The Political Message of Tzom Gedaliah

Tzom Gedaliah, the fast day on the third of Tishrei, commemorates the murder of Gedaliah, the ruler of the autonomous Jewish population in Israel in the 6th century B.C. This event has received new attention in the past twenty years, with both the political left and right offering their own interpretation of the murder.

For the left wing, the murder of Gedaliah is about the tragedy of Jewish politics turned violent. Yishmael, a descendant of the house of David who wanted the leadership himself, murders the leader he does not like. We mourn the fact that Jews could not manage their differences peacefully, and turned to murder as a way of furthering settling their disputes. The lesson to draw from the fast is that we must find ways to settle our differences without resorting to violence. On Tzom Gedaliah of 1996, one year after the murder of Yitzchak Rabin, a rally was held in Kikar Rabin, attended by religious leaders and Rabin`s family, stressing exactly this point.

Yet the right wing have offered their own interpretation of Tzom Gedaliah. They point to the fact that Gedaliah was warned of his impending murder, but refused to believe those claims. For the right wing, Gedaliah is a tragedy of well-intended, idealistic foolishness. In our own time, we cannot be naïve, and dismiss the very real dangers that exist. The fast of Gedaliah is a call to political prudence – the triumph of realism over idealism.

So which narrative is correct? The prophet Zechariah, in his prophecy regarding the future of the fast days, mentions two values that we should focus on during the fast – “And you shall love truth and peace.” (Zechariah 8:19) Fast days generally, and Tzom Gedaliah specifically, are about focusing on both truth and peace.

Zechariah understands that both of these narratives, the one that stresses the need for peaceful dispute resolution, and the one that stresses the cold realities of politics, are correct. Tzom Gedaliah is a fast that reminds us to be truthful – dangers are real, and we ignore them at our peril. Yet the fast also reminds us to love peace, and to never allow our differences to lead us to violence.

About the Author
Aron White, 22, is currently studying and teaching in Yeshivat HaKotel, whilst studying for a degree in Politics and International Relations through LSE.