Human history is filled to the chronological brim with episodes of a welcome peace, and bloody wars. Each has its reason for existence and each fills the pages of history with murder and heroism, good deeds and evil inclinations.
This week’s subject of review is the first of several iconic Jewish figures who played pivotal roles in the establishment of the State of Israel. In each case I intend to focus on a little known chapter of their lives to enhance your appreciation of their contribution to our people’s history.
Rabbi Shear Yashuv Cohen (1927-2016) was a founder in the development of the Ariel branch of the Harry Fischel Institute, devoted to the training of community rabbis and rabbinical judges. In addition he was to serve admirably as the chief rabbi of the Israeli port city of Haifa from 1975 to 2011.
However, there was another chapter of his life that was, until recently, little known. This is dealt with in welcome detail in a new biography titled, “Rabbi Shear Yashuv Cohen: Between War and Peace” (Urim Publications, 2017), authored by Yechiel Frish and Yedidya Cohen.
During the 1948 War of Independence, Rabbi Cohen bravely fought in the defense of the Old City of Jerusalem. It was during this life-risking effort that he was severely wounded and as a result taken away as a prisoner of war by the Jordanian Arab Legion. Despite this experience, and its attendant distractions, Rabbi Cohen was able to keep a secret diary that includes vivid details of the bloody battles in which he participated, and others that he witnessed close hand. These experiences culminated in his eventual capture and harsh imprisonment in Jordan. He was one of the very few rabbis to experience a POW status that was to define his view of life.
Many efforts were made to free him, including those by Chief Rabbi Herzog and Rabbi Shlomo Goren of the Israel Defense Forces. However, a lot more was needed.
His imprisonment is detailed in chapter seven, “In Captivity,” wherein we learn of his living conditions and of the risks he took to survive and overcome the evil designs of his captors.
These efforts involved those of David Ben Gurion, Eliyahu Sasson and Moshe Dayan and he was ultimately released. However, this book’s narrative warrants your attention to events that lead to the establishment of the Jewish state.
All that followed in Rabbi Cohen’s distinguished rabbinical career is owed to the divine salvation that he experienced in those early years as a soldier in defense of the Jewish homeland.
Perhaps no one expressed it better that Rabbi Jonathan Sacks in the following observation:
“Rabbi Cohen has always made a powerful impression on me as a figure of immense open-mindedness and generosity of spirit. Such figures are sadly far too few in the rabbinate today. … His role as the presiding influence on the Ariel Institute is a major factor in its success and relevance to the contemporary Jewish world. I studied there for some months before becoming Chief Rabbi in 1990–91. He is a scholar of great breadth and erudition, and one of the most sympathetic religious leaders I have ever met.”
Review by Alan Jay Gerber
Originally Published http://www.thejewishstar.com