Krav Maga spirit

June 8, 2021, Israel

It is often difficult to explain what distinguishes one style of Krav Maga from another. It is often difficult to explain to people why I cannot approve of certain styles of Krav Maga and their approach. 

I do not come from the fighting world. My motivation for training was never about fighting. I come from the spiritual world and fighting, self-defense is only a means to an end. We are not out for blood, we are not out to humiliate an opponent. We do not seek to be "warriors". 

There is a popular photo on social media. It depicts allegedly Jewish women in a Nazi concentration camp and underneath this photo is another photo of Israeli women, looking all tough and combat ready in Israeli army uniforms and carrying rifles. This post makes many people feel good. Some write, the grandmothers in heaven are looking down with pride on their granddaughters.

Well, first, many Holocaust photos are not only of Jews, and some have been accidently misused. Next, I have not seen any proof that these young soldiers are related to the women in the black and white Holocaust photo. From my experience I have learned that for shock value many such posts are not really accurate. My nephew worked in the field. Graphic art and advertisements have little do to with truth. So who knows. 

In any event the post makes me sad, why? Because the Jewish women during the Holocaust were taken from their homes, taken from their Jewish lives, their families, uprooted and forced into a different situation. I have read many heroic stories about young Jewish women coming from very religious homes, becoming partisans and fighting the Nazis. All heroic, but in the process they were uprooted from their Jewish holy lives, from their Jewish studies, from making a proper Jewish home, and were forced to become fighters. This is not natural, and this in itself is great harm. In the process they lost their way of life, their religion, their spiritual direction. While we applaud their true heroism, we prefer that it not be necessary.

I think of the amazing Avital Sharansky. Her husband was arrested in Russia many years ago and refused the right to emigrate to Israel. He was imprisoned for many years in horrific conditions. She began a world wide protest movement and became a Jewish celebrity. At the time people wrote that no one knew that this quiet humble Jewish woman could take the world by storm, but she did. When her husband Anatoly, Natan in Hebrew, was released, she returned to her humble Jewish life, she became a proper Jewish wife. She did not  transform her public activism to a political career, something she could have easily done. She was not a "politician", she was a warrior for a cause. Once her objective was achieved, she returned to her true calling as a Jewish woman.

And this brings me to one of our greatest heroes, Judah the Maccabee. He is the symbol of a Jewish warrior and yet he is misunderstood by most. 

The year is 167 B.C.E. (before the common era, i.e. about 2,188 years ago) and the Jewish way of life is at risk. The Jews can save themselves by becoming Hellenized Greeks, as many have. But when push comes to shove, when things become unbearable, a man rises. 

He is an old man, an old Cohen, his name is Matithyahu (Mattathias), he has five brave sons. They will not tolerate the violation of the Torah, of the Law of God, and they resist. At first they are a few but gradually others join. "As for me and my family, we will follow the way of God, whomever is for God, join with me!"

thus declared Matithyahu the Cohen and others soon followed. They were known as Hasidim, the Pious Ones. And they were willing to die in combat to protect their Jewish way of life. They were not trained warriors, but like Avital so many years later, they rose to the occasion to fight. "The men of peace, hitherto entirely absorbed in the Holy Scriptures, now prepared to wage war."

They fought and they won, the story eventually became known as the great miracle we still celebrate at the holiday of Hanukkah. In the year 167 the elderly father passed away. Before his passing he appointed his son Judah, Yehuda, as commander, to keep battling the Syrian Greeks under king Antiochus Epiphanes. Judah's brother Shimon (Simon) would be his advisor. They would fight for the Covenant and give their lives. Judah is described as a warrior such as Israel had not seen since the days of King David. He was pure and noble, invisible strength seemed to emanate from his holy soul, those who surrounded him felt this power and they too became empowered. Judah the Hebrew Hammer would fight until the end of his days. (in the year 160 B.C.E.)

His victories and acts of heroism can be read in the Book of the Maccabees, and I have written about them as well, but here I want to focus on Judah as a person. History records that he was endowed with the instincts of a general and outwitted his opponents on the battlefield. In the hour of battle he was like a lion in his rage, but when not in battle he was "like a dove in gentleness and simplicity" He relied not upon his sword but upon God, before every battle he prayed to God. Judah the Hebrew Hammer only fought when he had to, compelled by necessity to preserve religious freedom and to raise up a humbled people. 

Humble scholars left their holy scriptures and turned to battle, but we never saw the warrior as the ideal. We never worship the warrior. Krav Maga is a means to an end. My proudest moments are when I am reading the Torah in the synagogue, not when I am fighting. I fight so that we can all read the Torah. And this my friends, is what makes us different. 

So in my free time you will not find me spending my day in the gym perfecting my body, you will find me with a book...

Long live the memory of Judah, Yehuda the Maccabee the Cohen!