therefore their eyes are always open, a symbol that God is always watching over us.
In the event that flowing water is not accessible any body of water will do, even a dry well or kitchen sink. Tashlich may also be performed in a synagogue. While the performance of Tashlich was originally a private ceremony it has become a group experience in many areas. In addition to casting pieces of bread or food many people will turn out their pockets to be sure no sins remain.
Tashlich may be a symbolic ritual but it is done to remind the particpant to change their negative ways and become a better person in the coming new year.