second temple 311.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Every year, on the
third day of the Jewish month of Tishrei, a fast takes place,
commemorating the assassination of Gedaliah, governor of the Judean
Kingdom (the southern half of present day Israel). What happened on that
day 25 centuries ago, tragic as it was, has affected the Jewish people
until this day.
In the 6th century BC, Sanherib, ruler of the
Assyrian empire (in the north of present day Iraq), conquered the Israel
Kingdom (the northern part of present day Israel) along with its
capital, Samaria. Sanherib subsequently exiled a large percentage of the
Jewish People, and thus the “Ten Tribes” were lost. However, his
attempt to conquer the Judean Kingdom failed.
Almost a century later, Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon (southern part
of present day Iraq), conquered both kingdoms and installed the
21-year-old Zedekiah as king. The Babylonian king
captured the Jewish intellectual elite and wealthy, among them Daniel
who was but a young boy, and took them to Babylon; and so began the
first exile. Although the land was conquered, many Jews were
allowed to remain, and Solomon’s Temple was spared, for the time being.
A few years later, Egypt attacked Babylon, and against the advice of the
Prophet Jeremy, Zedekiah sided with Egypt. As a result, Nebuchadnezzar
quashed the rebellion by destroying Jerusalem. The first Temple, which
had stood for 410 years, was demolished on the 9th of Av, 422 BC (3338
Jewish calendar). Zedekiah, who had tried to escape, was captured, and
his fate, as foretold by Jeremy, was tragic. Zedekiah’s family was
killed before his eyes, which were then torn out.
However, Nebuchadnezzar allowed the peasants and the poor to remain in
the Judean Kingdom, and Gedaliah son of Ahikam was designated as
Governor of Judea. After hearing of the appointment, Jews which had fled
to surrounding provinces returned to Mizpah, where Gedaliah was
established. The governor encouraged them to develop the agriculture and
rebuild the economy.
This period of relative calm was soon to be disturbed. East of the
Jordan River, Baalis, king of Amon (present day Jordan) was carefully
watching the rebirth of Judea. Wishing its downfall, he tasked Ismael
son of Netania with the assassination of Gedaliah.
Some six years after the Temple had been destroyed, Ismael, who was of
royal descent, arrived with ten men in Mizpah, to celebrate Rosh Hashana
with Gedaliah. The governor had been warned of Ismael’s intentions by
Jonathan son of Kareah. The warning fell on deaf ears as Gedaliah was
trusting and therefore refused Jonathan’s offer to quietly kill Ismael.
Just as planned, Ismael and his men feasted with Gedaliah and then
killed everyone present, including a delegation of Babylonians. The
murderers captured the remaining population of Mizpah and took them to
Amon’s Kingdom, however Jonathan and his men pursued Ismael and finally
caught up to him. As a result, the prisoners turned against Ismael and
returned once more to Judea with Jonathan.
The small group of survivors, fearing retribution from Nebuchadnezzar
for what would most certainly have been seen as a rebellion, implored
Jeremy for advice. The prophet had been spared by the Babylonian king
and was allowed to stay with Gedaliah. Jeremy, on God’s instruction,
warned the Jews not to flee to Egypt but rather to stand their ground,
promising them that they would be safe. However he vowed that if they
left, what remained of Judea would be destroyed.
Once again, the prophet’s warning was ignored and as predicted, the
Babylonians marched on Jerusalem. The Jews that had fled to Egypt were
either killed or died from starvation.
For the next fifty years or so, there was no Jewish presence in all of Judea whatsoever,
until Zerubabel returned with some 42,000 Jews, followed by Ezra a decade later. Under
his leadership, an additional 5,000 exiled Jews returned from Babylon to Jerusalem,
where he built the second Temple in 350 BC (3408 Jewish calendar).
Every year on the fast of Gedaliah, Jews pray to learn from previous
mistakes and for the speedy construction of the third Temple.
All dates mentioned in the article are based on Seder Olam by Rabbi
Yosse ben Halafta, written in the 2nd century CE. It should be noted,
however, that some historians have found a discrepancy of some 160 years
between their findings and that of Jewish tradition.