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Tashlich: Ritual Outside the Synagogue

by Mrs. Deborah Biskin Levine


Library » Holidays » Rosh Hashanah » Laws and Customs | Subscribe | What is RSS?


Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur finds many of us sitting in the Synagogue for quite some time. It can be a trying experience.

Even if you've learned to read Hebrew, and attend Synagogue regularly, just when you're beginning to learn the words and melodies for a Shabbat service - it all changes for the High Holidays. All new tunes, new extra words and a very long service--- all (mostly) in Hebrew. It is difficult to know where to begin and what to learn first.

I started to become religiously observant in early adulthood, and since the High Holy Days only come once a year, instead of weekly, my skills are still lacking. There simply isn't much opportunity for practice. Each year I resolve that I'll learn the words and the tunes before the holiday's approach, and each year, I procrastinate until it's too late. I try to keep up, and at certain times during these days of awe, like at Kol Nidre, I am swept away by the emotional feelings that these holidays evoke.

Indeed, Synagogue must be difficult for people attending only three times a year. That's why I think the Tashlich service is such a nice and pleasant part of the Rosh Hashanah ritual.

We gather around a body of water, a lake or pond, in the late afternoon for Tashlich. We read a short prayer from the prophets encouraging us to cast away our sins into the depths, and attempt to do the same.

For some people, prayer is a powerful tool they employ to reach G-d. For others, they just aren't there yet.
This ritual is easily understood even by children, or by those among us who don't read Hebrew. Unlike the hushed, proper and formal decorum in the Synagogue, keeping quiet and staying in place,

Tashlich allows us to walk around casually, meet friends and shmooze a little. To me, the Tashlich ceremony is a summary of the Days of Awe--it takes what we try to accomplish through our prayers and makes it accessible to all Jews.

And it gives us a sense of unity. In my community, Tashlich is the one time during the High Holiday season, or all year round for that matter, that Jews from all the synagogues in town gather in the same place. It's a unifying feeling to be engaged in the same ritual with hundreds of Jews from all walks of life. There are no divisions because this one has a different melody or this one says slightly different words. We rid ourselves of everything that is spiritually undesirable, exchange our best wishes to each other, even if they are members of a different synagogue, or completely unaffiliated, for a good sweet year.

For some people, prayer is a powerful tool they employ to reach G-d.

For others, they just aren't there yet. Much as they try, in whatever language, they simply do not yet converse with G-d. For some of those people, the symbols of Judaism bring them closer.

I know that we're talking Rosh Hashanah, but let me use an example of a different holiday. My daughter Jessica insists on personally making the charoset for Passover each year. She gets upset if I buy pre-chopped walnuts. She takes down the wooden bowl that belonged to her great-grandmother, Nana Sadie, and pulverizes each nut by hand. When she looks at the Charoset, I know she is thinking of her ancestors who were slaves in Egypt and how Pharoah made them toil, until G-d set them free.

Creating the Mitzvah with her own hands helps her grasp the meaning of that holiday.

I have similar feelings about Taschlich. I sit in services and try to participate and feel a connection to G–d--- but I'm not always successful.

I'm not giving up.

Even though I'm not there yet. On Rosh Hashanah, as I stand on the side of the pond, and quietly cast into the water, I feel something unmistakable. I get the sense of being cleansed and I'm prepared to begin again.

Maybe in terms of my Jewish knowledge, I'm still at a child-like level, and something concrete helps me to get into the spirit. Tashlich, for me, provides the props I need to feel closer to G-d during the High Holy Day season.


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(pl. Mitzvot). A commandment from G-d. Mitzvah also means a connection, for a Jew connects with G–d through fulfilling His commandments.
(pl: Shabbatot). Hebrew word meaning "rest." It is a Biblical commandment to sanctify and rest on Saturday, the seventh day of the week. This commemorates the fact that after creating the world in six days, G-d rested on the seventh.
A Biblically mandated early-spring festival celebrating the Jewish exodus from Egypt in the year 1312 BCE.
Rosh Hashanah
The Jewish New Year. An early autumn two day holiday marking the creation of Adam and Eve. On this day we hear the blasts of the ram's horn and accept G-d's sovereignty upon ourselves and the world. On Rosh Hashanah we pray that G-d should grant us all a sweet New Year.
Yom Kippur
Day of Atonement. This late-autumn high-holiday is the holiest day of the year. We devote this day to repentance and all healthy adults are required to fast.
A mixture of ground fruit and nuts, flavored with a splash of red wine. During the Passover seder, the maror (bitter herbs) are dipped into the Charoset.
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.
A ceremony traditionally performed on Rosh Hashanah, wherein a live body of water is visited. Special prayers recited, and our sins are "cast" into the waters.