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Why do we fast on the Third of Tishrei (Tzom Gedaliah)?

by Rabbi Naftali Silberberg

  

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After the destruction of the 1st Holy Temple, King Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian monarch who destroyed the Temple, appointed a pious Jew of Davidic descent, Gedaliah, to be the governor of the Jewish population of Israel. (Although most of the Israeli populace was exiled to Babylon, a significant amount of Jews remained in the Land of Israel.) Nebuchadnezzar desired the Land of Israel, now one of his “occupied territories,” to remain inhabited, he didn’t want it reduced to a barren wasteland.


This all ended when an evil person by the name of Ishmael, also a member of the royal House of David, became jealous of Gedaliah’s position and assassinated him. Together with Gedaliah, Ishmael also killed the Babylonian regiment that Nebuchadnezzar assigned to guard Gedaliah.


There is an opinion that Gedaliah was slain on the first day of Tishrei, but the fast was postponed until after Rosh Hashanah, since fasting is prohibited during a festival
At this point Gedaliah’s Jewish subjects panicked, fearing Babylonian retribution for the murder of the king’s designated governor and his Babylonian guards, and fled to Egypt – against the prophetic advice of Jeremiah. As a result, the land of Israel lay totally deserted; the exile of the Jews was thus finalized. [Furthermore, the Jews who fled to Egypt were completely wiped out when Nebuchadnezzar eventually conquered Egypt.] The entire story is recorded in the book of Jeremiah, chapters 40-44.


The day of Gedaliah’s death,1 the day which marks the ending of the First Jewish Commonwealth, is a day of fasting and repentance.


The fast begins at dawn and ends with nightfall. Click here for exact times for any other location in the world.


If the 3rd of Tishrei falls out on Shabbat, the fast is postponed until the next day, Sunday.

Footnotes

  • 1. Actually, there is an opinion that Gedaliah was slain on the first day of Tishrei, but the fast was postponed until after Rosh Hashanah, since fasting is prohibited during a festival.

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Shabbat
(pl: Shabbatot). Hebrew word meaning "rest." It is a Biblical commandment to sanctify and rest on Saturday, the seventh day of the week. This commemorates the fact that after creating the world in six days, G-d rested on the seventh.
Tishrei
The seventh month of the Jewish calendar. This month, which arrives in early autumn, has more holidays than any other month: Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot and Simchat Torah.
Ishmael
Son of the Patriarch Abraham and half-brother of Patriarch Isaac. Ancestor of many Arab tribes.
David
King of Israel who succeeded Saul, becoming king of Israel in 876 BCE. Originally a shepherd, he became popular after he killed the Philistine strongman, Goliath. He is the progenitor of the Davidic royal dynasty -- which will return to the throne with the arrival of King Messiah.
Jeremiah
1. Jewish prophet who lived in the 5th century BCE. 2. One of the 24 books of the Bible, containing the prophecies of Jeremiah. The book is replete with prophecies concerning the destruction of Jerusalem and the Holy Temple.
Temple
1. Usually a reference to the Holy Temple which was/will be situated in Jerusalem. 1st Temple was built in 825 BCE and was destroyed in 423 BCE. The 2nd Temple was built in 350 BCE and was destroyed in 70 CE. The 3rd Temple will be built by the Messiah. 2. A synagogue.