Many readers have recently heard in the media threats from various army officers and the Minister of Defense to annul the ‘hesder’ agreement (where students combine army service and Torah studies) with Yeshiva Har Bracha. This is a good opportunity to talk about the first head of the Yeshiva from its inception. In the beginning, we wanted to establish on Har Bracha a ‘hesder’ yeshiva, whose students would combine three important mitzvoth: Torah study, army service, and settling the land. Since we were faced with difficulties in establishing the yeshiva, we approached the gaon, Rabbi Shlomo Goren, who served as the Chief Rabbi of the I.D.F. for approximately twenty years, as the Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv, and afterwards as the Chief Rabbi of Israel from the Jewish year 5733 till 5743 (1972-1982). Rabbi Goren received us happily, and agreed to sponsor our yeshiva – acting as the ‘nasi’ (president), under the auspices of his own ‘Yeshiva HaIdra’.
Rabbi Goren, ‘Nasi’ Yeshiva Har Bracha
In order to establish the status of the young State of Israel and its army from a Torah perspective, there was a need for a great ‘talmid chacham’, a genius in all fields of the Torah, sharp and proficient, courageous and decisive, and devoted to ‘clal Yisrael’ with all his heart and soul. This was Rabbi Goren. He established the Chief Rabbinate of the army, and formulated most of the directives of the General Staff which dealt with designing the character of the I.D.F. as a Jewish army. Rabbi Goren was not satisfied with just theoretical discussions; he possessed a great love for the army and its soldiers, participated in various courses, learned to be a gunner in the artillery corps, completed a course in parachuting, studied military strategy in the Officers Training School, and even took part in deliberations of the General Staff. In wartime, he would travel to the battlefront without any fear from enemy fire or shelling, arriving at the frontlines in order to strengthen the soldiers in the just and sanctified war. The soldiers loved Rabbi Goren and received a lot of strength from him.
The foundation of his teachings was absorbed from the learning hall and books of Rabbi Kook זצ”ל and his students, including his father-in-law, Rabbi David Cohen ‘The Nazir” זצ”ל and Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda HaCohen Kook זצ”ל.
With the Students on Har Bracha
For the duration of two years until his final illness, Rabbi Goren would come every week to Har Bracha to give a class to the students, to strengthen their spirits and teach them Torah. Numerous classes were dedicated to the Torah status of the State of Israel and the army. After the class, the students would gather around him and ask questions about pressing issues, the Rabbinate, notable events which occurred during the establishment of the State and its wars. Rabbi Goren would answer them – at times briefly, and other times, at great length. Although the roads to Har Bracha were a bit dangerous, and the majority of the residents of Judea and Samaria already travelled in cars protected with rock-proof windows, Rabbi Goren and his driver would come to Har Bracha in his own, un-protected car, without worries. He would be meticulous to say at the beginning of the trip the verse: “They began their journey. The terror of God was felt in all the cities around them, and they did not pursue Jacob’s sons” (Genesis 35:5). He said that this was a proven ‘segulah’ (supernatural cure) which helped guard him in all the wars and dangerous places he passed through.
Two semesters of yeshiva students heard classes from Rabbi Goren before their induction into the army. In the first class, he spoke about the value of the mitzvah to serve in the army, and in the second class, about the case of a soldier who receives an order that contradicts a mitzvah – he must refuse to fulfill the order. In the third and fourth class he spoke about the Sabbath in the army.
Rabbi Goren vs. Chief of Staff: Ben Gurion’s Decision
On a number of occasions Rabbi Goren told the story about the time he published an article in the I.D.F. Rabbinate magazine, saying that a soldier must refuse an order involving ‘chilul Shabbat’ (desecration of the Sabbath). Afterwards, the Chief of Staff, Chaim Laskov, became infuriated, claiming that this constituted an undermining of the foundations of army discipline. As a punishment, he ordered the discontinuation of the magazine. However, Rabbi Goren did not compromise, and summoned the Chief of Staff for a clarification before the Minister of Defense and Prime Minister at the time, David Ben Gurion. Rabbi Goren would vividly and colorfully describe how the Chief of Staff Laskov entered the office, giving Ben Gurion an official army salute, befitting an officer instructed in the British army.
At first, Ben Gurion asked to hear what the Chief of Staff had to say. Laskov claimed that violation of discipline would destroy the army, therefore, a religious soldier must obey an order even if it involves ‘chilul Shabbat’, and if he has a objection, he could submit a complaint on ‘motzei Shabbat’ (after Shabbat) to his commander. Rabbi Goren responded that ‘chilul Shabbat’ is similar to murder, and just as a soldier who receives an improper command to murder someone cannot first fulfill it and afterwards submit a complaint, so too, it is impossible to desecrate the Sabbath and afterwards submit a complaint. Ben Gurion, who was familiar with the framework of ‘halacha’, understood what Rabbi Goren meant, and accepted his position. Rabbi Goren continued, claiming that the Chief of Staff had stopped the publication of the I.D.F. Rabbinate magazine. Ben Gurion ordered that the magazine be doubled – instead of 8 pages, it was to be published with 16 pages.
During those two years, I merited becoming very close to Rabbi Goren and learned a lot from his positions on national issues. Often, we spoke a number of times daily on the phone, and I occasionally visited him in his house for discussions which lasted hours. As the result of the Oslo agreements, Rabbi Goren זצ”ל wrote a ‘psak halacha’ (halachic decision), that it is forbidden for a soldier to participate in the evacuation of a settlement or army base from the land of Israel, and if he receives such an order, he must refuse. The pain and agony over the Oslo agreements affected his health. He saw these agreements as a serious blow to the purpose of the State of Israel, and was sure that they would weaken the State and expose its citizens to awful terrorist attacks. When the plan to evacuate the Jewish residents of Hevron arose, Rabbi Goren announced that we must fight it with ‘mesirut nefesh’ (total devotion), and added that he, personally, was willing to be killed in order to prevent the evacuation of Hevron. His statement was publicized and made waves. For an entire day, he gave interviews to local and foreign television and radio stations. At the end of the day, he told me on the telephone that it had been an important day, and that with the help of God, he succeeded in making his opinion widely heard, and he hoped that it had the desired effect. Later, when asked if he was not afraid of being disciplined for sedition, he declared that he was willing to be shot, but would never give in to pressure. Rabbi Goren also shared his feelings and opinions with the yeshiva students, saying that he was indeed ready to sacrifice his life for this, wholeheartedly.
A Halachic Answer He Wrote Me
All the answers and letters he chose to write concerning national issues during those times, he would send to me for publication. With the help of God, I succeeded in having them published, first in short, in the weekly newsletter “Rabbi’s of Judea and Samaria,” and afterwards at length in my book “Pninei Halacha – Issues of the Nation and the Land” (pg. 221-295) which has already been printed in over tens of thousands of copies. I feel a personal obligation to fulfill the spiritual last will of this generation’s instructor on issues of army and state.
Rabbi Goren’s independent personality, his genius, courage, bravery, and unending love for the nation, accompany and illuminate our path till this day. This candle of spiritual bravery, which stems from the Torah, is the foundation of the military bravery of the Hasmoneans and of all Israel till our times.