The Master of Israeli Fiction Comments on King David and the “Secret” of the IDF

February 8, 2024 | S.Y. Agnon
About the author:

 In 1964, an Israeli journalist asked S.Y. Agnon, a towering figure of 20th-century Hebrew literature, to comment on the fact that the Jewish state was now defended by a Jewish army. Herewith, an excerpt from Jeffrey Saks’s translation of his reply:

I think the army is nothing to play around with, but dabbling in pacifism is a bad business. Regarding our regular pacifists, who bask in their pacifism, the sages have already said, “Whoever shows mercy to the cruel ends up being cruel to the merciful.” I had one of the Shomer HaTzair members visit, from that leftwing youth movement. In response to the opinion he shared with me, I responded that the time when the people of Israel outstretched their necks for slaughter has passed. They claim that an army and war are not fitting for the people of Israel. Is it “fitting” for our enemy to slaughter us and for us to be slaughtered? Regarding the messianic era, it is said, “Nation shall not lift up sword against nation” (Isaiah 2:4)—but to achieve that we must be worthy of the messiah.

I don’t like the military. I would not talk about a Gentile army this way. I am not moved by anything practical or technical. . . . Yet when I witnessed, here in the Talpiot neighborhood [of Jerusalem], the young men in the War of Liberation, how they defended us and how they would come from their posts on Shabbat eves to hear kiddush—then I couldn’t hold back tears.

Israel, which had the insight to make the great and valiant warrior King David into a poet of the Psalms, one who sits and passionately studies the Torah—perhaps this is the secret of our army’s endurance.

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