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The Fast of Gedaliah

Commemorating a Righteous Man

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Tzom Gedaliah, or the fast of Gedaliah, is a minor fast day in the Jewish calendar that marks the assassination of a Babylonian-appointed official who was in charge of the Jewish population in Judah in the years after the the destruction of the First Temple and following the exile of 586 BCE.

History

After the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar conquered Jerusalem and destroyed the First Temple, the Israelites were exiled to Babylonian and only an impoverished few were allowed to remain in the land. To manage the remnant, Nebuchadnezzar appointed Gedaliah, son of Achikam, as the governor in Judah, which was now a province of Babylonia. Many Israelites who had fled to Moab, Ammon, Edom, and other nearby lands returned to Judah to tend vineyards and enjoy a new respite from previous oppression. 

However, the king of Ammon was hostile and envied the remnant in Judah and sent an Israelite named Yishmael ben Netaniah, to assassinate Gedaliah. Received with open arms in the town of Mitzpeh, the assassin went on to murder Gedaliah and the other Israelites who were in his company. Judah's remaining Israelites feared for their lives and fled to Egypt, the land became desolate, and the Babylonian exile was completed. 

Sources

The fast day is referenced in the Babylonian Talmud in tractate Rosh HaShanah 18b. In this passage, the rabbis assigned the third day of the month of Tishrei (September/October) as the date for the fast's observance, whereas the Book of Zechariah (7:5; 8:19) only refers to the month of the fast's observance but not the date. In this Talmudic passage, the rabbis add that the reason a fast day was established to commemorate Gedaliah's death is a lesson that the death of a righteous man is just as tragic as the destruction of a house of God. 

Observance

The fast is observed the day after Rosh HaShanah and lasts from sunrise to sundown. Like on other fast days, special "Aneinu" prayers asking for forgiveness are recited, and Exodus 32:11-14 and 34:1-10 are read in synagogue during the morning service.

Here are some dos and donts for the day:

  • Eating and drinking are prohibited from sunrise until sundown.
  • Unlike Yom Kippur and Tisha B'Av, bathing, wearing leather, marital relations, and other activities are permitted. 
  • If the third of Tishrei falls on Shabbat, the fast is postponed until Sunday, because fasting on Shabbat is forbidden (with the exception of Yom Kippur). 
  • Women who are pregnant and nursing, as well as others with health considerations, may be exempt from fasting. Speak with your rabbi and doctor for more information. 
  • Those under the age of bar/bat mitzvah (13 for boys, 12 for girls) are not required to fast. 

Dates for the Fast

Dates for the fast outside of the land of Israel are listed below. 

  • September 28, 2014 at dawn (4th of Tishrei, 5775)

  • September 16, 2015 at dawn (3rd of Tishrei, 5776)

  • October 15, at dawn (3rd of Tishrei, 5777)

  • September 24, 2017 at dawn (4th of Tishrei, 5778)

  • September 12, 2018 at dawn (3rd of Tishrei, 5779)

  • October 2, 2019 at dawn (3rd of Tishrei, 5780)

  • September 21, 2020 at dawn (3rd of Tishrei, 5781)

  • September 9, 2021 at dawn (3rd of Tishrei, 5782)

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