Photo Credit: Maggid Books

Title: With Might And Strength: An Autobiography
Author: Rabbi Shlomo Goren
Publisher: Maggid Books

 

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For Americans under 50, mentioning the name Rabbi Shlomo Goren will often engender the response “who’s that?” Sadly, the first Chief Rabbi of the Israel Defense Forces and then the 3rd Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi is somewhat of an unknown here.

In With Might and Strength: An Autobiography, Rabbi Goren tells his story, and an absolutely spellbinding one at that. In the book, one gets a glimpse into the mind of one of the most influential Israeli rabbis. Written in somewhat of a raw, clipped style, Goren holds no punches for those whom he admired, and those whom he scorned.

Goren led a fascinating life. Born in Poland into a family with Hasidic roots, they them moved to Kfar Hasidim in his youth. He entered the prestigious Hebron yeshiva and published his first scholarly work at 17. While in his early 30’s, he becomes the first military Chief Rabbi.

The book achieves what a good autobiography is meant to, in that one comes out with a good understanding the character. Goren takes us through his many challenges, trials and tribulations, including those of his family during the extremely difficult years when they first arrived to Israel. Goren writes in a very open, raw style, and is not hesitant to criticize those who he felt were in the wrong.

He was a witness to a great deal of history which he shares here; from the founding of the State, various wars, struggles in developing the military rabbinate, and more. The book ends with two brief chapters about the Langer affair and the Yom Kippur War. Each subject alone could fill an entire book.

Goren writes extensively that during the wars, he recovered the bodies (and often only bones) of soldiers who died in battle and never received proper burial.

He writes of his struggles in how to create a code of Jewish Law for a modern army, that would simultaneously meet the needs of a modern army, while not compromising on Jewish tradition.

Goren heaps significant high praise on David Ben-Gurion (who was the one who suggested he change his surname from Goronchik). While never sharing any of Goren’s appreciation for religious life, Ben-Gurion fully supported Goren in most of his endeavors as military rabbi. Goren writes that Ben-Gurion understood the importance of kashrut and Shabbos observance for the army.

Being both a Chief Rabbi and Brigadier-General is a feat achieved but once and likely never to occur again. Goren was a fascinating personality and the book is an equally captivating read.

Complex and controversial are terms often associated with Goren. While true, he was also a fascinating and multifaceted individual, whose dedication to Torah and Israel was exceptional.

This is a unique book written by an insider to some of the most historical events in Israeli history, both from a political and religious perspective. It a hard book to put down, and most definitely worth a read.

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