There are few people that have influenced Israeli and modern Jewish history as strongly as famed IDF Chief Rabbi Shlomo Goren who passed away 20 years ago. The biography “Rabbi Shlomo Goren: Torah Sage and General,” by Shalom Freedman presents a fascinating portrait of his life and a moving description of the values that he stood for.
“Torah Sage and General” details Rabbi Goren’s life describing how he took part in some of Israel’s most crucial moments. The cover of the book even displays perhaps the most famous photo of Rabbi Goren blowing the shofar when he was present at the liberation of the Western Wall, during the Six Day War in 1967.
Rabbi Goren was one of the first people to race to the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron when the Israeli army captured it in 1967. Pushing himself to be the first to reach these holy sites was typical of Rabbi Goren.
“Rabbi Goren was one of those people who seemed to know no fear for his personal safety. In fact, his life is studded with heroic acts in which he volunteered to do-at great personal risk – what others were reluctant to do. During and after the Israeli War of Independence, and in fact through a period of close to twenty-five years, he risked his life to recover the bones of soldiers for proper burial,” the author writes.
Towards the end of his life, Rabbi Goren came out against the Oslo Accords and advocated for retaining control of the entire Land of Israel. He was not afraid to stand up for what is right, even if it put him at odds with powerful people, even people that he cared for, such as Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin.
Every decision that Goren made was guided by Jewish law and human sensitivity. This was especially true in his work founding the military rabbinate in Israel. Rabbi Goren ensured that all soldiers would be served kosher food and would receive religious services. This ensured that all Jewish soldiers could fight side by side and that Israel’s religious soul would be represented alongside its strong fighting spirit.
Rabbi Goren’s life can serve as a case study of integrating a quest for truth, commitment to one’s values, and care for Israel and the Jewish People. His impact was no more obvious than at his Passover seder of 1948.
Immediately after the State of Israel was founded, Rabbi Goren set about to ensure that Passover seders were held at IDF army bases across the country. Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion attended one held at the Schneller base in Jerusalem that was coordinated by Rabbi Goren. Ben Gurion briefly addressed the crowd and said, “This is the first true holiday of freedom since the destruction of the Temple.” Through his service to God and country, Rabbi Shlomo Goren helped to bring the world a bit closer to its final redemption.
If there is one central theme to the life of Rabbi Shlomo Goren, it is his courage. “Torah Sage and General” can inspire us with the courage that he demonstrated, to do what was right, to fight for the unity of the Jewish people, and the integrity of the Land of Israel.
This review originally appeared on Breaking News Israel