Days of Awe: The Meaning of the Yom Kippur War
BY RABBI ARON WHITE
It is the fate of many young countries to fight formative wars in their early years. The newly independent United States of America fought a war of independence starting in 1775, and what is known as a second war of independence in 1812, as the birth pangs of its new-found independence. The newly formed French Republic spent its first decades careening from one war to the next, as the end of the monarchy set off a chain reaction affecting the entire European continent. The ripple effects of a new country entering the world stage often create antagonism, leading to wars that ultimately shape the character of the new nation. In this sense, the young State of Israel followed this historic pattern as it was forced to fight three major defensive wars in its first twenty five years – the War of Independence, the Six-Day War, and the Yom Kippur War.
Israel’s War of Independence enabled Israel to survive beyond its day of declaration, as the young country defended itself from invasion from all its Arab neighbors. In the Six-Day War, Israel once again fought off the threat of destruction, and in a turnaround of biblical proportions, returned to the holy cities of Yerushalayim and Chevron and tripled its territory, all in less than a week. But what is the legacy of the Yom Kippur War, the three weeks of difficult battle in October of 1973? From the moment the sirens pierced the serenity of Yom Kippur until the war’s completion, Israel lost close to 2,700 soldiers, fighting a fierce battle to protect the country from Syrian and Egyptian invasion. What is the legacy of this war, as we look back at it 50 years later?
In this edition, we will tell the stories of individual soldiers like Rabbi Yechiel Wasserman, whose bravery and sacrifice on the battlefield ultimately secured the Israeli victory. Rabbi Chanan Porat’s personal story is also representative of the war’s wider social impact, marking a low point for Israel’s socialist leadership and opening up the country for social and political change. We also explore Israel’s leadership during the war, including the legacy of Prime Minister Golda Meir and Rabbi Ovadia Yosef’s halachic heroism in dealing with the unprecedented agunah cases after the war. Rabbi Moshe Zvi Neria’s 1974 analysis offers a Torah perspective from the immediate aftermath of the war, while Rabbi Doron Perez reflects back from the perspective of today.
Last year, Sivan Rahav-Meir wrote about Uri Atzmon, a soldier from Kfar Sirkin. During the Yom Kippur War, he found a shofar and tallit bag in an abandoned Israeli post in the Golan, inscribed only with the letters Yud and Gimmel. After the war, he spent months trying to track down their owner, but eventually gave up hope, assuming the owner had perished in the war. Each year, on Yom Kippur, Atzmon would place the tallit bag and shofar on their dining room table and tell his family the story of the Yom Kippur War, in memory of the unknown Yud Gimmel.
Recently, in a world where one WhatsApp status is worth a hundred phone calls, Uri’s family members were able to find the owner, Rabbi Yitzchak Gutman. During the war, Gutman was a student at Yeshivat Har Etzion who was on a base in the Golan when, in the middle of Yom Kippur prayers, while fasting, a siren was heard and he ran towards a bunker, leaving his belongings behind. After the IDF retook the area from the Syrians, Uri Atzmon found the shofar and tallit bag.
In a moving gathering, both men got together with their children and grandchildren for the tallit and shofar to be reunited with their original owner. Ultimately Rav Gutman decided to leave the tallit in Uri’s possession, as it had come to take on such significance for the family. But the most poignant part of the story was the meeting of two families. A religious family standing together with a secular family, united by the shared story of a tallit and the shared scars of when the family patriarchs fought side-by-side for Israel’s safety.
At a time when societal tensions are high, the Yom Kippur War is a reminder of the basic truth that at times of need we can put political and religious differences aside. As Rabbi Soloveitchik wrote, we are one people who share one common destiny. May this year be a year of security and peace, both internal and external, for Israel and all the Jewish people.
Rabbi Aron White is Managing Editor of HaMizrachi magazine.