Propitiatory rite, the name of which is derived from the passage (Micah vii. 18-20) recited at the ceremony. In illustration of the sentence "Thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea," it is customary to congregate near a running stream on the afternoon of New-Year's Day, when Micah vii. 18-20 is recited and penitential prayers are offered. The prayers and hymns used are given in Emden's Siddur ("Bet Ya'aḳob," ii. 54b, 55a, Warsaw, 1881).
When and where the custom was first introduced is problematical. Kalman Schulman (in "Ha-Meliẓ," 1868, viii., No. 14) is of the opinion that it is referred to in Josephus ("Ant." xiv. 10, § 23), in 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, perhaps, refers to the custom when it says that "whatever falls into the deep is lost forever; . . . it acts like the scapegoat for the ablution of sins" (Zohar, Leviticus, p. 101a, b). But the fact that the Talmud, the geonic literature, and the early casuistic authorities are silent on this custom gives the impression that it originated not earlier than the fourteenth century, with the German Jews. The first direct reference to it is by R. Jacob Mölln (d 1425) in "Sefer Maharil" (p. 38a, Warsaw, 1874) where, by the midrashic haggadah of the "Sefer ha-Yashar," he explains the minhag as a reminder of the "'Aḳedah" incident; i.e., 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 (comp. Tan., Wayera, 22). Mölln, however, forbids the practise of throwing pieces of bread to the fish in the river during the ceremony, especially on the Sabbath, being opposed to carrying the bread without an 'Erub. This shows that in his time tashlik was duly performed, even when the first day of New-Year 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 thus explained by R. Isaiah Horowitz ("Shelah," p. 214b): (1) they illustrate man's plight, and also arouse him to repentance: "As the fishes that are taken in an evil net" (Eccl. ix. 12); (2) as fishes have no eyebrows and their eyes are always wide open, they symbolize the guardian of Israel, who slumbereth not. Moses Isserles gives this explanation: "The deeps of the sea saw the genesis of Creation; therefore to throw bread into the sea on New-Year's Day, the anniversary of Creation, is an appropriate tribute to the Creator" ("Torat ha-'Olah," iii. 56).
The cabalistic practise of shaking the ends of one's garments at the ceremony, as though casting off the "ḳelippot" (lit. "shells"; i.e., the clinging demons of sin), has caused many who are not cabalists to denounce the whole custom, as it created the impression among the common people that by literally throwing their sins into the river to be swept away by the stream, they might escape them without repenting and making amends. The Maskilim in particular have ridiculed the custom and characterized it as heathenish. The best satire on this subject is by Isaac Erter, in his "Ha-Ẓofeh le-Bet Yisrael" (pp. 64-80, Vienna, 1864), in which Samael watches the sins of the hypocrites dropping into the river. The Orthodox Jews of New York perform the ceremony in large numbers from the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges.
- Shulḥan 'Aruk, Orah Ḥayyim, 583, 2, Isserles' note;
- Baer's Siddur, 'Abodat Yisrael, p. 407;
- Moses Brück, Rabbinische Ceremonialgebräuche, § 4, Breslau, 1837;
- I. Abrahams, in Jew. Chron. Sept. 27, 1889.