Date(s) - Wednesday, October 2, 2019
The Fast of Gedaliah, or Tzom Gedaliah in Hebrew, is one of four fast days instituted by the Rabbis to commemorate the destruction of the Temple (Beit HaMikdash) and subsequent exile from Israel. It is held on the day after Rosh Hashanah, the third of Tishrei, and lasts from dawn to nightfall. The story of Gedaliah’s murder is briefly recounted at the end of Kings 2, 25:22-26. A more detailed telling of the event can be found in Jeremiah, 41.
Tzom Gedaliah is named after Gedaliah Ben Achikam. After Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, destroyed the first Temple in Jerusalem, he sent the Jews into exile. However, a small number of Jews were allowed to stay in the land under the rulership of a Babylonian-appointed Jewish governor, Gedaliah.
Gedaliah was a fair leader and under his watch the Jews were able to live in peace. In fact, many Jews returned from exile and the land prospered. While this could not make up for the loss of the Temple, it marked a positive change from the extreme hardships and oppression of their recent past.
Unfortunately, this respite did not last long. For political reasons, the king of Ammon convinced a fellow Jew, Yishmael Ben Netaniah, to assassinate Gedaliah.
Yishmael not only killed Gedaliah, but slaughtered many Jews and Babylonians who were with Gedaliah as well. The remaining Jews feared Nebuchadnezzar’s retaliation, and fled to Egypt, marking the completion of the exile.
Despite having a fast day named in his memory, not much is known about Gedaliah Ben Achikam. One thing we are told is that Gedaliah was actually warned about the plot against his life, but dismissed the allegations as slander. Instead, he readily welcomed Yishmael Ben Netaniah into his home as his Rosh Hashanah guest, an act of kindness which ultimately cost him his life.
Though Gedaliah’s trust was mistaken in this case, it tells us much about his character. He was so careful not to misjudge another Jew or become suspicious of another’s motives, that he willingly faced a potentially dangerous situation rather than insult a guest. Gedaliah can also be seen as exemplifying national loyalty. If all Jews shared his approach, we would not be observing Tzom Gedaliah today.