Tzom Gedaliah is a minor fast day that falls after the end of Rosh Hashanah. It’s observed with dawn to dusk fasting on the third day of Tishrea at dawn-or, if that falls on the Shabbat, then on the fourth day of Tishrea at dawn. This day laments the assassination of the Babylonian-appointed official named Gedaliah that was appointed with administering the Jewish population after the destruction of the Temple and resulting exile of the Jews in 586 B.C.E. Also known as the Fast of Gedalia, this fast day’s history can be traced back over 2,600-years to immediately after the death of Gedaliah.
The Biblical History Of Tzom Gedaliah
Tzom Gedaliah isn’t just a day that laments a political assassination that happened a long time ago. It actually represented a major turning point for the Jews. And it carries a critical message that’s important for all generations to hear. Prior to this event, the Babylonians had burned the first Temple to ashes, and most of the nation had been either killed or driven into exile. The Jews that did survive had lost everything. They had lost their Temple and their government, and everything looked like it had been lost. Then Jeremiah had been freed from his chains, some Jews have been allowed to stay with the land, and the Jews were even allowed a Jewish leader: Gedaliah.
Gedaliah begins to organize the people and swears to protect them. He also organizes them economically. As a result, Gedaliah becomes a beacon of hope and Jewish refugees from all over begin to return home. It appears that the Kingdom of Judah is being given a second chance. Then Gedaliah is presented with a warning that the king of Ammon, Baalis, had sent an assassin to kill him. An assassin named Yishmael ben Netanyah. Gedaliah refuses to believe that a fellow Jew would be working with a foreign agent
During the month of Tishrei (the seventh month) of 582, a group of Jews led by Yishmael was received by Gedaliah in the town of Mizpah. Gedaliah warmly welcomed them although he had been previously warned of his guest’s intent to murder him. He simply didn’t believe his informants and took this information as people trying to slander Yishmael. Unfortunately, Yishmael did have murderous intent and murdered Gedaliah, most of the Jews that had joined him, and Babylonians that were left with Gedaliah by Nebuchadnezzar.
The treachery unleashed by Yishmael only led to more bloodshed. The Jews were forced to flee to Egypt and thereby ending their prospects of a Jewish settlement in the Holy Land until the Babylonian exiles returned in 371 BCE. As a result, the exile was complete and Judea was left deprived of her children.
Observing Tzom Gedaliah
This holiday laments the assassination of Gedaliah and the resulting fallout from that event. Like all minor fasts, this day begins at dawn and ends when night falls. During morning services on this day, it’s customary to add penitential prayers known as selichot. The Torah is taken out and read during both morning and afternoon prayers on this day as well. The passages that are red include Exodus 32:11-14 and Exodus 34:1-10. During afternoon prayers, Isaiah 55:6-56:8 are read as well.