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All About Fast Days



The day after Rosh Hashana, the third day of Tishrei, is observed as a fastday. It is known as Tzom (the Fast of) Gedalia.

Tzom Gedalia was instituted by our Sages to commemorate the assassination of Gedalia ben (son of) Achikam by a fellow Jew.

The sad story of Gedalia is found in various places in Nevi'im (Prophets), Melachim (Kings) II chapter 25, and in the book of Yirmiyahu (Jeremiah) chapters 40 and 41. The fast is also mentioned in Zechariah (7:5 and 8:19), as the "fast of the seventh month."


The following is from Melachim II:

"And as for the people who remained in the land of Judah, whom Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon had left, over them he made Gedalia the son of Ahikam, the son of Shaphan, ruler. "

"And when all the captains of the armies, they and their men, heard that the king of Babylon had made Gedalia governor, there came to Gedalia to Mizpah, Ishmael the son of Nethaniah, and Johanan the son of Careah, and Seraiah the son of Tanhumeth the Netophathite, and Jaazaniah the son of a Maachathite, they and their men."

"And Gedalia swore to them, and to their men, and said to them, Do not fear to be the servants of the Chaldeans; live in the land, and serve the king of Babylon; and it shall be well with you."

"But it came to pass in the seventh month, that Ishmael the son of Nethaniah, the son of Elishama, of royal seed, came, and ten men with him, and struck Gedalia, and he died, and the men of Judah and the Chaldeans who were with him at Mizpah."

"And all the people, both small and great, and the captains of the armies, arose, and came to Egypt; for they were afraid of the Chaldeans."


When the armies of Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, destroyed the first Bait Hamikdash and the city of Yerushalayim, the majority of the Jews who lived in the land of Judah were exiled to Babylon. A small left over population of poor impoverished Jews were permitted to remain in Judah.

To govern the remaining Jews, Nebuchadnezzar appointed a prominent Jewish leader, a tzadik (a good and righteous man), by the name of Gedalia ben Achikam. Many Jews who fled the country during the Babylonian conquest of Judah, settled on the east side of the Jordan, in Moav, Edom and Ammon. Now, they, and others further away, returned to their homes in Eretz Yisroel to enjoy the relative peace under Babylonian rule.

Gedalia, together with other righteous leaders of the Jews, like the Prophet Jeremiah, advised the Jews to accept the yoke of Babylonian rule. Realistic about the limitations of Jewish sovereignty, he wanted to work towards reestablishing normal life in the country. Maintaining peace with the Babylonians would preserve Yerushalayim from further destruction.

Gedalia made a sincere effort to save the Jewish nation. However, his rule lasted only two months.

Unfortunately, there were traitors amongst the Jews, jealous of Gedalia's power, and to whom this political subservience was intolerable. Belis, King of Ammon, was also very unhappy. He was envious of the Jewish loyalty to Babylonia, especially since Ammon had sheltered many of these Jews throughout the years of turmoil in Eretz Yisroel. Determined to effect the complete ruin of Judah, the king of Ammon provoked one of these traitors, Yishmael ben Netaniah, a descendant of the former royal family of Judah, into a plot to assassinate Gedalia.

One night during the month of Tishrei, Yishmael showed up at a party in the town of Mitzpah, hosted by Gedalia. Other guests had warned Gedalia of Yishmael's evil intentions. But Gedalia wouldn't listen to their "Lashon Hora."

Well, it turns out they were right. Yishmael ben Netaniah treacherously murdered Gedalia, all the Jews who were at the party, as well as the Babylonian soldiers who were stationed there.

Fearing retaliation by Nebuchadnezzar, the surviving Jews thought to flee to Egypt to save themselves. They turned to the Prophet Jeremiah, who was secluded in mourning, to ask for advice. Should they go to Egypt, a morally corrupt society, or remain in Eretz Yisroel and face the music.

After a week of prayer to Hashem, the Prophet Jeremiah received an answer on Yom Kippur. Jeremiah told the Jews that Hashem wants them to stay in Eretz Yisroel and everything would be all right. The Babylonians would act mercifully toward the Jews, and before long, all the exiled Jews would be permitted to return to their homes in Eretz Yisroel. But if the Jews decided to go to Egypt, the sword from which they were running would kill them there.

Despite these warnings from the Prophet Jeremiah, the people refused to believe, and all of the surviving Jews fled to Egypt. They even kidnapped Jeremiah and took him with them!

Of course you know what happened next. A few years later, Babylon conquered Egypt and tens of thousands of Jewish exiles were completely wiped out. The lone survivor of this massacre was Jeremiah. His prophecy had become painfully true. The land of Eretz Yisroel would remain desolate until Ezra and Nechemia would return to build the second Bait Hamikdash.

The Talmud, (Tractate Rosh Hashana 18b) states that the fast of the seventh month referred to in Zechariah refers to the 3rd of Tishrei when we fast for the murder of Gedalia ben Achikam. (There is an opinion that Gedalia was slain on the first day of Tishrei, but the fast was postponed till after Rosh Hashana, since fasting is prohibited during a festival).

Our Sages declared that the anniversary of the tragedy should be a day of fasting in "order to demonstrate that the death of the righteous is equivalent to the destruction of the Bait Hamikdash, which is also commemorated by a fast." (Talmud, Tractate Rosh Hashana 18b). Just as they established a fast upon the destruction of the Bait Hamikdash, likewise did they establish a fast upon the death of Gedalia, during the Aseret Y'mei Tshuva (ten days of repentance) to remind us of what happens when Jews fight with one another.


When Rosh Hashana falls on Thursday and Friday, 3 Tishrei is a Shabbat, the fast is then postponed till Sunday, since no public fast is observed on Shabbat with the exception of Yom Kippur.

- The fast of Tzom Gedalia only starts from the break of dawn and ends at nightfall. (Consult a reliable Jewish calendar for the times in your area.) One may eat breakfast if one arises before dawn for the specific purpose of doing so.

- One who is ill need not fast at all. Pregnant and nursing mothers can observe the fast with lenience. One should consult with a rabbi whether they are permitted to fast.

- Children below the age of bar or bat mitzva - 13 for boys and 12 for girls, do not fast. (In some communities, it is customary for children to begin fasting a short time before they become bar/bat mitzva.)

- Those permitted to eat should still refrain from eating meat, luxurious food and drink.

- Special additions to the prayers, (Selichot and Anenu), and Torah readings (the Passages of Vayechal - Shmot 32: 11-14 and 34: 1-10), are added during the day.

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