Throwing Away our Sins: The Ritual of Tashlich
In Hebrew, tashlich means “casting off,” a phrase we hear a lot around Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur – you know, as in, “casting off your sins.” In the Jewish tradition, we’ve taken to acting out this phrase somewhat literally. Because sins aren’t tangible, though, we use small pieces of bread or other food to represent our sins, and in the Rosh Hashanah ceremony known as Tashlich, we cast that sin-laden bread into a body of flowing water to be carried away with the current. The practice was inspired by Micah 7:19, which reads, “God will take us back in love / God will cover up our iniquities / God will hurl all our sins into the depths of the sea.”
Many synagogues offer Tashlich services in the afternoon on the first day of Rosh Hashanah, though if this day falls on Shabbat, some communities perform Tashlich on the second day of the holiday instead. Of course, you can practice Tashlich on your own, too. Don’t have time to do it until later? Sukkot marks the last day of the annual judgment period, which means you have about three weeks to complete your own Tashlich ceremony. Think of innovative ways to make Tashlich meaningful to you!
• Heal the world: Give your Tashlich service a social justice twist by using or adapting the Jews For Racial & Economic Justice’s “Tashlich for a Just City” to “[raise] awareness of injustice and inequality and strengthen the participants’ resolve in order to take action.” Or come up with your own social justice-themed service based on the issues and topics that matter most to you.
• A shore thing: If you live near a beach, consider a seaside Tashlich ceremony with family and friends. (Bonus: If it’s warm enough, you can go for a dip afterward…in your own sins? OK, maybe that doesn’t work after all….)
• Eco-friendly repentance: Throwing breadcrumbs into bodies of natural water may disturb the ecosystem’s nutrient balance, so Rabbi Phyllis Berman and Rabbi Arthur Waskow suggest substituting more nature-friendly elements like pebbles, seashells, or twigs into the water instead. Start the new year by treating your environment well!
• A fishy story: It’s said to be good luck to throw Tashlich breadcrumbs into water inhabited by fish because these little swimmers, who don’t have eyelids and whose eyes are therefore always open, aren’t in danger of succumbing to the “evil eye.” Cast away your sins in the form of fish food!
• Any water works: If you can’t make it to a flowing body of water or don’t have one nearby, think outside the box: Make up a Tashlich service at a nearby lake, at the local swimming pool, or even with a sprinkler or hose in your own backyard.
Don’t feel bound by traditionalism: Because Tashlich is not explicitly mentioned in the Torah or the Talmud, there’s no formal liturgy. The opportunities are endless for you to create a ceremony that resonates with your Judaism. Get creative!