It is customary on Rosh Hashanah to go to a river or other body of water with live fish and recite the Tashlich prayers, followed by the symbolic shaking of the corners of our garments. Contrary to what some believe, feeding the fish is not part of the Tashlich ritual. In fact, it is problematic to do so on Rosh Hashanah.

Where did this misconception stem from?

During Tashlich, we recite the closing verses of the book of Michah: “Who is a G‑d like You, pardoning iniquity and forgiving transgression to the residue of his heritage. He retains not His anger forever, because He delights in kindness. He will again have mercy on us. He will suppress our iniquities; and You will cast (tashlich) our sins into the depths of the sea.”

This is where the ritual got the name Tashlich, which literally means “cast.”

The custom of shaking the corners of one’s garments (or tallit katan) at the conclusion of Tashlich comes from this verse as well. By shaking the garment, we symbolically show that we are casting off our sins into the river and are ready to start the new year with a clean slate.

It is possible that due to the reference of “casting into the depths of the sea,” some individuals erroneously started casting food into the water, as if it symbolizes throwing away our sins to the fish. However, there is no actual source for throwing food to the fish,1 and in some of the earliest sources for the custom of Tashlich, as far back as the 14th century, the rabbis already decried this practice.2

Rabbi Yaakov Moelin, known as the Maharil (1365–1427), gives two reasons for why it is problematic to feed the fish at Tashlich. Interestingly, both of these reasons are related to two common misconceptions about the laws of Yom Tov in general, namely, feeding animals and carrying.

Feeding Animals

On the one hand, Jewish law stresses the importance of feeding one's animals in a timely manner. In fact, according to Jewish law, if one has animals that are dependent upon him, he is not allowed to sit down to eat before first feeding them.3 On the other hand, on Shabbat and holidays one is not allowed to feed any animals that aren’t one’s responsibility and are not dependent upon him for their sustenance. Among other reasons, it is assumed that they will be able to get their sustenance elsewhere, and feeding them would involve unnecessary effort, which is prohibited. Therefore, on Shabbat and holidays it is even forbidden to feed one’s own bees or doves that nest in a dovecote, since they go out and feed themselves.4

Additionally, on Yom Tov, there is an added restriction that one cannot place food directly before any kosher animal that is considered mukztah5even if it is dependent upon you for its sustenance—lest you come to move or capture it (muktzah in this context refers to any animal that wasn’t designated for use on Yom Tov).6 And while some authorities7 are of the opinion that this restriction doesn’t apply to any animal that is already considered “captured” (regardless of whether it is considered mukztah), all would agree that fish in a pond are both muktzah and not halachically considered “captured.”

Based on this, it would be problematic to feed the fish at Tashlich, since they aren’t dependent upon you for their sustenance.

However, this alone wouldn’t necessarily preclude all fish feeding at Tashlich. For example, if you have a private fish pond where the fish are dependent on you for their sustenance, then you are permitted on Yom Tov to place the food at a distance from them, since this unusual method will remind you that you aren’t permitted to catch the fish.8

But there is another issue with feeding the fish at Tashlich.


Although, unlike Shabbat, one is generally permitted to carry in a public domain on Yom Tov, one may only carry items for which there is some sort of need. Since live fish are considered muktzah on Yom Tov, one has no need to feed them, and therefore carrying any food for them would not be permitted (unless there is an eruv9).10

Based on the above, although there may be some specific scenarios in which it would be permitted to feed the fish at Tashlich on Rosh Hashanah, in general one is not permitted to do so.