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The chief rabbi who was once a sniper

With Might and Strength — An Autobiography By Rabbi Shlomo Goren, edited by Avi Rath Maggid, $29.95

    The sepia photographs of IDF Chief Rabbi Shlomo Goren, surrounded by beaming paratroopers at the newly liberated Kotel in June 1967, are among the 20th century’s most iconic Jewish images. Who was this plucky rabbi who embedded himself with Motta Gur’s paratroopers as they broke into the Old City of Jerusalem?

    In a new autobiography drawn from hours of cassette recordings, letters, radio and newspaper interviews, editor Avi Roth allows Rabbi Goren to tell his remarkable story in his own words. 

    Shlomo Goren was brash, bold, and carried within himself an acute sense of destiny. He was an action-man preferring to be at the front lines with the troops rather than in his office at Central Command. In 1948, he vigorously defended Jerusalem as a sniper by night and as nascent IDF rabbi by day. 

    In 1967 on the front lines of Sinai, his jeep took a direct hit. He took huge personal risks to bring the bodies of fallen Jewish soldiers from behind enemy lines back to Israel for burial. He crossed uncleared minefields, pulled bodies out of a burning tank and excavated a collapsed bunker under artillery fire. His boldness extended to his ground-breaking halachic rulings, particularly in the area of agunot where he found creative ways of permitting the wives of the missing soldiers to remarry.

    The flip side was that he could display a strong streak of insubordination, as when in ’67 despite being under strict instructions not to ascend Mount Sinai, he insisted on climbing the mountain on erev Shavuot in order to begin writing a Torah scroll at its summit. The sheer poetry of the moment was seemingly too strong for him to pass up.

    He had the good fortune of being the right man at the right time. His autobiography brings to life the early years of Israel’s history.