The Jewish holiday The Fast of Gedaliah (Tzom Gedalaih) was instituted many years ago by the sages to commemorate the assassination of Gedaliah Ben Achikam, the Governor of Israel during the days of Nebuchadnezzar when many Jews had been exiled to Babylon. After his assassination, the final vestiges of Judean autonomy were destroyed, many thousands of Jews were slain, and the remaining Jews were driven into exile.
The Story Behind the Fast of Gedaliah
After the First Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians, led by Nebuchadnezzar, a small group of very poor Jews returned to Yedudah to tend the vineyards, after fleeing Moab, Ammon, Edom and other neighboring lands. The Jews who returned enjoyed a brief break from all of the oppression and were lorded over by Gedaliah Ben Achikam, a fellow impoverished Jew, who was appointed by Nebuchadnezzar himself. Gedaliah was a righteous man, but was realistic because he knew darn well that the Jews should keep their heads down and avoid any conflict with their Babylonian oppressors.
Baalis, King of Ammon, where many of the exiled Jews were living, couldn’t stand that there were still Jews living in Israel. Because of his unapologetic anger and jealousy he sent a loyal Jew, Yishmael Ben Netaniah, to assassinate Gedaliah. Yishmael got a group of Jews together and went to see Gedaliah in the town of Mitzpa. Gedaliah received warnings about Yishmael’s intent but ignored them, thinking it was mere hot air and slander. Unfortunately, Gedaliah was wrong. Yishmael and his band killed Gedaliah, along with most of the Jews who had joined him in Israel and many of the Babylonians under Gedaliah’s rule. The remaining Jews feared further wrath from Baalis, so they quickly fled to Egypt.
The Jewish holiday fast was instituted because the Jewish population was once again dispersed and the land remained desolate. Also, the fast establishes that the death of the righteous is likened to the burning of the house of G-d. The Jewish holiday is commemorated as a minor fast, immediately after the Jewish holiday Rosh Hashanah. The Fast of Gedaliah is observed from day break until the first stars appear at night. Jews should refrain from eating and drinking on the Jewish holiday.