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Tashlich is a Jewish ceremony that takes place in most cases on the first day of Rosh Hashanah. If Rosh Hashanah falls on a Sabbath, Tashlich occurs the next day. It is both ritual and prayer, which symbolizes casting off the old sins and woes of the year to prepare for a better and happy new year, as based on the Jewish calendar.
Tashlich means to “cast off” or to “cast away.” In Tashlich, Jews go to rivers or creeks and empty their pockets, throwing the contents into the body of water. If someone has nothing in their pockets, then breadcrumbs may be thrown. In this way a person is now symbolically emptied of the sins of last year, and with nothing to fill the pockets, the person must also depend upon God to survive.
However, in modern observation of Tashlich, most people empty their pockets of essentials like car keys, wallets, or other important items before going to a river. As well, breadcrumbs are usually thrown so that rivers or streams are not polluted.
As the breadcrumbs are thrown, several psalms are recited reflecting God’s ability to protect the person. It is preferable to throw the crumbs into a water contain fish, since the fish are protected by the water, symbolizing God’s protection of man. They also recite from Micah: “You will again have compassion on us/ You will tread our sins underfoot/ and hurl all our iniquities [sins] into the sea” (Micah 7:19).
Celebration of Tashlich was a dangerous occupation for Jews during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. To be seen praying over a water source might be considered witchcraft, especially in Europe or the New World. Thus Jews were usually counseled to go away from town to perform Tashlich to avoid such an accusation.
Today Tashlich is a happy occasion and certainly not observed in secret. In fact congregations or large families often gather at the same water source and the result is a social occasion. It is both solemn and celebratory as Jews start their new year with a clean slate in the eyes of God, and with the sense that God will protect them throughout the year.
While it's preferred to recite the Tashlikh verses next to a river, lake, or pond, and one preferably with fish, I've heard stories that with no better options available, Rabbis have carried out this tradition next to a dried up well or even a bucket of water.