In chapters 40 and 41 of Jeremiah, we read of events just after the destruction of the Temple in 586 BCE. The king of Babylonia appointed one Gedaliah ben Ahikam governor of Israel, to rule over those who had not been exiled. He apparently attempted to restore a degree of order and calm, and a number of local leaders accepted his rule - indeed, Jews who had fled to neighboring lands even returned to Israel. However, it seems that a scion of the deposed royal family, Ishmael ben Nethaniah, despite the disastrous results of the resistance to Babylonian rule, was still not ready to give up, and, with the support of the neighboring Ammonites, attacked the puppet administration, murdering Gedaliah, his "court," and the attendant Babylonian representatives. This precipitated a small civil war, at the end of which the remaining supporters of Gedaliah fled to Egypt out of fear of a Babylonian response to the uprising.
The day after Rosh Hashanah is the Fast of Gedaliah (Jeremiah 41:1 - the murder took place "in the seventh month," which is Tishrei) - one of the three minor fast days associated with the destruction of the Temple (on the 10th of Teveth the city was besieged; on the 17th of Tamuz the walls were breached). This is a day that seems to get lost in the shuffle, though it has always seemed to me that after two days of high-intensity eating, a morning-to-evening fast is not a bad idea. However, the suggestion has been made that the Fast of Gedaliah be reinterpreted as a day of memorial for Yitzchak Rabin, and there are people who have simply made that reinterpretation for themselves, privately, observing the fast with an added meaning. The logic of the connection is clear: a political murder of a conciliatory leader by those who had an ideological or personal interest in undoing the peace he was trying to implement. Thus. just as there has been a tendency
to attach the memories of other disasters, besides the destruction of the Temple, to the Ninth of Av, so the Fast of Gedaliah could carry multiple memories having a thematic connection. This would both give a modern historical observance a traditional root - and give new meaning to a somewhat faded tradition.
Meanwhile, however, this creative integration of old and new has not gotten much attention. Instead, we are witnessing an interesting cultural conflict over the public observance of the anniversary of Rabin's death. The murder occurred on November 4, which was in that year the 12th of Heshvan. Some calendars show the 12th of Cheshvan as Rabin Memorial Day - others show November 4 (they only coincide every 19 years). Some institutions observe the Jewish date, others the Gregorian date. Some of this disorder is simply typical Israeli entropy - but to some extent it is ideological: those who want to emphasize that Rabin's murder was a result of religious fanaticism want to be sure that the memorial day is kept out of the hands of the Orthodox, out of the symbol world of the tradition; for them, the date must be November 4. Over against these is the view - not only held by the Orthodox - that in the Jewish state, the calendar of reference should
be the Jewish calendar. If Independence Day is the fifth of Iyar, then Rabin Memorial Day can be the 12th of Cheshvan. We can't start tampering with the calendar to make points in an ideological or political debate; we can't take out our anger on Orthodoxy by de-judaizing Israeli culture.
Indeed, I don't know which I find more surprising: encountering an Orthodox Israeli who doesn't know today's Gregorian date without looking it up - or encountering "secular" Israelis who have no idea what Jewish month it is. And both occur frequently.
We live in parallel universes, remembering and planning our lives by different calendars. It would seem that those cultural pioneers who envisioned a secular Jewish culture would have seized on the calendar - as they did the language - as a pillar of that culture. Actually, I think they tried; but they were no match for global culture, and somehow the Jewish calendar got labeled "religious" and handed over to the guardians of the faith.
So, tell me your birthday and I'll tell you what you're wearing.