Tashlich, usually recited on the first day of Rosh Hashanah, is a symbolic prayer which expresses one's desire to rid oneself of past sins. Although the core liturgy of Tashlich is but a few verses from the book of Micha which extol God's thirteen attributes of mercy, a collection of additional prayers which have been added over the years are recited as well. Ideally, Tashlich should take place at a flowing, natural body of water that contains fish. It is also considered advantageous to perform Tashlich outside of the city, if possible.[1] In Jerusalem where there are simply no rivers, Tashlich is recited at a well or man-made pond.[2] One is also permitted to recite Tashlich from a place where one can see a river or ocean, no matter how far away it actually might be.[3]

Among the reasons for reciting Tashlich alongside a body of water is to recall how Avraham Avinu readily took his son Yitzchak to the Akeida, to offer him up on the altar as a sacrifice on God's command. We are told that as they were traveling to their destination, the Satan tried to foil their mission by causing a river to block their way. The rushing waters of the river quickly overtook Avraham and he was soon submerged up to his neck. As his end seemed near, Avraham turned to God in prayer, reminding Him of his loyalty by having readily obeyed the command to sacrifice Yitzchak on the altar. Avraham then convinced God how futile it would be to take his life under such cirmstacnes when he would be able to sanctify God's name for all time at the Akeida. God heard his prayers and ordered the Satan to leave them alone. Hence, reciting Tashlich at a body of water invokes God's mercy in the merit of Avraham, on the way to the Akeida.[4]

It is also explained that performing Tashlich alongside a body of water is intended to recall that kings were historically inaugurated alongside a body of water.[5] As the primary theme of Rosh Hashana is celebrating and renewing God's role as king of the world, it is fitting for Tashlich to be recited there, as well.[6] Reciting Tashlich by a body of water also recalls the verse: "And they drew water and poured it before God."[7] The commentators explain that this verse refers to those who pour out their hearts like water in repentance, as is the theme of Tashlich.

It is preferable to recite Tashlich at a body of water which contains fish. This is based on the teaching that fish are immune from the ayin hara which symbolizes our wish to be immune from it, as well. Additionally, just as fish are always getting caught in the fisherman's net, so we are "caught" in God's "net" of judgment at this time of year. So too, the fact that fish have no eyelids, which means that their eyes are constantly open, symbolizes our hope that God will constantly keep His protective eyes open and upon us. Finally, just as fish multiply rapidly and abundantly, we pray that the Jewish people will multiply likewise, as well.[8]

Most people perform Tashlich on the first day of Rosh Hashana in the afternoon following Mincha, though some have the custom to do it before Mincha. It is noted that it was in the afternoon, around Mincha time, that Adam sinned in Gan Eden, making it an auspicious time to approach God in repentance. Moreover, afternoons are always considered to be a time of Divine favor. Indeed, it was at mincha time that the prayers of Eliyahu were answered by God on Mount Carmel. Additionally, since Tashlich is intended to recall the near sacrifice of Yitzchak, reciting Tashlich at mincha time is especially appropriate as the mincha prayers were instituted by none other than Yitzchak himself! There is also a custom to perform Tashlich immediately following services Rosh Hashana morning, prior to beginning one's meal.

It is best to ensure that one completes the recitation of Tashlich before sunset, and certainly before nightfall.[9] In some communities Tashlich is deferred to the second day of Rosh Hashana when the first day of Rosh Hashana falls out on Shabbat.[10] In other communities no such distinction is made and Tashlich is always recited on the first day of Rosh Hashanah even when it is a Shabbat.[11] Tashlich should ideally be recited before Yom Kippur although it may be recited up until Hoshana Rabba if one was unable to do so earlier. Some have the custom to recite Tashlich specifically two days before Yom Kippur, the eighth of Tishrei, as that is the day when the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy are included in the Selichot prayers.[12] The eighth of Tishrei is also said to be a day of Divine favor[13] and it is the day that the first Beit Hamikdash was dedicated, as well.[14]

There is a widespread custom to throw breadcrumbs to the fish while reciting Tashlich. While this custom is both ancient and hallowed, it is interesting to note that a number of authorities frown on this custom and some even forbid it outright.[15] The reason for this opposition is because one is not allowed to feed animals on Shabbat or Yom Tov that are not under one's personal care. There is also the concern that carrying the breadcrumbs to the place where Tashlich is recited might inadvertently lead to a violation of Shabbat or Yom Tov.[16]

Nevertheless, a number of authorities justify the custom of feeding the fish at Tashlich considering it to be a mitzva-related activity.[17] This is similar to the widespread custom to feed the birds on Shabbat Shira. The reason for the custom of feeding the birds on Shabbat Shira is to honor the birds that joined the Jewish people in singing God's praises after the crossing of the Red Sea.[18] Here too, although many authorities oppose the custom there are others who justify it considering it to be mitzva-related, as well. It is also noted that feeding the birds, and by extension the fish at Tashlich, takes virtually no effort to accomplish which further rationalizes the custom.[19]

There are also those who interpret feeding the birds at Tashlich as an act of mercy and kindness which is actually quite appropriate for the Rosh Hashana season. Just as we are showing mercy to the fish by feeding them, we hope, that in turn, God will be aroused to show mercy towards us during this period of judgment. This is similar to a custom observed as part of kapparot. After one has performed kapparot on a live chicken, the chicken is then slaughtered and given to the poor to eat. The intestines, however, are given to the birds as a way of showing our concern for both man and beast.[20] Indeed, not only are we to be merciful on human beings, but such a requirement extends to all of God's creations.[21]

Finally, there is a widespread custom to shake the corners of one's garments following Tashlich which further symbolizes our desire to shake away any sins that might remain on our slate. Some shake the corners of all their outer garments though common custom is only to shake the corners of one's tzitzit.[22] There is also a custom to dance following the recitation of Tashlich.[23] It is interesting to note that the Vilna Gaon did not look favorably upon the Tashlich ceremony and never performed it.[24] Indeed, Tashlich never truly won  universal acceptance.[25]

[1] Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 129:21; Mishna Berura 583:8.

[2] Kaf Hachaim, OC 583:30.

[3] Piskei Teshuvot 583 footnote 47.

[4] Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 129:21.

[5] Horiyot 12a.

[6] Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 129:21.

[7] Shmuel 1 7:6.

[8] Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 129:21.

[9] Mishna Berura 583:8; Mateh Ephraim 598:4.

[10] Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 129:21; Mishna Berura 583:8

[11] Mateh Ephraim 598:5. Kaf Hachaim, OC 583:31; Yabia Omer 4:47.

[12] Rivevot Ephraim 3:401, 6:310.

[13] Minhag Yisrael Torah, OC 583:4.

[14] Piskei Teshuvot 583:9.

[15] Mateh Ephraim 598:4, 5.

[16] Maharil.

[17] Ketzeh Hamateh 598:11.

[18] Magen Avraham 324:7, See "The Book of Our Heritage" by Rabbi Eliyahu Ki Tov for more on this and Shabbat Shira.

[19] Aruch Hashulchan, OC 324:3; Piskei Teshuvot 324:3.

[20] Rema, OC 605:1.

[21] Minhag Yisrael Torah, OC 583:6.

[22] Piskei Teshuvot 583:8, Minhag Yisrael Torah, OC 583:5.

[23] Lu'ach Davar B'ito 1 Tishrei 5769.

[24] Ma’aseh Rav 209.

[25] Aruch Hashulchan, OC 584:4; Elef Hamagen 583:7.