This Week in Israeli History: Flag of Israel Becomes Official, Sinai Campaign Launched and Rabbi Goren

Photo credit: Zachi Evenor
The Flag of Israel
The first recorded “Flag of Zion” was displayed in 1885 at a procession marking the third anniversary of Rishon LeZion. Although the flag garnered much adulation amongst the Jewish pioneers, it is unclear if the design was known to anyone outside the confines of the Land of Israel.
Nonetheless, the same Zionist flag was unfurled at the First Zionist Congress in 1897 and soon became the official flag of the movement. There are two people who claim to have been the first to design the flag: Morris Harris, an American Jew who wished to present the historic First Zionist Congress with a suitable banner, and David Wolffsohn, a prominent early Zionist leader and second president of the World Zionist Organization. Both Harris and Wolffsohn were unlikely aware of the Rishon LeZion flag’s existence.
While the stripes are famously said to represent the tallit (traditional Jewish prayer shawl) there are many theories surrounding the origins of the flag’s blue and white colors. However, the first mention of these colors representing Jewish nationalism can be traced back to an 1864 poem written by Austrian poet Ludwig August Frankl:
“These are the colors of the beloved country,
Blue and white are the borders of Judah;
White is the radiance of the priesthood,
And blue, the splendors of the firmament.”
Shortly after the establishment of the state, the Provisional Council of State officially adopted the design as Israel’s national flag on October 28, 1948.
The Sinai Campaign
Despite the signing of the 1949 Armistice Agreements that signified the end of the War of Independence, Israel soon found itself under military threat from its neighboring Arab countries. The most worrisome threat was that of Egypt, which in addition to sponsoring Fedayeen terror attacks against Israel had bolstered its military after signing a deal with Czechoslovakia for over $250 million worth of Soviet arms.
Tensions peaked in July 1956 when Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal, blocking Israeli trade and jeopardizing the oil interests of Britain and France in the region. Israel was able to use this galvanizing action to enlist Britain and France in the fight against Egypt.
On October 29, 1956, Israel bombed Egyptian targets throughout the Sinai and air-dropped two battalions of Paratroopers into the heart of Sinai (the only combat jump in IDF history). As agreed, British and French forces soon joined the war and bombed numerous targets throughout the Sinai and Egypt. By November 3, the Israelis had control of the Gaza Strip and El Arish (the capital of the Sinai), and a day later conquered Sharam el-Sheikh, a strategic city overlooking both the Straits of Tiran and the Gulf of Aqaba.
The war ended on November 5 with a resounding Israeli victory. With Israel controlling the Gaza Strip and Sinai Peninsula and French and British troops on the verge of conquering the Suez Canal, Egypt agreed to end the blockade of its waterways. Due to international pressure led by the United States, Israel pulled its troops out of the Sinai and Gaza Strip.
Rabbi Shlomo Goren – Founder and Chief of the Military Rabbinate
Rabbi Goren was born in Poland in 1917 and shortly after immigrated to Mandatory Palestine with his family in 1925. He entered yeshiva at age 12 and was dubbed a prodigy, publishing his first religious writing at the young age of 17.
In 1936, he voluntarily joined the Haganah as a paratrooper and fought in the War of Independence. During the Six Day War, General Rabbi Goren accompanied the paratroopers who liberated the Western Wall, sounding the shofar and leading the first Jewish prayer services at the Western Wall since 1948.
He retired from the army in 1967 and was named Chief Ashkenzic Rabbi of Tel Aviv, and in 1973, Israel's Chief Ashkenazic Rabbi - a post he held until 1983.
Rabbi Goren was known for his bravery, accompanying soldiers to the front lines and even going behind enemy lines to collect bodies in order to give them a proper burial. Rabbi Goren worked endlessly to integrate both religious and secular soldiers together, and was the driving force behind the establishment and organization of the Military Rabbinate. He passed away on October 29, 1994.
For all you vegetarians out there, Rabbi Goren was one as well, a decision he made after visiting a slaughterhouse in Canada.