Jewish military history

Jewish military history focuses on the military history aspect of the Jewish people in Jewish history from ancient times until the modern age.

Ancient Israelites

While complete details in the Biblical account of a system of fighting forms are not extant, the Midrashic, Talmudic, and Rabbinic accounts testify to fighting and combat strategies used by the ancient Israelites as well as legendary depictions of Israelite combatants.


The Maccabees (Hebrew: מכבים or מקבים, "Makabim") were a Jewish national liberation movement that fought for and won independence from Antiochus IV Epiphanes of the Hellenistic Seleucid dynasty, who was succeeded by his infant son Antiochus V Eupator. The Maccabees founded the Hasmonean royal dynasty and established Jewish independence in the Land of Israel for about one hundred years, from 164 BCE to 63 BCE.

Bar Kokhba

The Bar Kokhba revolt (132135) ( _he. מרד בר כוכבא) against the Roman Empire, also known as "The Second Jewish-Roman War" or "The Second Jewish Revolt", was a second major rebellion by the Jews of Iudaea and the last of the Jewish-Roman Wars. Alternatively, some sources call it "The Third Revolt", counting also the riots of 115117, the Kitos War, suppressed by the general Lusius Quietus who governed the province at the time.

Later communities

According to a number of accounts various Middle Eastern and Asian Jewish communities, who were either known for their fighting prowess,

amuel ibn 'Adiya Arabian warrior poet

Poet and warrior; lived in Arabia in the first half of the 6th century CE. His mother was of the royal tribe of Ghassan, while his father, according to some, was descended from Aaron, or, according to others, from Kahin, son of Harun and progenitor of the Jewish tribes of Kuraitza and Nathir. Samuel owned a castle near Taima (eight hours north of Medina), built by his grandfather 'Adiya and called, from its mixed color, Al-Ablak. It was situated on a high hill and was a halting-place for travelers to and from Syria.

More than for his poetic talents Samuel ibn 'Adiya is famous for his connection with the warrior-poet and prince Amru al-Kais, which won for him the epithet "faithful", and gave rise to the saying, still common among the Arabs, "more faithful than Samuel." Samuel ibn 'Adiya's reputation as a poet rests upon one of the first poems in the collection called the "Hamasa." It is full of warlike vigor and courage, and manifests a high ideal of honor. Another poem attributed to him has been published in Arabic and Hebrew, with an English translation, by H. Hirschfeld ("J. Q. R." xvii. 431-440). ["Samuel ibn 'Adiya", Jewish Encyclopedia, 1901-1906 edition, page 14 [] ]

Jews of China

There are many theories surrounding when Jews first settled in China. Despite trading in China since at least the 9th century, [Xu, Xin. "The Jews of Kaifeng, China: History, Culture, and Religion". Ktav Publishing House, Inc., 2004 (ISBN 0881257915), pg. 9] many modern scholars “unanimously” believe an actual community was founded in Kaifeng City, Henan province during the early years of the Northern Song Dynasty. [Xu: pg. 19] However, one of the three stelae (stone edicts) left by the community claims “they entered and settled in China during the Han Dynasty", almost 800 years earlier. [Weisz, Tiberiu. "The Kaifeng Stone Inscriptions: The Legacy of the Jewish Community in Ancient China". New York: iUniverse, 2006 (ISBN 0-595-37340-2), pg. 74]

The stele dating 1489 states that Song Dynasty founder Emperor Taizu (mistakenly referred to as Ming Taizu) went on military campaigns to “pacify the Under Heaven” during the early years of his reign.Weisz: pg. 11, see footnotes 50-53 on pg. 13] When the armies successfully gained control of China and solidified the power of the Song Dynasty, Emperor Taizu bestowed the “sinicized” Jewish soldiers with land “to settle and enjoy their occupation in the villages”. Jewish soldiers continued to serve in the Chinese military through the Southern Song Dynasty. The stele dating 1512 states “those who subdued the enemy and resisted aggression and were ‘boundlessly loyal to the country’” were successful in their endeavors. [Weisz: pg. 26] The term “boundlessly loyal to the country” refers to the famous tattoo on the back of General Yue Fei, a noted patriot and martyr. [Weisz: footnote # 111 on pg. 26] So the loyalty of the Jewish soldiers was compared to that of Yue Fei. The same source even claims that "Israelites" served in Yue Fei's armies and helped to combat the Jurchen armies invading China during that time. [Weisz: footnote # 76 on pg. 18]

Modern scholars that translate the 1489 stele mention how a physician named Ancheng received a sizable amount of money from “Prince Ding of Zhou prefecture” to rebuild the community’s destroyed synagogue in 1421. [Weisz: pg. 12] In 1423, Ancheng was given the surname “Chao” by the emperor himself, received the “rank of Military Commissioner in the Embroidered Uniform Guard” and was promoted to “Assistant Military Commissioner of Zhejiang." [Weisz: pg. 13] However, a journal entry from 1965 formally corrected a translation error that proceeding authors still make today. The physician Ancheng was “apparently a romantic fabrication” and the actual person was “a common soldier named An San, who belonged to the Honan Central Bodyguard Division”.White, William Charles. "Chinese Jews". New York: Paragon Book Reprint Corporation, 1966 (2nd Edition), pg. 17] He had warned the Yongle Emperor of a plot against him by Prince Zhou, An’s military commander and benefactor of the Jewish community, and was subsequently promoted (as mentioned above) and given the “properly Chinese name Chao Ch’eng (Chao the Honest), and in due course became a notable leader of the community and ancestor of the principal Jewish clan.”

Habbani Jews of Southern Yemen

In 1912 Zionist emissary Shmuel Yavnieli came into contact with Habbani Jews who ransomed him when he was captured and robbed by eight Bedouin in southern Yemen. Yavnieli wrote about the Jews of Habban describing them in the following way.

The Jews in these parts are held in high esteem by everyone in Yemen and Aden. They are said to be courageous, always with their weapons and wild long hair, and the names of their towns are mentioned by the Jews of Yemen with great admiration. ["The Jews of Habban South Yemen", Jewish Communities in Exotic Places, by Ken Blady, Jason Aronson, Inc, Northvale, New Jersey, Jerusalem, 2000, page 32]

There are a number of legends about the origins of the Jews of Habban. The most prominent is that they descend from Judean soldiers who were stationed in southern Arabia by King Herod of Jerusalem during the Second Temple Period. Herod dispatched a unit of Jews in the region to assist the Romans with fighting wars in the area. Unlike the Jews of northern Yemen the Habbani Jews wore: Jambiyya (curved knife), Matznaph (turban) and Avne`t (sash).

Benjamin of Tudela (twelfth century) found an independent Jewish warrior tribe living in the highlands of Khorasan near Nisapur, numbering many thousand families, regarding themselves as descendants of Dan, Zebulun, Asher, and Naphtali, under a Jewish prince of the name of Joseph Amarkala ha-Levi. [Benjamin of Tudela, ed. Asher, pp. 83 et seq.] Another independent Jewish tribe bent upon warlike expeditions is mentioned by Benjamin as living in the district of Tehama in Yemen. ["ibid". p. 70] []

Mountain Jews of Daghestan

:"And we, the Tats":"We, Samson warriors,":"Bar Kochba's heirs...":"we went into battles":"and bitterly, heroically" :"struggled for our freedom":-The Song of the Mountain Jews ["The Mountain Jews of Daghestan", Jewish Communities in Exotic Places by Ken Blady (Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson Inc., 2000), pages 158]

The Jews of Daghestan lived isolated and in one of the most remote, impenetrable areas in the world for many centuries. They have been historically known for their fierce and war-like nature. In dress and custom they were hardly distinguishable from other Caucasian fighting people in the region. Though they are considered dhimmi by their surrounding Muslim population, the Mountain Jews owned land were known to be fierce, not hesitating to defend, by sword or the rifle, their family, religion, or personal dignity.

"The Jews of Daghestan greatly resemble the other warlike inhabitants of this mountainous region; and they have acquired the virtues as well as the faults of the latter. There is a tradition among the Jews of Daghestan that they are the descendants of the Lost Ten Tribes; but the history of their wanderings is now forgotten, the written documents which they once possessed having in the course of time been either lost or destroyed. They differ from their Christian and Mohammedan neighbors in speech, using the Tat language, which is a combination of Persian and Hebrew. Their writing is a mixture of square characters and Rashi. They wear the Circassian dress, and always go heavily armed, even sleeping without having removed their weapons." ["Daghestan", Jewish Encyclopedia, 1901-1906 edition, page 411, [] ]

It is possible that the Mountain Jews are descendants of Persian-Jewish soldiers who were stationed in the Caucasus by the Sasanian kings in the fifth or sixth century to protect the area from the onslaughts of the Huns and other nomadic invaders from the east. Under the impact of the invading Turkish hordes, later generations of Jewish inhabitants of the Caucasian lowlands were forced to migrate even further north to Daghestan. ["The Mountain Jews of Daghestan", Jewish Communities in Exotic Places by Ken Blady (Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson Inc., 2000), pages 158-159]

Jews of Tirdirma, Mali

According to a West African Arabic record called the Tarikh el-Fetash, in 1402 in Tiridirma near the Niger river lived a community of Jews known as the Bani Israeel who were said to have seven rulers, 333 wells, and a well trained army. The record suggests that their presence in the area proceeded the rise of Islam. ["Tarikh el-Fettash", by Mahmoud Kati ben El-Hajj El Motaoukkal Kati, 1657, page 62-63]

Jewish soldiers in Spain

Jewish soldiers assisted Childeric in his war against Wamba. The Moors are said to have entrusted to Jews the guardianship of the conquered cities of Spain. Under Alfonso VI of Castile, in 1068, 40,000 Jews fought against Yusuf ibn Teshufin in the battle of Zalaka, with such heroism that the battle-field was covered with their bodies. Under Alfonso VIII of Castile. (1166-1214) there were many warriors among the wealthy and cultured Jews of Toledo that fought bravely against the Moors. [Graetz, "History of the Jews", iii. 386; German ed., vi. 229] Alfonso X., called "the Wise", while infante, had many Jews in his army; and in the capture of Seville (1298) the Jewish warriors distinguished themselves so highly that, in compensation for their services, Alfonso allotted to them certain lands for the formation of a Jewish village. He also transferred to them three mosques which they turned into synagogues. The cruel fanaticism of the Moors had alienated the Jews, who were now won over to the Christians by the tolerant rule of the latter. [Graetz, ib. iii. 592; German ed., vii. 136] Jews fought bravely at the side of Pedro the Cruel in defense of the cities of Toledo, Briviesca, and Burgos, against Henry de Trastamara, his brother, and had to pay for their loyalty to their king either with their lives and the lives of their undefended wives and children, or, as the Jews of Burgos had to do, with a heavy ransom to the relentless victor. [Graetz, ib. iv. 123 et seq.; German ed., vii. 424]

Jewish defenders during the First Crusade

Jews fought side-by-side Egyptian Fatimad soldiers to defend Jerusalem against the Crusaders during the First Crusade.Brown, Michael L. "Our Hands Are Stained with Blood: The Tragic Story of the "Church" and the Jewish People". Shippensburg, PA: Destiny Image Publishers, 1992 (ISBN 1560430680)] Saint Louis University Professor Thomas Madden, author of "A Concise History of the Crusades", claims the "Jewish Defenders" of the city knew the rules of warfare and retreated to their synagogue to "prepare for death" since the Crusaders had breached the outer walls. [ CROSS PURPOSES: The Crusades] (Hoover Institute television show). The entire episode can be viewed with Realplayer or Window’s Media player. The website includes the corresponding transcription of the dialogue between the host and two guests.] However, another source states the joint Jewish-Egyptian forces retreated from the walls and made their last stand against the crusaders by the Temple Mount, only then going to their respective houses of worship once they were overpowered. [Kedar, Benjamin Z., "The Jerusalem Massacre of July 1099 in the Western Historiography of the Crusades." in "The Crusades. Vol. 3 (2004)". Edited by Benjamin Z. Kedar and Jonathan S.C. Riley-Smith. Bodmin: MPG Books Ltd, 2004 (ISBN 075464099X)] According to the Muslim chronicle of Ibn al-Qalanisi, "The Jews assembled in their synagogue, and the Franks burned it over their heads."Gibb, H. A. R. "The Damascus Chronicle of the Crusades: Extracted and Translated from the Chronicle of Ibn Al-Qalanisi". Dover Publications, 2003 (ISBN 0486425193), pg. 48]

Modern times


Nili (Hebrew language: ניל"י, an acronym of a phrase נצח ישראל לא ישקר (I Samuel 15:29; transliteration: "Netzakh Yisrael Lo Yishaker", literal translation: "The Eternity of Israel does not lie") was a Jewish espionage network which assisted the United Kingdom in its fight against the Ottoman Empire in the Land of Israel during World War I.

Jews in the German Army

During the First World War, 100,000 Jews served in the German forces. 12,000 were killed in action. Thirty thousand were decorated for valor in battle. Among them was the fighter pilot Wilhelm Frankl (who made a controversial decision to convert to Christianity), and the future mayor of Hamburg, Herbert Weichmann.Fact|date=October 2007

Jewish Legion (British)

The Jewish Legion was the name for five battalions of Jewish volunteers established as the British Army's 38th through 42nd (Service) Battalions of the Royal Fusiliers. The initial unit, known as the Zion Mule Corps, was formed in 1914-1915 during World War I, when Britain was at war against the Ottoman Turks, as Zionists around the world saw an opportunity to promote the idea of a Jewish National Homeland.

Jewish regiment (Russian Civil War)

The Jewish regiment was an infantry regiment formed in February 1919 during the Russian Civil War 1917-1922 as a part of the forces of ataman Grigory Semyonov which acted in the Transbaikal region.

In the early 20th century, Russian Jews were active in a variety of political movements. Many joined revolutionary movements such as Esers, Mensheviks and Bolsheviks. Many Jews served in Makhnov's "Black" Army. Others turned to counter-revolution.

The regiment was formed by the Chita Jewish community. The staffers and soldiers of the regiment were Jews from various social classes, from craftsmen to traders' sons. Some Jews were reluctant to accept the Soviet regime after being eyewitness to the Red Terror, instability, and upsurge of crime of 1918. Soldiers and staffers celebrated all Jewish holidays and fought on Shabbat. There were 170 soldiers, 7 sergeants, 4 low rank officers, and 2 captains. Most of the soldiers were from Chita and Nerchinsk.

The Jewish regiment took part in many actions against local partisans. The most significant achievement of the regiment was participation in the defeat of the internationalist partisan battalion (150 strong) camped on the northeastern village of Tupik…. The partisans, mostly Hungarians, were former prisoners of war (POW) who were sent to the Transbaikal region during World War I.

World War II

Jewish Military Union (Polish)

the "Żydowski Związek Wojskowy" ("ŻZW"), Polish for Jewish Military Union was an underground resistance organization operating during World War II in the area of the Warsaw Ghetto and fighting during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. It was formed primarily of former officers of the Polish Army in late 1939, soon after the start of the German occupation of Poland.

Anti-Fascist Military Organisation (Polish)

The "Antyfaszystowska Organizacja Bojowa" Polish for Anti-Fascist Military Organisation was an underground organization formed in 1942 in the Ghetto in Białystok by former officers of the Polish Land Forces. It took part in the Białystok Ghetto Uprising.

Jewish Combat Organization (Polish)

The "Żydowska Organizacja Bojowa" ("ŻOB"), Polish for the Jewish Combat Organization; called in Yiddish יידישע קאמף ארגאניזאציע) - a World War II resistance movement, which was instrumental in engineering the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising (although the ŻZW Jewish resistance organization claimed otherwise). The organization also took part in other resistance activities.

Jewish Brigade (British)

The Jewish Infantry Brigade Group was a military formation of the British Army that served in Europe during the Second World War. Although the brigade was formed in 1944, some of its experienced personnel had been employed against the Axis powers in Greece, the Middle East and East Africa. More than 30,000 Palestinian Jews volunteered to serve in the British Armed Forces, 734 of whom died during the war.

pecial Interrogation Group (British)

The Special Interrogation Group (SIG) (some sources interpret this acronym as "Special Identification Group" or "Special Intelligence Group") was a British Army unit organized from German-speaking Jewish volunteers from the British Mandate of Palestine. The SIG performed commando and sabotage operations against the Nazis behind front lines in the Western Desert Campaign during World War II.

Jewish Palestine

The Jewish Resistance Movement

The Jewish Resistance Movement ( _he. תנועת המרי העברי, "Tnu'at HaMeri HaIvri", literally "Hebrew Rebellion Movement") was an umbrella group for militant Jewish underground movements in the British Mandate of Palestine. The group existed between the years 1945 and 1946, and coordinated armed attacks against the British military. The group was founded after World War II, disappointed in British policies towards the movement.


The Haganah (Hebrew: "The Defense", ההגנה) was a Jewish paramilitary organization in what was then the British Mandate of Palestine from 1920 to 1948.

The predecessor of Haganah was Ha-Shomer (השומר, The Guild of Watchman) established in 1907. It was a small group of Jewish immigrants who guarded settlements for an annual fee. At no time did the group have more than 100 members.

After the 1920 Arab riots and 1921 Jaffa riots, the Jewish leadership in Palestine believed that the British (whom the League of Nations had given a mandate over Palestine in 1920 for the purpose of establishing a Jewish national home) had no desire to confront local Arab gangs over their attacks on Palestinian Jews. Realizing that they could not rely on the British administration for protection from these gangs, the Jewish leadership created the Haganah to protect their farms and Kibbutzim. In addition to guarding Jewish communities, the role of the Haganah was to warn the residents of and repel attacks by Palestinian Arabs. In the period between 1920–1929, the Haganah lacked a strong central authority or coordination. Haganah "units" were very localized and poorly armed: they consisted mainly of Jewish farmers who took turns guarding their farms or their kibbutzim. Following the Arab massacres of 1929, the Haganah's role changed dramatically. It became a much larger organization encompassing nearly all the youth and adults in the Jewish settlements, as well as thousands of members from the cities. It also acquired foreign arms and began to develop workshops to create hand grenades and simple military equipment, transforming from an untrained militia to a capable underground army.


The Palmach (Hebrew: פלמ"ח, an acronym for "Plugot Mahatz" (Hebrew: פלוגות מחץ), "Strike Companies") was the regular fighting force of the Haganah, the unofficial army of the Yishuv (Jewish community) during the British Mandate of Palestine. It was established on May 15, 1941 and by the war of 1948 had grown to three fighting brigades and auxiliary aerial, naval and intelligence units. Being a Palmachnik (Palmach member) was considered not only as performing military duties, but also as a way of life. Significant leaders of the Palmach include Moshe Dayan, Yitzhak Sadeh, Yigal Allon and future prime minister Yitzhak Rabin.

The Palmach contributed significantly to Israeli culture and ethos, well beyond its undoubtable military contribution. Its members formed the backbone of the Israel Defense Forces high command for many years, and were prominent in Israeli politics, literature and culture.

The Palmach was established by the British military and Haganah on May 15 1941 to help the British protect Palestine from the Nazi German threat. They were also to assist Allied forces with the planned invasion of Syria and Lebanon, then held by Vichy French forces. British experts trained the Palmach special soldiers and equipped them with small arms and explosives. However, after the Allied victory at the Second Battle of El Alamein in 1943, the British ordered the dismantling of Palmach. Instead the whole organisation went underground.


Lehi (IPA2|'lɛxi, Hebrew acronym for "Lohamei Herut Israel", "Fighters for the Freedom of Israel", לח"י - לוחמי חירות ישראל), also known as the "Stern Group" or "Stern Gang", was an armed underground Zionist faction in Mandatory Palestine that had as its goal the eviction of the British from Palestine to allow unrestricted immigration of Jews and the formation of a Jewish state. The name of the group became "Lehi" only after the death of its founder, Avraham Stern.


Irgun ( _he. ארגון; shorthand for "Ha'Irgun Ha'Tsvai Ha'Leumi B'Eretz Yisrael", _he. הארגון הצבאי הלאומי בארץ ישראל, "National Military Organization in the Land of Israel") was a clandestine Zionist group that operated in Palestine from 1931 to 1948, as a militant offshoot of the earlier and larger Haganah (Hebrew: "The Defense", ההגנה) Jewish paramilitary organization. In Israel, Irgun is commonly referred to as Etzel ( _he. אצ"ל), an acronym of the Hebrew initials. For secrecy reasons, people often referred to the Irgun, in the time in which it operated, as Haganah Bet (Hebrew: literally "Defense 'B' " or "Second Defense" _he. הגנה ב), Haganah Ha'leumit ( _he. ההגנה הלאומית) or Ha'ma'amad ( _he. המעמד).

The group made attacks against Arab and Palestinian groups a central part of their initial efforts. It was armed expression of the nascent ideology of Revisionist Zionism, expressed by Ze'ev Jabotinsky as that "every Jew had the right to enter Palestine; only active retaliation would deter the Arabs and the British; only Jewish armed force would ensure the Jewish state". [Howard Sachar: "A History of the State of Israel", pps 265-266] The organization was a political predecessor movement to Israel's right-wing "Herut" (or "Freedom") party, which led to today's Likud party.

The most well-known attack by Irgun was the bombing of King David Hotel in Jerusalem on 22 July 1946. British authorities condemned Irgun as terrorists already in the 1930s. [ [ ww2peopleswar] ] However, Irgun also had considerable support within the Zionist movement.


Israeli Security Forces

Israeli Security Forces is used to describe a group of organizations which are charged with the preservation of Israel's territory and civilian public. The organizations are independent but cooperate with each other, some are volunteer, some are professional, and others are both. The list includes military institutions, government agencies, law enforcement organizations, and first aid organizations:

*Israel Police
**Israel Border Police
**Civil Guard (Israel)
*Israeli Intelligence Community

Israel Defense Forces

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) ( _he. צבא ההגנה לישראל "Audio|He-Israeli Defense Forces.ogg|Tzva HaHagana LeYisrael", "Defense Military of Israel", commonly known in Israel by the Hebrew acronym צה"ל, pronounced "Tzahal"), is the name of Israel's military forces, comprising the:

*Israeli Army
*Israeli Air Force
*Israeli Sea Corps


External links

* [ History of the Jewish Army] , Jewish Encyclopedia.

* [ Jewish Concepts of War] , Jewish Encyclopedia.

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