He served in the Israel Defense Forces during three wars, wrote several award-winning books on Jewish law, and was appointed Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv in 1968.
Goren's original family name was Gorenchik. He was born in Zambrów, Poland and immigrated with his family to the British Mandate of Palestine in 1925.
Goren was raised in Kfar Hasidim, a village of religious Jews near Haifa that his father co-founded. He began studying at the Hebron yeshiva in Jerusalem at age 12, where he was identified as a prodigy. His first book was published when he was 17 years old.
Goren's career was characterized by a commitment to the Religious Zionist values of his youth. He volunteered for the Haganah in 1936, and served as a chaplain for the Jerusalem area during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, during which he tested for and qualified as an IDF paratrooper. Goren was a Chaplain of the Carmeli Brigade during the war. Immediately after the Israeli War of Independence, he engaged, often at great personal risk, in the collecting of the bodies and giving proper burial to soldiers whose remains had been left in the field. He strongly opposed the idea of separate religious and secular units and worked for the integration of all soldiers in united army units. He was the most prominent halakhist involved in rulings for religious soldiers regarding their army service. Goren was eventually promoted to the rank of Brigadier-General.
Following the establishment of the state of Israel, Goren was appointed Chief Rabbi of the Military Rabbinate of the IDF with the rank of Major-General, a position he held until 1968. Rabbi Goren used the opportunity to help establish and organize the military chaplaincy's framework, streamlining processes to get soldiers accommodations for kosher food and prayer services. Goren personally wrote a new prayerbook to accommodate the different prayer styles used by various ethnic groups serving in the army.
Goren also served in the 1956 Suez Crisis and the 1967 Six Day War, where he was promoted to a full General. Goren was on hand during the capture of East Jerusalem on 7 June 1967, where he gave a prayer of thanksgiving broadcast live to the entire country. Shortly afterwards Goren, blowing a shofar and carrying a Torah scroll, held the first Jewish prayer session at the Western Wall since 1948. The event was one of the defining moments of the war, and several photographs of Goren, surrounded by soldiers in prayer, have since become famous around the world and particularly in Israel. The most famous photograph shows Goren blowing the Shofar against the background of the Western Wall.
Goren attracted many admirers through his passion for Religious Zionism and his combining Zionist activism with a commitment to Judaism and Jewish scholarship. However, his uncompromising personality later resulted in him becoming a polarizing and controversial figure in Israeli politics.
Goren spent most of his term as Chief Rabbi of Israel attempting to reconcile Jewish religious teachings with modern problems of the state, including advancements in technological progress and various high-profile conversion cases. Goren often clashed with his more conservative rabbinical colleagues.
One example of Goren's desire to adapt Halakha to changing realities in science was his controversial stance on Kiddush Levana, the monthly blessing over the new moon. A prayer customarily added after the blessing contains the words "just as I dance before you and am unable to touch you." Goren said that since the Americans landed on the moon in 1969, this line should be changed to reflect that it is in fact possible to touch the moon.
Goren was also well known for his controversial positions concerning Jewish sovereignty over the Temple Mount. On 15 August 1967, shortly after the Six-Day War, Goren led a group of fifty Jews onto the Temple Mount, where, fighting off protesting Muslim guards and Israeli police, they defiantly held a prayer service. Goren continued to pray for many years in the Makhkame building overlooking the Temple Mount where he conducted yearly High Holiday services. His call for the establishment of a synagogue on the Temple Mount has subsequently been reiterated by his brother-in-law the Chief Rabbi of Haifa, She'ar Yashuv Cohen.
Goren was sharply criticized by the Israeli Defense Ministry, who, noting Goren's senior rank, called his behavior inappropriate. The episode led the Chief Rabbis of the time to restate the accepted laws of Judaism that no Jews were allowed on the mount due to issues of ritual impurity. The secular authorities welcomed this ruling as it preserved the status quo with the Waqf, the Islamic authority. Disagreeing with his colleagues, Goren continually maintained that Jews were not only permitted, but commanded, to ascend and pray on the mount.
The actual question of Goren's radicalism remains controversial. One widely-repeated story about Goren claims that shortly after the Israeli capture of the Temple Mount, the rabbi either argued that Israel should destroy the al Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock, or simply said that it would have been a "good thing" if they had been accidentally destroyed. The charge, made by General Narkiss, an eyewitness, in an interview with Haaretz that Rabbi Goren calling for the destruction of the mosques has been used to claim there is a Jewish extremism comparable to Islamic extremism. Goren's close assistant Rabbi Menachem Ha-Cohen who was with Rabbi Goren throughout that historic day denied ever hearing Goren make such a remark. Goren himself personally denied this charge several times. However Goren did make a speech later that year to a military convention, recorded and later broadcast on Israel's army radio in which he said of the Dome of the Rock and the al-Aqsa Mosque that: ‘Certainly we should have blown it up. It is a tragedy that we did not do so.’
Another possibly apocryphal story claims that Goren accidentally entered Hebron and the Cave of the Patriarchs on 8 June 1967, before the IDF had captured the city, and was greeted with white flags. The city was taken by forces under Colonel Amitai, the Jerusalem area commander, by the evening of 7 June against only scattered light resistance.
Goren repeatedly advocated or supported building a Third Temple on the Temple Mount from the 1960s onward, and was associated with various messianic projects involving the site. In the summer of 1983, Goren and several other rabbis joined Rabbi Yehuda Getz, who worked for the Religious Affairs Ministry at the Western Wall, in touring a chamber underneath the mount that Getz had illegally excavated, where the two claimed to have seen the Ark of the Covenant. The tunnel was shortly discovered and resulted in a massive brawl between young Jews and Arabs in the area. The tunnel was quickly sealed with concrete by Israeli police. The sealed entrance can be seen from the Western Wall Tunnel, which opened to the public in 1996.
Goren also made headlines after his term as Chief Rabbi had expired. He was deeply opposed to the Oslo Accords and in 1993 declared that it was halakhically forbidden to dismantle any settlements in the Biblical land of Israel, and encouraged any soldiers ordered to do so to refuse. In 1994 he announced that Halakha made it a "duty" for Jews to kill Yasser Arafat. Goren, who was a strong supporter of alliances between Evangelical Christians and Israel, also denounced meetings between Israel and the Holy See, calling it "blasphemy beyond expression."
Goren has spoken out against Jewish terrorism. In 1981 he and Rabbi Ovadia Yosef officially condemned a shooting attack on the Temple Mount by an American immigrant which resulted in the death of one Muslim and the wounding of several others. In a joint statement released by the Chief Rabbis, they declared that "We and the entire Jewish people attack and deplore the criminal act of murder in every possible way. Through this abominable act [Alan] Goodman has removed himself from the Jewish people...".
Goren was also a manager of Kollel, where he met and educated Rabbi Joel Landau. Landau helped him in managing the Kollel.
Goren was a strict vegetarian after he visited a slaughterhouse in Canada to perform an inspection of kashrut.In 1961, Goren was awarded the Israel Prize in Rabbinical literature.
Goren was married to Tzfia Cohen, the daughter of prominent Religious Zionist Rabbi David Cohen, the Nazir of Jerusalem, and the sister of Rabbi She'ar Yashuv Cohen, former deputy-mayor of Jerusalem and later Chief Rabbi of Haifa. Both Goren's father-in-law and brother-in-law were also prominent rabbinical vegetarians.
Rabbi Goren and Tzfia Goren had three children: Tchiya Shapiro – a judge in the Tel Aviv court; Drorit Tamari – a psychologist; and Abraham (Rami) Goren – a lawyer.“Human life is undoubtedly a supreme value in Judaism, as expressed both in the Halacha and the prophetic ethic. This refers not only to Jews, but to all men created in the image of God.”
"It is clear that according to Halacha (Jewish religious law), a soldier who receives an order that runs contrary to Torah law should uphold the Halacha, and not the secular order. And since settling the land is a commandment, and uprooting the settlements is breaking the commandment, the soldier should not carry out an order to uproot settlements. This government does not lean on a majority of Jewish support, but rather on Arab votes. According to the Halacha it does not have the authority of a majority, and therefore government directives to uproot the settlements do not have the authority of the majority of the people." (NRP newspaper Hatzofeh, 19 December 1993.)
Nezer Hakodesh – commentary on Maimonides's laws of deficiencies of sacrifices
Sha'arey Tahara – "Gates of Purity", collection of ancient sources as a commentary on Mishna tractate on ritual purification
Meshiv Milchama (three volumes) – halachic answers on war topics
Har Habayit – the laws of the Temple Mount
Kovetz Piskey Hilchot Tzava – collection of laws connected with the military
Torat Hamoadim – essay on Jewish festivals
Moadey Israel - Jewish festivals
Psak Hadin B'inyan Ha'ach Veha'achot – the verdict in the matter of the brother and sister
Torat Hashabat Vehamoed - on the Sabbath and festivals
Torat Hamikra – on the Holy Scriptures
Torat Hamedina - on the State
Torat HaPilosophia – on philosophy and Judaism
Torat HaRefua – on medicine and halacha
Commentary for Yerushalmi (Jerusalem Talmud) Berachot
HaYerushalmi VeHaGra – on the commentary of the Vilna Gaon on the Jerusalem Talmud
BeOz VeTaatzumot - With Might and Strength - Autobiography - Edited by Avi Rat (2013) - Muskal - Yedioth Ahronoth and Chemed Books, Tel Aviv, Israel