The Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashannah starts in just a week. It’s a two day Jewish Holiday even in Israel. It’s actually the only such Holiday on the Jewish Calendar. Jews in chutz l’Aretz, Outside the Holyland, also celebrate Succot, Shmini Atzeret-Simchat, beginning and end of Passover and Shavuot as two-day Holidays. For us in Israel, they are one-day holidays, so we need fewer festive meals (and generous calories.)
My husband and I have been married for forty-three years. The first year we were married coincided on the Jewish Calendar and days of the week just like this year. Two and a half months later, less than a month before Rosh Hashannah we docked at Haifa Port and began our lives as Israelis. I’ll never forget my shock and disappointment at discovering that my very first Jewish Holiday as a Jewish wife would be a “three day Rosh Hashannah.”
“…but I thought that there weren’t three day yoniffs in Israel!!” I complained bitterly.
We had no family to invite us, to support system. I had hardly even cooked Shabbat meals in the two months we were married, especially since we had arrived. I had minimal kitchen equipment in our newly renovated ancient Old City Jerusalem apartment and was still trying to figure out shopping logistics.
All these decades later, I still feel panic when the calendar repeats the quirk. Easy years are those when my freezer is empty and I can precook and freeze food. But this year the freezer is too full making it rather complicated to plan a menu that will stay fresh for three days.
The third day of the Jewish Year is supposed to be a very important fast day, Tzom Gedalia, the Fast of Gedalia.
Tzom Gedaliah (Fast of Gedaliah) is an annual fast day instituted by the Jewish Sages to commemorate the assassination of Gedaliah Ben Achikam, the Governor of Israel during the days of Nebuchadnetzar King of Babylonia. As a result of Gedaliah’s death the final vestiges of Judean autonomy after the Babylonian conquest were destroyed, many thousands of Jews were slain, and the remaining Jews were driven into final exile.
Shabbat is the third day of the year, and it’s forbidden to fast on Shabbat, except for Yom Kippur, the only day holier than Shabbat. And since the tenth day of the year is Yom Kippur, an exact week after Tzom Gedalia, this week we fast on Shabbat.
This year Tzom Gedalia will be observed on Sunday. Tzom Gedalia is one of the “minor” fast days, those when we only fast during daylight, unlike Yom Kippur and Tisha B’Av which last twenty-five hours, like Shabbat. But the Fast of Gedalia is considered a very serious fast, since the death of Gedalia is connected to the end of Jewish sovereignty in Biblical Times.
There is another aspect of the Fast of Gedaliah that relates to the Era of the Redemption. This fast was instituted because the tragic assassination of Gedaliah extinguished the last embers of Jewish sovereignty in Eretz Yisrael after the destruction of the First Beis Hamikdash.
Considering the state of our Israeli Government today, how our politicians kowtow to foreign ideals and leaders which endanger the continued existence of the state, I think that we should make every effort to properly commemorate the Fast of Gedalia by talking about it on the Shabbat immediately following Rosh Hashannah and fasting the following day.
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