Rabbi Jonathan Greenberg
Today, the day after the conclusion of Rosh Hashannah, is Tzom Gedalia– the Fast of Gedalia. From dawn this morning to dusk this evening, Jews around the world will refrain from eating and drinking to remember the murder of the governor of Babylonian-controlled Judah around 582 BCE.
It’s a fascinating reason for a fast day. In 586 BCE, the Babylonians destroyed the Holy Temple, sacked Jerusalem, subjugated the Land of Israel, and sent many of the Jews in to exile. The Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar appointed Gedalia ben Achikam – a Jew – as governor of the province. A few specifics of the assassination are outlined in 2 Kings 25 and Jeremiah 41, but we know he was killed by a fellow Jew, Ishmael ben Netania. Rabbinic literature tells us other details: Gedalia was a righteous person and a good leader, he was warned that Ishmael intended to kill him but chose to believe that the report was mere slander, and the murder resulted in the final dispersal of the Jews from the Land of Israel.
But that outcome – the expulsion of the Jews from their land – isn’t the reason that the rabbis give for the fast. The fast is not political or nationalistic. The rabbis tell us that the murder of the righteous is akin to the burning of the House of God. As there are fast days associated with the destruction of the Temples, so is this fast instituted to drive home that point.
It’s worth noting that in only a week, we’ll be fasting again – a full day fast, this time – for Yom Kippur. No matter, say the rabbis. All the better to drive home the point that we must find ways to work out our disagreements and problems without violence.
With the Middle East on fire this week, we see how important it is to remind people of the importance of avoiding gratuitous, meaningless violence. Let us hope that our fast today may serve as an example for others who so desperately need to learn the lesson of Tzom Gedalia.