Miracles of the War of Independence – Part Two by Rabbi Chaim Jachter



In last week’s issue, we began our exploration of God’s subtle hand in Israel’s victory in its War of Independence. We will continue that discussion in this issue, beginning by analyzing our enemies’ foolish mistakes during the war.

Enemies’ Foolish Actions

Megillat Esther depicts Hashem subtly manipulating our enemies to act foolishly in order to avoid our annihilation by the hands of Haman. Israel’s War of Independence was replete with foolish decisions and actions on the part of Arab leaders which were essential for Israel’s  surviving this war in which the declared aim of Arab leaders was to annihilate the Jewish population of Eretz Yisrael.

The first great mistake, as noted by Benny Morris (1948 p. 21) was the Palestinian Arab decision to wage war against the British rulers of Eretz Yisrael from 1936 to 1939 in what is referred to as the Great Arab Revolt. Morris explains:

“The Arab Revolt ended in unmitigated defeat for the Palestinians. Somewhere between three thousand and six thousand of their political and military activists had been killed, with many thousands more either driven into exile or jailed; the leadership of the Palestine Arab national movement was decimated, exiled or jailed…Much of the elite was so disillusioned or frightened by what had happened that it permanently renounced political activity. The Palestinians…had prematurely expended their military prowess against the wrong enemy and had been dealt a mortal blow in advance of the battle with the real [perceived] enemy, Zionism. The damage to their war effort in 1947-1948 was incalculable.”

The second self-imposed disability was the severe disunity and disorganization in Palestinian society, which is described by Morris (p. 399-400):

“The Palestinian Arabs, with well-established traditions of disunity, corruption and organizational incompetence, failed to mobilize their resources. They even failed to put together a national militia organization before going to war… When war came – at their instigation – the Palestinians were unprepared; they lacked a government…The Palestinians lacked the economic or organizational wherewithal to import arms and ammunition in significant quantities once hostilities commenced, and the Arab states were niggardly with material support….Almost no villagers came to the aid of townspeople and vice versa. In effect, each [Arab] community was on its own.”

Chaim Herzog (The Arab-Israeli Wars p. 47-48) notes the severe disunity and distrust among the five Arab armies invading Israel beginning on May 15, 1948. Hence, as Herzog notes “The Arabs did not have an effective central command: coordination between [the invading Arab armies] was loose and, at times, ineffective.” Jordan’s King Abdullah headed the most effective fighting force in the Middle East, the British-trained and officered Arab Legion, and he was appointed the Commander-in-Chief of the invading armies. However, due to Arab distrust in Abdullah (they correctly feared that his interest was to add land to his kingdom), he was the leader in title but not in practice.

Whereas the Israelis managed to obtain weapons on the black and gray markets to circumvent the inadequately and ineffectively enforced UN arms embargo to the Middle East during the War of Independence, Arab nations inexplicably made little effort to obtain much needed replenishments for their depleted weapons during this prolonged war (Morris p. 402-403).

Arab leaders’ distrust and hatred of the Palestinian Arab leader Haj Amin al-Husseini led them to exclude Palestinians from participating in the Arab armies’ invasion of Palestine. Chaim Herzog (p. 71) writes that the Egyptian army leaders led only by the book and their inflexibility and failure to adapt to battlefield fluctuations contributed to their poor performance. Finally, as is well known, the Israeli manufactured Davidka mortars were entirely ineffective other than to make a very loud noise, which prompted frightened Arab soldiers to flee the battlefield[1].

Victory against All Odds

Without Hashem’s intervention it would have been impossible for the Jews to survive the invasion of five Arab armies on May 15, 1948, especially the fighting of the first four weeks of the war, from the invasion of Eretz Yisrael until the first United Nations’ imposed truce in June. Chaim Herzog (p. 24 and p. 48) outlines the massive disparity in weaponry:

“Facing a multi-pronged Arab attack advancing on all the major routes into Israel were the infant Israel Defence Forces – more like a partisan force, with a hodge-podge of various types of non-standard equipment, with a wide range of small-arms, with a primitive communications system, with practically no artillery, armour, or heavy equipment, and with but an embryonic air unit of light liaison aeroplanes”….Such were the unevenly matched forces that were ranged one against the other at the outset… The Jewish loss of one percent of its population is perhaps the best indication of the intensity of the struggle and its one-sided nature.”

It is well worth reading chapter four of Benny Morris’ 1948 in which he presents in detail how the outnumbered, severely outgunned and thin-spread Israeli forces managed to successfully stave off attacks from the invasion of five Arab armies. Read about the incredible (and desperate) Israeli successful[2] stands against the Syrians at Mishmar HaYarden and Degania, the Iraqi army at Jenin, the Egyptian army at Kfar Darom and Yad Mordechai and the Lebanese army at the Galilee Panhandle. Most unbelievable was the Israeli resilience in its resistance to the well-trained and British-commanded Jordanian Arab legion. The only victory of note by this formidable force was its conquering the Old City of Jerusalem[3].

The well-oiled, well-armed and well-trained Nazi armed forces could not withstand a war conducted on two fronts, as is typical in the course of history. Israel, on the other hand, managed to survive an invasion on four different fronts. Can one reasonably attribute this to coincidence or pure luck?

The Definition of a Hidden Miracle

Rav Ya’akov Medan[4] presents a magnificent explanation of a hidden miracle, as contrasted with an obvious miracle, in a discussion of the Chanukah miracles. Rav Medan’s explanation is instructive as to how to comprehend Israel’s War of Independence as well. He writes:

“I will try to define the difference between revealed and hidden miracles with the following strange fictional example. A Torah-observant Jew was sentenced to death by a regime that outlawed the performance of mitzvot. While the Jew was being led to the gallows, the king instructed that a coin toss determine the method for executing this “criminal”: heads would mean being burned at the stake, and tails would mean the guillotine. The coin was tossed and… remained suspended in midair, never landing. The conclusion drawn based on the king’s command was that there was no preferred method of killing the Jew, and he was subsequently released.

This is a revealed miracle! There is no natural explanation for why the coin remained in midair. The rescue of this Jew who kept the mitzvot and sanctified God’s name overcame the law of gravity, and God’s miracle overcame nature.

A second case: The wicked king wanted this poor Jew to die a slow and painful death. He decreed that the coin be flipped one hundred times. Each time the coin lands on heads, a limb would be severed from the Jew, until he dies. The coin was flipped a hundred times, and it landed on tails a hundred times. The Jew was sent home, his body intact, and his mouth singing praise to God for having performed a hidden miracle.

An uneducated person or one who does not understand the laws of nature would presumably be more amazed by the first miracle how did this coin defy the law of gravity? However, anyone who understands even a bit of mathematics will be impressed sevenfold by the latter miracle. After all, the chances of tossing a hundred straight heads are two to the hundredth power. One has a better chance of selecting one particular grain of sand from all of the world’s beaches. In other words, a revealed miracle is not always the greater miracle.

It seems to me that the definition of a revealed miracle should entail the suspension of familiar laws of nature by a specific object: a coin remains suspended in midair, a bit of oil burns for eight days, and a pitcher of oil can be poured out and yet remain full. A hidden miracle is a story spun of many details, any one of which can be explained naturally. Each time the coin lands on heads, taken independently, can be explained in a very straightforward manner; similarly, there is no great wonder when an individual Jewish soldier prevails in a hand-to-hand battle with his Seleucid rival. However, despite the fact that each detail of the hidden miracle can be explained independently, the big picture that emerges from the collection of details is inexplicable. The combination of details cannot be coincidental, and must be explained. The fact that the coin fell on heads one hundred consecutive times, thereby saving the Jew from the king’s decree, or the complete victory of the small, weak Hasmonean army over the strong Seleucid army time and again until the Temple could be purified, typify this sort of miracle. The victory was comprised of a thousand details, each of which can be explained independently, but when taken together indicate a miracle, a hidden miracle.

Revealed miracles can be discerned by what they lack: the natural order fades away. A hidden miracle is identifiable by what it has: a clear direction and objective such as the salvation of Israel.”


An Israeli victory against all odds in one or two battles could be reasonably attributed to coincidence or good fortune. The only reasonable explanation for Israel’s repeated victories on all fronts against all odds in the opening weeks of its War of Independence is divine intervention.

We will, God willing, continue our discussion of the miracles in Israel’s War of Independence in our next issue.

[1] The creation of loud noise to prompt our enemies to gratuitous flight is part of Hashem’s repertoire as is clear from Melachim II 7:6.

[2] Not each of these battles ended with an Israeli victory. Sometimes, as at Yad Mordechai, the vastly outnumbered and outgunned settlers and soldiers held back the Arab invaders for a significantly long period of time to allow the Israeli army to organize defenses of key areas such as Tel Aviv.

[3] Rav Moshe Tzvi Neriah offers a spiritual explanation for this failure (translation by: ravkooktorah.org/YOM-YER58.htm):

“Why is it that only now we merited conquering the Old City? Why did our efforts during the 1948 War of Independence fail? The psalmist describes Jerusalem as a ‘city that was joined together’ (122:3). What is this ‘joining’ quality of Jerusalem? The Jerusalem Talmud (Baba Kama 7:7) explains that Jerusalem ‘joins each Jew to the other.’ Jerusalem is meant to be a focal point of unity and cohesion for the Jewish people.

The Sages in Zevachim 114b used a peculiar phrase when teaching that the Passover offering may only be brought in the city of Jerusalem. For this offering, the Talmud explains, it is necessary that ‘all of Israel enter through one gate.’ This unusual expression of unity — ‘entering through one gate’ - rings with an amazing prophetic resonance.

During the 1948 War of Independence, the Palmach forces broke through Zion Gate, while the Etzel (Irgun Tzeva’i Leumi, the rival Jewish defense organization headed by Menachem Begin) forces were ready to break through Damascus Gate. At that point in time, we were divided and disunited. Had we succeeded then in conquering the city, there would have been arguments about who had captured the city and to whom does she belong. Jerusalem would have become a cause for conflict and dissension.

But Jerusalem was given to the entire Jewish people. As the Talmud (Yoma 12a) says, the city was not portioned out to any particular tribe. For this reason, it was only in 1967, when we approached the Old City united, with one army — and entering through one gate — that we merited regaining the city. The IDF, an army representing the national unity government of Israel, and the Jewish people all over the world, entered via Jerusalem’s Lions Gate and liberated the city.

Interestingly, we find a similar idea when the Jewish people first conquered Jerusalem. Jerusalem — our holiest city, the eternal home for the Holy Temple — was not conquered during Joshua’s conquest of the Eretz Yisrael. Nor was it secured during the time of the Judges, a period lasting 400 years. Nor did King Saul capture it. Only when the Jewish people were united under the permanent dynasty of King David was Jerusalem delivered. The medieval biblical commentator Rabbi David Kimchi noted that the text supports this idea. Immediately following David’s coronation in Hebron by the elders of Israel, it emphasizes: ‘Then David and all of Israel went to Jerusalem’ (I Chronicles 11:4).”

In a footnote, Rabbi Neriah added a second, political explanation for delaying the liberation of the Old City until 1967. According to the UN partition plan, Jerusalem was meant to be an international city under UN auspices. Had Jerusalem been captured in 1948, the newly formed state would have been forced to bow to pressure from the UN. (During the nineteen years that the Old City was under Jordanian occupation, for some reason no such pressure was placed on Jordan.)

In 1967, the situation had changed greatly. The State of Israel was much stronger and less susceptible to international pressure. The UN was a weaker institution, and it was difficult to suddenly initiate a diplomatic effort for the internationalization of Jerusalem after the issue had lain dormant for nineteen years.”

[4] Rav Medan’s discussion is archived at http://etzion.org.il/en/miracles-revealed-and-hidden.

Miracles in the War of Independence – Part Three by Rabbi Chaim Jachter

Miracles in the War of Independence – Part One by Rabbi Chaim Jachter