Tzom Gedaliah

Tzom Gedaliah is a minor fast day that falls after the end of Rosh Hashanah. It is observed with dawn-to-dusk fasting on the third day of Tishrei at dawn—or, if that falls on Shabbat, then on the fourth day of Tishrei at dawn. This day laments the assassination of the Babylonian-appointed official named Gedaliah, who was appointed to administer the Jewish population after the destruction of the Temple and the 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 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 survived had lost everything: their Temple, their government, and it seemed like all had been lost. Then Jeremiah was freed from his chains, some Jews were allowed to stay in the land, and the Jews were even allowed a Jewish leader: Gedaliah.

Gedaliah began to organize the people and swore to protect them. He also organized them economically. As a result, Gedaliah became a beacon of hope, and Jewish refugees from all over began to return home. It appeared that the Kingdom of Judah was being given a second chance. Then Gedaliah was presented with a warning that the king of Ammon, Baalis, had sent an assassin to kill him—an assassin named Yishmael ben Netanyah. Gedaliah refused to believe that a fellow Jew would work 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 the 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, thereby ending their prospects of a Jewish settlement in the Holy Land until the Babylonian exiles returned in 371 B.C.E. 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 is 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 read include Exodus 32:11-14 and Exodus 34:1-10. During afternoon prayers, Isaiah 55:6-56:8 is read as well.

Where is it celebrated?
Israel (Observance, hebrew)
When is it?
This year (2024)
October 6 Sunday
Next year (2025)
September 25 Thursday
Last year (2023)
September 18 Monday