Fifty years ago, on the fourth day of the Six Day War, June 8, 1967, a bespectacled, bearded Israeli army chaplain captured the radical Palestinian town of Hebron, population 38,309—singlehandedly. Rabbi Shlomo Goren’s solo conquest is a classic Chaos of War story. It’s also a particularly Israeli tale that helps explain the 1967 War’s redemptive significance to most Jews, from religious to secular.
Rabbi Goren was one of those larger than life characters who helped make Israel, Israel. Like George Washington when he was president, these post-1948 pioneers often made lasting policies simply by setting precedents in the new state. Born in Poland in 1918, Shlomo Gorenchik was raised in the Religious Zionist tradition. Most Zionists – Jewish nationalists who believed that the Jews as a people have collective rights to establish a nation state in their ancient homeland, Israel – rebelled against Rabbinic passivity. Religious Zionists synthesized faith in Judaism with an embrace of Zionism, seeing secular pioneers rebuilding the Holy Land as doing holy work.
Gorenchik and his family reached Palestine in 1925. When he was 12, he studied at “Yeshivat Hebron,” a seminary honoring one of Judaism’s four holy cities, along with Jerusalem, Tiberias, and Safed, where Jews continued to live throughout the centuries. Some Jews equated Hebron’s holiness with Jerusalem’s, because of the Cave of Machpelah, the Patriarchs’ Tomb – which Jews, Christians, and Muslims revere as the burial place Abraham purchased for the forefathers and foremothers. The tomb’s exterior looks like the Western Wall – the remnant of the Jews’ Holy Temple. Herod the Great built both structures in Jesus’s day. Unfortunately, Arab riots 1900 years later in 1929 and 1936, destroyed Hebron’s Jewish community, creating a deep symbolic wound, especially for Religious Zionists.