Tzom Gedaliah, the Fast of Gedalia, is a Jewish fast day from dawn until dusk to lament the assassination of the righteous governor Gedaliah ben Achikam of Judah during the Babylonia atrocities by Nebuchadnezzar King of Babylonia. The fast marks both his murder and the end of Jewish rule following the destruction of the First Temple. Tzom Gedaliah begins at dawn (first light) and ends at nightfall (full dark). It is a stark reminder to us during the days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur that our plight, our danger from within and without continues and will continue until the coming of Mashiach ben David. The fast reminds us of the final loss Judean autonomy and of the many thousands of Jews who were slain at that times. And of the sadness of the remaining Jews who were driven into final exile. even with the partial restoration of Israeli sovereignty we are now experiencing the loss of our Jewish nation continues. This fast is observed on the day immediately following Rosh Hashanah, the third of Tishrei. In the Bible it is called 'The Fast of the Seventh' in allusion to Tishrei, the seventh month.
Who Was Gedaliah?
Like his father (Ahikam) and Grandfather (Ahikam), Gedaliah ben Achikam was a high-ranking official in the Judean court in Jerusalem. It was Shaphan who revealed the book of Deuteronomy to King Josiah after it was discovered during the Temple renovations. The family was righteous.
King Jehoiakim of Judah was succeeded by his son Jeconiah, who ruled the besieged Jerusalem for three months before the city fell. Jeconiah, his family and 3,000 of the city’s upper echelon were taken into captivity in Babylonia.
Two years later, in 597 BCE, Nebuchadnezzar placed Jeconiah’s uncle (Josiah’s son) Zedekiah on the throne of Jerusalem. But the new monarch decided to switch allegiances and side with the new Egyptian Pharaoh, Hophra, which led to another Babylonian siege of Jerusalem in 589 BCE.
When things started to look desperate, Zedekiah made a run for it, heading east down the Judean hills in the direction of the Dead Sea - only to be captured by the Babylonians. They killed his sons before his eyes, then blinded him so that their death would be the last thing he saw. Zedekiah joined his kin in captivity in Babylon, where he died. Nebuchadnezzar then destroyed the Temple and sent the rest of the Judeans into exile in Babylonia. Very few remained in Jerusalem. Never has there been a time when at least some Jews dwelt in the Land.
Nebuchadnezzar then declared Gedaliah ben Achikam governor of the newly constituted Babylonian province of Yehud.
Gedaliah did not reign for long however. Probably less than a year after his appointment, Ishmael, son of Nethaniah, a Judean military commander and member of the royal family, led a group of captains to the administrative capital of Yehud, Mizpah, and assassinated Gedaliah during a Rosh Hashanah feast. Some later rabbis taught that Gedaliah was killed on Rosh Hashanah, but since we cannot fast on that day, the fast was postponed to the first available day - the third of Tishrei. Either way, traditional Jews have been fasting in memory of Gedaliah ever since.
Fearing Babylonian reprisal, the majority of remaining Judeans fled to Egypt. The ended Jewish autonomy in Judea.
Four fast days were established in memory of the destruction of Judea and the Temple. We first learn of these in the Book of Zechariah, when the Jews ask the prophet upon their return from captivity if they should continue to fast now that they had returned and rebuilt the Temple; or should they continue to mourn. Zechariah tells them:
"Thus said the Lord of Hosts: The fast of the fourth [month], the fast of the fifth [month], the fast of the seventh [month], and the fast of the tenth [month] shall be for the house of Judah for joy and happiness and for happy holidays-but love truth and peace.” (Zechariah 8:19).Rashi clarifies:
the fast of the fourth [month]: The fast of Tammuz, which is the fourth of the months.
the fast of the fifth [month]: of Av.
the fast of the seventh [month]: The third of Tishri, when Gedaliah was assassinated.
and the fast of the tenth [month]:Of Teveth.
In addition to the fast it is traditional to read the Thirteen Attributes of HaShem during this fast:
"He [Moshe Rabbeinu] hewed two stone tablets like the first ones, and Moses arose early in the morning and ascended Mount Sinai as the Lord had commanded him, and he took two stone tablets in his hand.
And the Lord descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and He called out in the name of the Lord.
And the Lord passed before him and proclaimed: Lord, Lord, benevolent God, Who is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abundant in loving kindness and truth,preserving loving kindness
for thousands, forgiving iniquity and rebellion and sin; yet He does not completely clear [of sin] He visits the iniquity of parents on children and children's children, to the third and fourth generations."
And Moses hastened, bowed his head to the ground and prostrated himself, and said: "If I have now found favor in Your eyes, O Lord, let the Lord go now in our midst [even] if they are a stiff necked people, and You shall forgive our iniquity and our sin and thus secure us as Your possession."
And He said: "Behold! I will form a covenant; in the presence of all your people, I will make distinctions such as have not been created upon all the earth and among all the nations, and all the people in whose midst you are shall see the work of the Lord how awe inspiring it is that which I will perform with you. Exodus 34:4-10.
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