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Fast of Gedaliah: Remembering a Wise Governor

Temple-Painting

A depiction of the Temple in the Holy City of Jerusalem.

“Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon appointed Gedaliah son of Ahikam, the son of Shaphan, to be over the people he had left behind in Judah.”  (2 Kings 25:22)

Today, hundreds of thousands of Jews are fasting.

A day after Rosh HaShanah, many devout Jews put away their apples and honey to fast in mourning for Gedaliah ben Ahikam, the governor of Israel who was killed shortly after the destruction of the First Temple in Jerusalem.

Gedaliah, who was a wise and tactful man, was appointed by Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar to govern the poorer classes of Judah that remained in the Land of Israel after the Jewish nobility had been killed or taken captive to Babylon.

With the full support of the Prophet Jeremiah, Gedaliah encouraged the people to tend their vineyards and fields.

He also advised them to defer to the Babylonian king so that they would continue to have peace and security.

“Gedaliah took an oath to reassure them and their men.  ‘Do not be afraid of the Babylonian officials,’ he said.  ‘Settle down in the land and serve the king of Babylon, and it will go well with you.’”  (2 Kings 25:24)

The Prophet Jeremiah by Michelangelo

The Hebrew prophet Jeremiah witnessed the destruction of Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem.  The depiction of Jeremiah in the above photo is on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and was painted by Michelangelo.

Ishmael, son of Nethaniah, a refugee of royal blood, conspired against Gedaliah and the small Jewish colony in the town of Mizpah.  He and 10 others came to the town and assassinated Gedaliah and all the men of Judah and the Babylonians that were with them.

Gedaliah’s death signaled the end of the Jewish community in the Land of Israel, as those who survived the massacre fled to Egypt in fear of the Babylonians.

Today, observant Jews mourn from dawn until sunset for Gedaliah, holding the prophet Zechariah’s words still in expectation—for the mourning of the seventh month (the month of Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, which begins next Tuesday night) to be turned into joy.

“The fasts of the fourth, fifth, seventh and tenth months will become joyful and glad occasions and happy festivals for Judah.”  (Zechariah 8:19)