The Fast of Gedaliah
Messianism is a go for broke technology. “The Messiah will come in a generation that is totally righteous or totally guilty” (Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 98a).
אין בן-דוד בא אלא בדור שכולו זכאי או כולו חייב
Making the best of a bad situation or a bad deal hinders the coming of redemption.
During the siege of Jerusalem in the Great Jewish Revolt, the Zealots in control preferred that no deals were made and that the destruction would be total. Fortunately, Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai staged his own death and his students were able to smuggle him out in a casket. Once on the other side, he was able to negotiate with Vespasian that Rome give the Jews “Yavne and it’s sages” (Bavli Gittin 56b) thus permitting the survival of Rabbinic Judaism. For those who opposed him, Zakkai was a compromiser and a traitor.
After the destruction of the First temple, Gedalia was appointed by Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon as governor of Yehud province. This province was the last refuge for Jews to remain in Judaea. It’s formation was the only thing that stood in the way of making the destruction of the Second Jewish Commonwealth utterly complete. On hearing of the appointment, the Jews that had taken refuge in surrounding countries returned to Judah. But the zealots were incensed since only total destruction could bring the rupture and necessary disruption to force God’s hand and bring the ultimate redemption.
Ishmael, and the ten men who were with him, murdered Gedaliah, together with most of the Jews who had joined him and many Babylonians whom Nebuchadnezzar had left with Gedaliah (Jeremiah 41:2-3). The remaining Jews feared the vengeance of Nebuchadnezzar (in view of the fact that his chosen ruler, Gedaliah, had been killed by a Jew) and fled to Egypt. Although the dates are not clear from the Bible, this probably happened about four to five years and three months after the destruction of Jerusalem and the First Temple in 586 BCE. (see)
The day that was chosen to assassinate Gedaliah was the Jewish New Year and by tradition a fast of Gedaliah is held on the day after Rosh Hashanah.
In a few weeks we will commemorate the tenth anniversary of the ideologically driven assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. This assassination is exceptional not only because, like that of Gedaliah, it is a rare instance of Jew on Jew violence but also because the assassination was so successful. Along with Rabin a process of reconciliation was killed and arguably, Israel, driven by messianic ideologues has embarked on a go for broke strategy.
For further reading on the catastrophic nature of the redemption see The Messianic Idea in Judaism by Gershom Sholem 1971 pp 10 -17. For further reading on the character assassination that preceded the actual assassination of Rabin and his comparison with Philippe Pétain Chief of State of Vichy France and the ultimate collaborator 1 see: Lords of the Land: The War Over Israel’s Settlements in the Occupied Territories, 1967-2007 by Idith Zertal and Akiva Eldar . And preorder: Killing a King: The Assassination of Yitzhak Rabin and the Remaking of Israel by Dan Ephron
Subject of a future blog post: Forcing the Hand of God in Jewish Messianism and Martyrology in post Temple Judaism…