Tashlikh

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Tashlikh (Hebrew: תשליך‎, meaning "casting off") is a long-standing Jewish practice usually performed on the afternoon of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, however it can be said up until Hoshana Rabbah. The previous year's sins are symbolically "cast off" by reciting a section from Micah that makes allusions to the symbolic casting off of sins, into a large, natural body of flowing water (such as a river, lake, sea or ocean).

The name "Tashlikh" and the practice itself are derived from the Biblical passage (Micah 7:18-20) recited at the ceremony: "You will cast all their sins into the depths of the sea."[1]

Origin of the custom[edit]

Maharil[edit]

Most Jewish sources trace the custom back to Rabbi Jacob Mölin (Germany, d. 1425) in his Sefer Maharil. Some clues as to an earlier origin are:

  • Josephus ("Antiquities" 14:10, § 23) refers to the decree of the Halicarnassians permitting Jews to "perform their holy rites according to the Jewish laws and to have their places of prayer by the sea, according to the customs of their forefathers".
  • The Zohar, the most important book of Jewish mysticism, states that "whatever falls into the deep is lost forever; ... it acts like the scapegoat for the ablution of sins" (Zohar, Vayikra 101a,b). Some hold that this is referring to tashlikh.

The first direct reference to tashlikh is by Rabbi Jacob Mölin in Sefer Maharil where he explains the minhag ("custom") as a reminder of the binding of Isaac. He recounts a rabbinic midrash about the binding in which Satan, by throwing himself across Abraham's path in the form of a deep stream, endeavored to prevent him from sacrificing Isaac on Mount Moriah. Abraham and Isaac nevertheless plunged into the river up to their necks and prayed for divine aid, whereupon the river disappeared.[2]

Mölin, however, forbids the practise of throwing pieces of bread to the fish in the river, especially on the Sabbath (on which carrying is forbidden). This shows that in his time tashlikh was duly performed, even when the first day of Rosh Hashana fell on the Sabbath, though in later times the ceremony was on such occasions deferred till the second day. The significance of the fish is explained by Rabbi Isaiah Horowitz (Shelah 214b): (1) they illustrate man's plight, and arouse him to repentance: "As the fishes that are taken in an evil net" (Ecclesiastes 9:12); (2) as fishes have no eyelids and their eyes are always wide open, they symbolize God, who does not sleep.

Rabbi Moses Isserles co-author of the Shulchan Aruch (the "Code of Jewish law") explains:[3]

The deeps of the sea show that there is a creator that created and control's the world though not letting the water flush the earth so we go to the sea and think of that on New-Year's Day, the anniversary of Creation, to think of the proof of creation and controll so to repent to the Creator on our sins and therefore he will throw our sins into the water

Opposition to the custom[edit]

The Kabbalistic practise of shaking the ends of one's garments at the ceremony, as though casting off the klippah, ("shell [profane soul]"), has caused many non-kabbalists to denounce the custom. In their view the custom created the impression among the common people that by literally throwing their sins they might "escape" them without repenting and making amends. The Maskilim in particular ridiculed the custom and characterized it as "heathenish." A popular satire from the 1860s was written by Isaac Erter, in his "Ha-Ẓofeh le-Bet Yisrael" (pp. 64–80, Vienna, 1864), in which Samael watches the sins of hypocrites dropping into the river. The Gaon of Vilna also did not follow the practice.

Mainstream acceptance today[edit]

Jews in Rosh Hashanah on Aleksander Gierymski's picture "Święto trąbek I"

Today, most mainstream Jewish denominations view this ceremony as acceptable and laudable. It is opposed by the Dor Daim and by a small group of followers of the Vilna Gaon in Jerusalem.[citation needed] Nor is it generally practised by Spanish and Portuguese Jews.

Many Jews in New York City perform the ceremony each year in large numbers from the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges. In cities with few open bodies of water, such as Jerusalem, people perform the ritual by a fish pond or a mikveh.[4]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Zivotofsky, Ari. "What’s the Truth About ... Tashlich?". Jewish Action online. 
  2. ^ "Ask the Rabbi: Shabbat Rosh Hashana 5765". Eretz Hemdah Institute. 
  3. ^ Isserles, Moshe. Torat ha-'Olah. p. 3:56. 
  4. ^ Rabbi Yirmiyahu, Kaganoff. "Appreciating Tashlich". Yeshiva.co. Retrieved 2 September 2013.