Today is Tsom Gedalia, a fast-day instituted to remember the assassination of Gedalia Ben Ahiqam, the governor of Israel during the days of Nebukhadnetsar, King of Babylonia. The fast is observed on the 3rd of Tishri, the day after Rosh haShana.
When Nebukhadnetsar destroyed the Temple (586 BCE) and exiled thousands the Jews to Babylonia, he allowed a few Jews (mainly poor farmers) to remain in Israel and work the land. He appointed Gedalia Ben Ahiqam as their governor. Gedalia came from a very prominent family, Shafan, that following the prophecies of Yirmiyahu were loyal to the Babylonian king. Since Gedalia enjoyed the trust of the King, the exiled Jews hoped that sooner or later, Nebukhadnetsar or his successor would allow the Jews to return from Babylon to Israel under the auspices of the king of Babylonia, and eventually build again the Bet haMikdash. Coming back to Israel seemed to be just a matter of time…
However, a man from Davidic descendant, Yishma’el Ben Netania, was opposed to the appointment of Gedalia, and used the excuse that he did not belong to the Davidic dynasty. Simultaneously, Ba’alis, the King of Amon (=today Jordan) knew that a Babylonian appointed governor, Gedalia, would make it easier for the Babylonians to conquer Amon. Ba’alis then encouraged Yishma’el Ben Netania to assassinate Gedalia. In the beginning of the seventh month (Tishri) Yishma’el and a group of men came to Gedalia in the town of Mitzpa where they were cordially welcomed with the honors due to a descendent of Davidic dynasty. Gedalia had been warned of his guest’s murderous intent, but he refused to believe his informants, convinced that a Jew would never kill another Jew. And besides, why would anyone jeopardize the hopes of the Jewish people for redemption. But Yishma’el and his men murdered Gedalia together with other Jews and a numbers of Babylonian dignitaries whom Nebukhadnetsar had left with Gedalia. Fearing the reaction of the Babylonian king, the few Jews that were left in Israel to work the land fled to Egypt. The prophet Yirmiyahu (Jeremiah) left with them. And the land of Israel remained virtually without Jews. Thus, the exile of the people of Israel from its land reached its highest peak, and the hopes for returning to the land vanished.
In remembrance of this tragedy our Sages instituted the Fast of Gedalia.
Who is exempted from fasting today?
Minors: boys under 13 and girls under 12 years old are exempt from fasting.
Nursing women: According to the Sephardic Minhag, after giving birth women are exempted from fasting for 24 months, even if they are not actually nursing their baby. In some Sephardic communities and in Ashkenazi communities, nursing mothers are only exempt while they are actually nursing their babies. Pregnant women are exempt from fasting today.
A person who feels ill or who experiences symptoms of flu or fever, or a person with a chronic disease, such as diabetes, should not fast today.
Elders should consult with their physicians if the fast will not affect their health. If it will, they are exempted (or prohibited) from fasting
The fast is observed today from daybreak till nightfall.