This week in history: The assassination of Gedaliah

Every year, on third day of Jewish month of Tishrei, a fast takes place, commemorating assassination of Gedaliah, governor of Judean Kingdom.

second temple 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
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. Underhis 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.