Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The Fast of Gedaliah

The Navi Zechariah references four fast days that were instituted in connection with חורבן בית ראשון.  One of the four fasts is the “fast of the seventh [month],” identified by Chazal (RH 18b) as the third of Tishrei, the day Gedaliah was assassinated.[1]

כֹּה אָמַר ה' צְבָקוֹת צוֹם הָרְבִיעִי וְצוֹם הַחֲמִישִׁי וְצוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי וְצוֹם הָעֲשִׂירִי יִהְיֶה לְבֵית יְהוּדָה לְשָׂשׂוֹן וּלְשִׂמְחָה וּלְמֹעֲדִים טוֹבִים וְהָאֱמֶת וְהַשָּׁלוֹם אֱהָבוּ (ספר זכריה ח, יט) 

After חורבן בית ראשון, most of the Jews of Yehudah were exiled to Bavel.  However, some Jews did remain, and the Babylonians appointed Gedaliah to be the official government-appointed ruler over them.  When word of his dominion spread to neighboring countries, such as the lands of Amon and Moav, the Jews residing in those lands were inspired to return to Israel.  One of the neighboring kings did not look favorably on these events, and hence he commissioned a Jew named ישמעאל בן נתניה to assassinate Gedaliah.  When Gedaliah was killed, the remaining Jews of Israel were greatly distressed over his death and feared that the Babylonians would exact retribution on the Jewish community for assassinating the government-appointed leader.  Thus, many Jews left Israel and sought refuge in other countries.  The details of these events are described in Yirmiyahu 40-41.

A fast day was instituted in commemoration of the death of the great tzadik Gedaliah and the ensuing flight from Israel of the remnant of Jews. 

צום השביעי - זה שלשה בתשרי, שבו נהרג גדליה בן אחיקם. ומי הרגו - ישמעאל בן נתניה הרגו, ללמדך ששקולה מיתתן של צדיקים כשריפת בית אלהינו. ואמאי קרי ליה שביעי - שביעי לחדשים.  (ראש השנה יח ע"ב)

Gedaliah’s death at the hands of a fellow Jew and the subsequent exodus of the remaining Jews of Israel was the final blow of the חורבן and signaled the end of Jewish settlement in Israel.  The חורבן that had begun years earlier with the expulsion by Ashur of the ten tribes of the Northern kingdom of Israel had now been completed under the influence of Bavel.

[1] The Tosefta in Succah 6:10 and the Gemara in Rosh Hashana 18b identify the third of Tishrei as the day of the assasination.  However, there is a view among the Rishonim that Gedaliah was killed on the first of Tishrei, but the commemoration was pushed off unit the third to avoid a conflict with Rosh Hashana (see Ibn Ezra Zecharia 8:18 and Radak Yirmiyahu 41:1.  This is also quoted in the Beis Yosef (Siman 549 in the name of Rabbenu Yerucham).

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