October 3, 2016
The first day of the Hebrew year 5777.
By Jay Ledbetter
Tashlich is a Hebrew word which carries with it the concept of “casting away”. The practice is not set forth in Scripture, and thus is traditional. The tradition is normally carried out on the day of Rosh Hashanah (Yom Teruah), before sunset.
This tradition arose in the 13th century and quickly became common in Judaism despite the objections of the rabbis who believed there was already too much superstition creeping into the faith, and were concerned that the people might believe that this symbolic act might actually be effective to change the outcomes of their lives. The rabbis knew then, as we know now, that only true teshuvah (repentance and return to G-d) has that power.
Hasidic Jews performing tashlich on Rosh Hashanah, painting by Aleksander Gierymski, 1884
Likewise, the custom of tashlich has some troubling similarities to pagan practices of ancient days. It was believed by the worshippers of the “gods of water” that the way to appease them was to offer sacrifices to them. Often that meant throwing food items or other valuables into the flowing waters.
Did societal paganism have an influence on early forms of tashlich? Possibly. But we need not do that examination in depth, because it is the heart to which G-d looks, and its origins were most certainly not pagan. We must not allow Satan to rob us of meaningful observances merely because he seeks to pollute the world with similar pagan observances which mimic G-d. There is nothing inherently pagan about anything we do today during tashlich, and everything can be seen as pointing directly to specific Scriptures. And this is how we should practice it in these days.