What Is Tashlikh? How Do I Do Tashlich?

Tashlikh is the practice of standing before a body of water and tossing some fish food to represent the remaining sticky points within your persona that get in the way of your having/creating a good year. This is a gestalt type of experience, where you let go of clinging behaviors, memories and experiences. Good ritual facilitates desired change. The symbolism is like that of the scapegoat, you put into the crumbs what about yourself most needs to change, drop it into the water for the fish to transform. Water is the symbol for overflowing loving-kindness in Judaism, and is a powerful ritual tool for assisting in desired transformations.

* Tashlikh means "you will cast away". Most date the ritual to the fourteenth century, one can also construe reference to it from the prophet Micah 7:18-20:

"Who is a God like You?
You forgive sins and overlook miss-steps
For the survivors of Your People;
God does not retain anger forever,
for God loves kindness;
God will return and show us mercy,
and overcome our missing the mark.
And you will cast into the depths of the sea all their errors;
You will show kindness to Jacob and compassion to Abraham
As you promised to our ancestors."

* Tashlikh historically was done into a body of water containing fish. The metaphor being that just as fish are surrounded by water, we are equally immersed in the womb of the One. Just as fish can swim unselfconsciously only to be caught in a net, so can we cause unintentional hurt. Just as the eyes of most fish are always open, so may we live with awareness.


l. This ritual presumes that one has done a heshbon ha nefesh (an accounting of the soul, life-review of behavior over the year) that is ending. We transition what we have come to know about ourselves into action, by this first symbolic step of letting go, even if only for the moment of the ritual--letting go of our story-lines and challenging moments and ways of being.

2. Start people out with a little teaching, something like....

"Tashlich is a Gestalt-like practice which has been a part of Judaism since at least medieval times. Each of us explores quietly to our selves what it is that we would most like to transform in the year to come....the hard things, behaviors and perhaps memories we hope to leave behind or from which we want to develop some distance. What needs release in order to realign with our highest, holiest intentions. Stretching our souls to flow cleansed with Spirit, life, lightness of being involves become aware of

Then when you are ready, using a bit of shmutz that you find in your pocket - some crumbs or lint or matter(s) from your imagination- you toss away the shmutz that has accrued to your soul into the depths of the river (or lake, or symbolic body of water or pool)...."

(For years in my pulpit in Hammonton, N.J. we used a big beautiful ceramic basin, the kind that one would find on a colonial wash stand. I could imagine one of those large oriental bowls, the kind people use as bases for cocktail tables or as planters.)

3. Rabbi Shefa Gold has a lovely chant that complements this ritual powerfully:

Wash over me, carry my burden to a God who hears, Wash over me, send me an answer to my prayers. I cast out my worries, I cast out my fears, I cast out my worries, I cast out my fears."

After briefing people I like to lead them on a meditation walk while doing this chant, right up until the body of water, pausing there, continuing the chant and letting people freely take turns at tossing in their shmutz when they feel ready.

3. Two other approach that I learned at Philadelphia and Boston P'nai Or are:

a. Purchase water-soluble markers.
-Give everyone tiny slips of paper.
-Have them write their desired to be dissolved issues/behaviors of the year onto slips, then have them drop the slips into water in an attractive basin, don't pollute a nature water source please. The words will fade in the water, just as we wish for clinging pain from errors and traumas.

Note: I usually have people also have slips that they keep, that they write on what they hope to attract to them in terms of opportunities and new behaviors and feelings....not always though, depends on how much time there is.

b. Another approach is to have everyone put their "things to leave behind or transform" slips into a big bowl. Then the bowl is passed around and everyone takes a random slip. Everyone then takes a turn reading the slip they drew out loud. Then you cast away the one you happened to pick up.
It is amazing how clearly human everyone is and how it doesn't feel alien to read someone else's slip and how important it is to hear everyone's out loud. (It's important to know that this out loud reading will happen at the outset of the ritual.)

This can also be done in a Four Worlds Model, with a slip for intentions on each level. See article on Four Worlds on this site. 

5. A caution: I made the mistake in Holland one year was of not checking out a route from the synagogue to a canal before Tashlich. I asked a local to lead the chanting procession....oops, he wasn't from the neighborhood and we walked around in circles for a while looking for a canal. On the other hand, the neighbors in the old ghetto where we were, they were very moved to see the first procession of Jews chanting since before the war....Jews walking down the street in a column was a very different image for Europe, this time we were walking in beauty.