Hebrew Bible

The Fast of Gedaliah

The Fast of Gedaliah, or Tzom Gedaliah, happens the day after Rosh Hashanah. This year it takes place on September 28, 2022. It’s considered a “minor” fast day, occurring from sunrise to sundown, and many very observant Jews will be abstaining from food or drink.

While some view the fast as a necessary “health day” after perhaps eating too much during the preceding Rosh Hashanah meals, it’s actually not connected to the holiday itself, but to the Biblical figure of Gedaliah.

So who was Gedaliah, and why are some Jews fasting for him today?

Who was Gedaliah?

The ancient Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Jerusalem and the First Temple and demolished the Kingdom of Judea during Biblical times, in addition to exiling most of its Jews. However, because the king wanted to put his newly acquired land to use, he allowed the poorest Jews to stay in Judea in order to cultivate and care for his vineyards, and he appointed Gedaliah as governor of Judea under him.

Gedaliah was widely beloved and convinced the people to do Nebuchadnezzar’s work in the vineyards, which in turn granted them some protection from the Babylonian army. Jews in exile even heard of the relative security and prosperity under Gedaliah and some returned to Judea to live under him. As long as they worked for the Babylonian Kingdom, the Jewish people were able to live a peaceful life.

However, Gedaliah and his people ultimately met a tragic fate, and that is the reason we fast today.

What happened to Gedaliah?

While many loved the modest and wise Gedaliah, there were a few who did not. Ishmael, a descendant of the last king of Judea, despised Gedaliah for having been appointed ruler of the Jewish people and plotted to assassinate him. Gedaliah’s officer Yochanan had heard of Ishmael’s plan before Rosh Hashanah and warned Gedaliah of this threat, though Gedaliah refused to order to kill Ishmael and even invited him for a celebratory New Year’s meal. Despite his kindness, the meal ended in the death of Gedaliah and many of his followers, while Ishmael escaped into the nearby land of Ammon.

The death of the Nebuchadnezzar-friendly leader Gedaliah caused great panic among the Jews of Judea who feared for their security, and it resulted in the remaining Judean Jews fleeing to Egypt. Sadly, the Babylonian exile was now complete.

Commemorating Gedaliah

Today, even as we are in the middle of the most important Jewish holiday season, we take the time to commemorate and mourn the death of the Judean leader Gedaliah, as well as the aftermath it caused: the dispersion of the Jewish people of Judea. While we are still in the spirit of a happy and sweet New Year, we also must commemorate the horrible events that took place in Jewish history. Although Gedaliah died on Rosh Hashanah, since we are forbidden from fasting or mourning during joyous festivals, the Fast of Gedaliah takes place right after the two-day holiday.

Some Jews abstain from all food and drink today in order to mourn Gedaliah’s tragic death; the fast is traditionally done from sunrise to sundown, though some have a practice of doing a “half-fast” until midday. However, since this is a minor fast, even the most traditional rabbis allow various exemptions, especially if there are health concerns.

Other ways of commemorating this day may include prayer, self-reflection, studying Jewish history, and remembering Jerusalem.

May we all have a happy and sweet New Year, together with personal reflection and commemoration of Jewish history. Shana Tova!

And don’t forget to bring home your own piece of the Holy Land and Jewish history with beautiful Jerusalem-themed jewelry and home decor, Jerusalem Stone gifts, and authentic kosher shofars – all straight from the best Israeli artisans!

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