The Fast of Gedaliah

The End of Jewish Autonomy in Israel

Calendar, Jewish HolidaysOct 4, 2016

CalendarOct 4, 2016

Destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem, by Francesco Hayez (Image: Wikimedia Commons)


The Fast of Gedaliah (Tzom Gedalya) is a minor fast day that usually takes place on the Tishrei 3 just a day after the second day of Rosh HaShanah. It is traditionally a fast from both food and water and lasts from dawn until nightfall.

While this fast is not explicitly commanded in the Torah we do find mention of it in connection with three other fasts that are observed by the Jewish people in commemoration of the destruction of the Temple:

Thus says the LORD of hosts: The fast of the fourth month and the fast of the fifth and the fast of the seventh and the fast of the tenth … (Zechariah 8:19)

Each of these fasts mentioned refer to specific days when significant events happened in Israel’s history in relationship to the exile. The fast of the tenth month is the tenth of Tevet, which is the memorial of when Nebuchadnezzar began his siege against Jerusalem and the First Temple. The fast of the fourth month is the seventeenth of Tammuz, which commemorates the day the walls of Jerusalem were breached before the destruction of both the First and Second Temple. The fast of the fifth month is the Ninth of Av, which is the day on which both Temples were destroyed.

While many people are inclined to view the fast of the seventh month as referring to Yom Kippur, which takes place on the tenth day of the seventh month, fasting on Yom Kippur is not for the purpose of remembering the exile and the destruction of the Temple, which is the context of Zechariah’s words. Instead the fast of the seventh month refers to the Fast of Gedaliah.

The fast mourns the assassination of the righteous governor of Judah, Gedaliah son of Ahikam. After the Babylonians laid waste to Jerusalem and the Holy Temple, they appointed Gedaliah as governor over the small Jewish population that remained in Israel and had not been taken captive into Babylon. The appointment of Gedaliah encouraged many Jews who had fled to the surrounding lands of Ammon, Edom, and Moab to return to Israel and attempt to restore the land. The returning Israelites joined those who remained in the land and under the righteous leadership of Gedaliah began to successfully rebuild the ruins of Jerusalem and the rest of land of Israel.

But Gedaliah’s efforts were not appreciated by everyone. Gedaliah was informed that a fellow Jewish man by the name of Ishmael son of Nethaniah sought to take Gedaliah’s life. Ishmael was jealous of Gedaliah’s successes and wanted the position for himself. Gedaliah’s men sought to take Ishmael’s life but Gedaliah rebuked them because he himself did not believe the reports that Ishmael wanted to assassinate him.

We pick up the story in the book of Jeremiah:

In the seventh month, Ishmael the son of Nethaniah, son of Elishama, of the royal family, one of the chief officers of the king, came with ten men to Gedaliah the son of Ahikam, at Mizpah. As they ate bread together there at Mizpah, Ishmael the son of Nethaniah and the ten men with him rose up and struck down Gedaliah the son of Ahikam, son of Shaphan, with the sword, and killed him, whom the king of Babylon had appointed governor in the land. Ishmael also struck down all the Judeans who were with Gedaliah at Mizpah, and the Chaldean soldiers who happened to be there. (Jeremiah 41:1-3)

Jewish tradition has it that this took place not only in the seventh month as Jeremiah states but on the Festival of Rosh HaShanah. Since it is forbidden to mourn on a festival, the fast is moved to the following day.

Ishmael and his men not only assassinated Gedaliah and his men but also Babylonian soldiers who were present at the meal. This led to more bloodshed and eventually forced all the remaining Jews within the land of Israel to seek refuge in Egypt. This would mark the end of Jewish autonomy within the land of Israel until the Jewish captives would return again to the land more than fifty years later under the leadership of Ezra and Nehemiah. Yet, sadly again less than four hundred years later Jerusalem and the Temple would be destroyed again, which brought on a state of exile we still live in today.

Do we mourn for the current exile and the fact that the Holy Temple is still in ruins? Our Master told the disciples that although while he was with them they did not fast, that once he left: “The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast” (Matthew 9:15). But the mourning is not the end of the story. Our passage in Zechariah goes on to give Israel hope:

Thus says the LORD of hosts: The fast of the fourth month and the fast of the fifth and the fast of the seventh and the fast of the tenth shall be to the house of Judah seasons of joy and gladness and cheerful feasts. Therefore love truth and peace. (Zechariah 8:19)

Here God assures Israel that while they are morning in this current age, in the Messianic Era these days will becomes feasts as the world celebrates the arrival of the kingdom of heaven. The Master tells us: “Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4). The mourning is for the destruction of the Temple and the current exile and the comfort comes in the Messianic Era. The Fast of Gedaliah is another wonderful opportunity for both Messianic Jews and Gentiles to connect with the Master’s words, mourn and pray for the current state of the world, and serves as a physical reminder that we need to be eagerly anticipating and working towards Yeshua’s second coming.

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About the Author: Toby Janicki is a teacher, writer, and project manager for First Fruits of Zion and Vine of David. He contributes regularly to Messiah Journal and has written several books including God-Fearers: Gentiles and the God of Israel. More articles by Toby Janicki

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