Known from the iconic picture blowing the shofar at the Kosel with the paratroopers, Rabbi Shlomo Goren was already blowing the shofar on his way into the Old City behind the fighting men.

Rabbi Goren set up a beis midrash and gave shiurim (classes) on the Temple Mount before being stopped by the Israeli government. He took measurements on the Temple Mount, showing where Jews could go and couldn’t go according to halachah.

Yet, when the Palestine Liberation Organization were surrounded on three sides in West Beirut in 1983, Rabbi Goren wrote, “Israel was obligated to leave an opening for the PLO to leave.” Goren also declared the Golan Heights as not part of Biblical Israel, so it’s a security or a political decision whether to give it away. He ruled that non-Jews dying while fighting for the State of Israel can be buried in a Jewish cemetery.

Dr. Marc Shapiro, chair of the Judaic Studies Department at the University of Scranton, discussed and took questions for more than an hour about the larger-than-life Rabbi Goren at the Queens Jewish Center on Sunday, May 22.

As Chief Chaplain of the Israel Defense Forces, and later Chief Rabbi of Israel, Goren “wants to reconnect the Biblical attitude towards power with the rabbinical attitudes.”

The Gemara and the Shulchan Aruch didn’t deal with such questions when Jews were in control of their own destiny. “The Rabbis speak about spirituality and power while in galus (exile),” said Professor Shapiro.

“There is no halachic tradition” whether to work on a tank on Shabbos or how to run an army base. Goren “charts a new path: How to be a halachic army, how to be a halachic civilization, when we control our own destiny,” said Professor Shapiro. Goren creates one nusach (prayer style) and a prayer book for the Israeli Army.

When converting people in Israel, Rabbis “don’t need to be so stringent on every halachah, because they are joining the Jewish people and they’re agreeing to educate their children the Jewish way.” Rabbi Goren signed conversion certificates that said, “Not valid outside Eretz Yisrael.”

Rabbi Shlomo Goren’s parents were Gerrer chasidim. The founder of the sect, known as HaRim, “was a great lover of Eretz Yisrael” who encouraged buying land there. The Gerrer Rebbe himself went to Eretz Yisrael five times between the World Wars, said Professor Shapiro.

Rabbi Goren’s parents made aliyah from Poland to live in Kfar Chasidim, a town for chasidim to work the land. At 12 years of age, Rabbi Goren joined the Chevron Yeshiva that just moved to Yerushalayim after a pogrom by the Arabs.

Rabbi Goren joins the Haganah in 1936 and “becomes known as a great sharpshooter,” said Professor Shapiro. Rabbi Goren went to Hebrew University where he meets his wife, daughter of Rav Dovid Cohen, the “Rav HaNazir.” Goren learns the classics and gives lectures on how Greek philosophy relates to Judaism.

As Chief Chaplain of the Israel Defense Forces, Goren convinces Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion to have kosher food, a sefer Torah, and minyanim at all army bases. Rabbi Goren believes religious Jews should integrate into the army and not be in separate units.

Ariel Sharon didn’t want kosher food for his paratroopers because none of them were religious. Sharon agreed to have kosher food on his bases if there was just one religious paratrooper. Goren breaks his leg during a jump while completing his paratrooper training. Others say, Rabbi Goren became a paratrooper as a way of moving up in the army.

At the liberation of the Kosel during the Six-Day War, Rabbi Goren said the Nacheim prayer at the Kosel, even though it wasn’t Tish’ah B’Av. Goren changes the words: “It is no longer the mourning city but the liberated city. Joyfulness and exultant whose children have returned to her. He says a full Hallel with a brachah.

Rabbi Goren was a religious activist, said Professor Shapiro. “He believed that halachah doesn’t stand still and our prayers reflect that reality.” “Religion has to be alive, not just in the books.” Rabbi Goren was an early believer in women’s prayer groups and organ donations by the Orthodox.

Rabbi Goren created a Pesach Haggadah for the Israeli Army. He changes the part, “Now we are slaves, next year we’ll be free men” to “We used to be slaves but now we are a free people.” “That is where Rav Goren departs from the standard Religious Zionism’s approach and even from his colleagues at the Chief Rabbinate,” said Professor Shapiro.

“In the early 1960s, among the Religious Zionists, he was the most popular rabbi, no question. Everything changes in 1967. That’s when he breaks out of his army shell,” said Professor Shapiro.

Rabbi Goren gave leniency to Miriam Langer and her children to marry other Jews. The Jewish woman did not get a divorce from her prior husband and now was with a non-Jewish man. Rabbi Moshe Feinstein said, “We can no longer accept any halachic decisions from Rav Goren.”

Rabbi Goren also converted a non-Jewish woman who was living with a kohen in Israel. Kohanim are not allowed to date or marry non-Jews. “It’s better to violate this sin than a Jew live with a non-Jew his whole life,” said Rabbi Goren.

Rabbi Goren decided to run to become Chief Rabbi of Israel in 1973, despite Rabbi Isser Yehuda Unterman being in that role during his ten-year term. Rabbi Goren won, but the Lubavitcher Rebbe stopped speaking to Rabbi Goren, who was also no longer welcome visiting 770 Eastern Parkway, Lubavitch World Headquarters.

Rabbi Goren kept secret the names of the ten dayanim (religious judges) he chose. Goren felt “they couldn’t take the heat.” It might also cause difficulty for the dayanim’s children getting shidduchim.

In 1992, Rabbi Goren gave a halachic ruling saying Jewish soldiers were not allowed to evict Jews living in the land of Israel. The Oslo Accords signed in 1993 had Israel withdrawing from parts of Eretz Yisrael.

By the end of his life, Rabbi Goren was telling his followers not to say the prayer for the State of Israel. Rabbi Goren “now came to view the State of Israel as destructive to basic Torah values.” He passed away in 1994 at the age of 77.

By David Schneier