An eyewitness account of rabbis at war in 1967

By Rabbi Menahem Hacohen, April 18, 2008

1967: Rabbis at war


Major-General Shlomo Goren might have been the IDF’s Chief Rabbi, but in his own eyes he was senior to the Chief of Staff. During the Six-Day War, he felt that he not only had to take care of the army’s religious needs, but also to take part personally in all the main battles, on the front line, giving advice to the generals. His equipment was a small sefer torah and a large curly shofar. We went in with the first wave of the attack before daybreak. The intensity of the Egyptian bombardment forced us to take cover; a bomb went off next to me, and the shofar that I had been carrying for Goren was destroyed. Only towards nightfall, when the bombardment eased up, did we extricate ourselves on a command car filled with dead bodies. Goren called up the general command and told them he was setting up a temporary cemetery, and then we drove back to Tel Aviv. It was already afternoon on the second day of the war. That evening, all the talk was of the Jordanian bombings in Jerusalem and that Colonel Motta Gur’s brigade was on its way up from the Negev. The next day, we drove to Gur’s Jerusalem command post, where Goren told him: “You will have the privilege of liberating Jerusalem, but you must promise to take me with you to the Temple Mount.” The next morning, we attacked from the Rockefeller Museum towards the Lions Gate. Goren was wearing his peaked cap, all the rest of us wearing helmets, hugging the wall so as not to get hit. There were only a few shots, and suddenly we were all on the Temple Mount. Someone began to sing Jerusalem of Gold. Everyone started making lofty speeches, but I wanted to go to the Kotel. I left the force with two soldiers and we went down through the Mughrabi Gate. We were the first at the Wall. Goren never forgave me for getting there before him. It was a shock for all of us, a feeling beyond description. Goren stood there with a shofar, a smaller one that I had obtained for him, and every time another senior officer arrived, he would blow on it and shout a berachah. In the afternoon, we heard that the Jerusalem Brigade was advancing on Bethlehem and Hebron. We drove out frantically behind them. We were the first to enter Rachel’s Tomb. In the morning, Goren got up on the roof of a car, and shouted at the soldiers: “Don’t forget the pogroms of 1929, take revenge on the goyim.” I told him to get down and stop talking like that. We got in to the car and overtook the convoy. At each village on the way, a delegation of elders was waiting to surrender. We got to Hebron; the army were still way behind. All we had was my Uzi and Goren’s pistol and a siren and little flag on the car. Goren didn’t care, and we captured the city. We drove around looking for the Tomb of the Patriarchs, but when we finally found it, the gate was locked. Someone shouted from inside in Arabic: “Mafish maftuch” (there is no key). Goren took my Uzi and shot the lock. But it still did not open. Four paratroopers arrived and took the door off its hinges with a crowbar. We made a flag out of a sheet and Goren scaled the gate to fly it.

    Last updated: 1:48pm, September 16 2008