Galilee Diary: Gedaliah

October 6, 2009

by Marc Rosenstein
(Originally published in
Ten Minutes of Torah and Galilee Diary)

In the seventh month, Ishmael son of Nethaniah son of Elishama, who was of royal descent and one of the king's commanders, came with ten men to Gedaliah son of Ahikam at Mizpah; and they ate together there at Mizpah. Then Ishmael son of Nethaniah and the ten men who were with him arose and struck down Gedaliah son of Ahikam son of Shaphan with the sword and killed him, because the king of Babylon had put him in charge of the land.
-Jeremiah 41:1-2

There are four traditional fast days associated with the fall of Judah to the Babylonians: the 10th of Tevet (beginning of the siege of Jerusalem), the 17th of Tammuz (breaching of the walls), the 9th of Av (fall of the Temple), 3rd of Tishrei (murder of Gedaliah). Only the 9th of Av is a full 25 hour fast like Yom Kippur; the others are only from sunup to sundown. With the re-establishment of a sovereign Jewish state these fasts have become less significant for many people; indeed, most Israelis pretty much ignore them, and except for the 9th of Av are generally not even aware that they are occurring. Personally I have never been able to find much meaning in the three minor ones and haven't observed them. I do feel that it is important to clarify that however wonderful the state of Israel is, it is not yet the messianic state: we still have a lot of work to do before redemption; therefore, I do try to observe the 9th of Av as a symbol and a reminder of that belief.

This year, however, I for some reason felt a need to take another look at the Fast of Gedaliah, and found myself fasting and even feeling good about it.

For one thing, it falls the day after Rosh Hashanah. I find it hard to believe that this is a coincidence. For most of us, Rosh Hashanah consists of just four major activities: eating, praying, sleeping, and eating. After a couple of days of this, a cleansing/compensating fast seems like just the right thing both physically and spiritually.

Secondly, the events surrounding the murder of Gedaliah are not just obscure ancient history. The Jewish leadership, ignoring the desperate warnings of Jeremiah, rebelled against Babylonia and the state was crushed. A member of a family with a history of supporting Jeremiah's position, Gedaliah, was appointed governor by the occupying army - and was tricked and murdered by a member of the royalist faction. There ensued a small civil war between the two parties. Even when we were totally down and out we couldn't resist killing each other. This is not about the Babylonians destroying the Temple - it is about us destroying ourselves. If there is any fast day that has the potential to speak to modern Israel, this one seems to me to be the best candidate for rehabilitation. Indeed, some have suggested it be observed as the memorial day for Yitzchak Rabin, as the echoes are pretty loud. To me this would make a lot more sense than the current situation, in which Orthodox Israelis observe the anniversary of Rabin's death according to the Hebrew calendar, while secular Israelis prefer the Gregorian date (implying or stating that since the Orthodox killed him, the memorial shouldn't be observed according to "their" calendar).

The Fast of Gedaliah seems a perfect opportunity for modern Israeli culture to reconnect with and revalue a traditional observance. For me, in any case, it was a very satisfactory fast.