Was Operation Entebbe A Miracle Of Hashem?



    Was Operation Entebbe A Miracle Of Hashem?

    Tammuz 5736 was an euphoric time for Jews worldwide. A group of Jews slated to be murdered were miraculously saved in a fantastic military operation. But there were voices who brazenly denied this was an act of Hashem, and the Rebbe made it his business to prove the fallacy of this ludicrous claim in a most original way. Historian and Beis Moshiach feature writer Shneur Berger went to dig in the news archives and came back with a fascinating overview of this historical saga  • Full Article

    Shneur Zalman Berger, Beis Moshiach

    At Forty years after Operation Entebbe, then prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu went to the airport in Uganda where his brother was killed. Along with Netanyahu were former soldiers who participated in the rescue effort as well as some of the former hostages.

    It was particularly moving when Akiva Lakser, one of the hostages who was freed, loudly recited the bracha, “she’asa li nes ba’makom ha’zeh” (who performed a miracle for me in this place). To members of the media standing there, he said, “My life was saved here, in this place, forty years ago, when I was rescued by the heroic and unforgettable Israeli rescue team and their leader, Yonatan Netanyahu, who sacrificed his life for our rescue. On my behalf and on behalf of my three children born after the operation, I want to bless and thank, boruch ata Hashem …”

    This brief but potent moment in time seemed to come full circle from the sicha that the Rebbe said in which he mentioned the miraculous rescue of the Entebbe hostages and he asked rabbanei Yisrael to publicize a psak din on three questions, one of which was: When one of the former hostages returns to Entebbe, must he recite the bracha “she’asa li nes” with sheim and malchus (i.e. the full version including G-d’s name and kingship).


    Forty-five years have passed since Operation Entebbe and the Chabad connection was already written about many times. To mark thirty years since the operation, I wrote a series for Beis Moshiach about the events of the summer of 1976 and what the Rebbe did in connection with Entebbe.

    Presented here for the first time is a review of newspaper articles with reports from Jewish media in Eretz Yisrael and the United States about the operation and the Rebbe’s battle to publicize the miracle.

    The daring operation, which was successful with Hashem’s kindness, was executed on Shabbos, 5 Tammuz 5736. Over a hundred Jews were freed from terrorists who hijacked them on a flight from France to Eretz Yisrael.

    The following Shabbos, during the farbrengen which took place for 12 Tammuz – Chag HaGeula, the Rebbe referred to the enormity of the miracle. The Rebbe’s words made waves and were published in the papers. For example, in HaTzofeh of 14 Tammuz it said:

    The Rebbe of Lubavitch expresses his “yasher koach” to the liberators of the Entebbe hostages.

    At a Chassidic farbrengen that took place yesterday, the Rebbe of Lubavitch referred to, among other things, lessons to be derived from the current event of Entebbe. The farbrengen took place to mark forty-nine years since the release of his father-in-law, his predecessor in the Chabad leadership, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneerson, from captivity. His talk was broadcast live to forty-nine points on the globe including Chabad centers in Israel.

    The Rebbe spoke at length about the practical lessons to derive from the hijacking of the plane. He described the rescue mission as an event that ought to shake up those people who believe in the laws of nature and show them the G-dly supervision and influence within the natural reality.

    The Rebbe expressed a “yasher koach” and deep thanks to all those who were involved in the rescue operation while simultaneously wishing, from the depths of his heart, that they derive the necessary conclusions for their day-to-day lives, as their ability to accomplish the strengthening of quality over quantity was demonstrated to them, and he called upon them to fulfill Torah and mitzvos.

    The Rebbe emphasized that when the Jewish people go with Hashem’s power they have nothing to fear of goyim, neither overt enemies or covert avengers, not from plots and actions nor from the discussions and statements of the goyim even when they are 140 in number and even when they are in the “glass palace” [a reference to the United Nations].

    The Rebbe called upon all those who were in danger, the hostages who were rescued, to check the mezuzos in their homes. The Rebbe said that the results of this checking, when they would be publicized, would certainly lead to a great awakening to fulfill the mitzva of mezuza.

    An unexpected farbrengen took place on Monday night, the eve of 15 Tammuz which was reported in Davar:

    The Lubavitcher Rebbe: It is necessary to increase preventive measures.

    Chabad Chassidim in Kfar Chabad caught a live broadcast from the court of the Lubavitcher Rebbe in the United States late Monday night. It included an unexpected farbrengen of the Rebbe with his Chassidim less than 36 hours after the previous six-hour farbrengen ended.

    The Rebbe said that the Uganda affair was a warning sign and it is necessary to increase preventive measures so that similar things did not happen again: “Just as those agencies in charge of physical security came to conclusions about intensifying defensive and security measures so too, we should all increase spiritual means of security which are Torah and mitzvos.”

    He said to establish Tuesday, erev Rosh Chodesh Menachem Av, as a day to increase in Torah study, tefilla and tzedaka, and to give tzedaka in the amount of three meals for each member of the family.


    Another surprise farbrengen with the Rebbe took place on Thursday night, 24 Tammuz. The impressions of that farbrengen were publicized in Davar under the headline, “The Rebbe of Lubavitch: We Must Draw Conclusions From The ‘Warnings’ Pouring Down On Our Heads.”

    This is what the news item said:

    In a special broadcast on Friday, the Lubavitcher Rebbe made three demands of his Chassidim:

    1 – The hostages in Entebbe had to publicize the surprising results of the mezuzos-checking.

    2 – To draw conclusion from the warnings pouring down on our heads.

    3 – To study the halachos having to do with the Beis HaMikdash until Tisha B’Av, even with young children.

    Later in the article, the author cited that: As the days pass, clarifying details come to light which show that the entire hijacking and rescue were completely against the laws of nature. If we had merited, and during the week of terror and worry for the fate of the hostages there had been a general proclamation of ‘we will go in the ways of the Torah,’ all would have been saved. However, unfortunately, we were not meritorious and a third warning came – we paid with the loss of lives of four Jews including an excellent commander, may Hashem avenge their blood.

    These sacrifices ought to serve us as a warning sign. We need to return to the source of our existence, to base our lives on the Torah and its practical mitzvos.

    He also went on to report about a Mezuza Campaign that was carried out with some of the hostages and the Rebbe’s reference to this:

    The campaign to check mezuzos by some of the hostages, according to the Admor, produced interesting results. Either there were no mezuzos at all or they were pasul or they were not put up as halacha prescribes in the necessary places, or they were not up on all the doorways. The obvious conclusion is that the hostages ought to muster strength and announce fearlessly that everyone should check their mezuzos to ensure they are kosher. This is the best spiritual protection.


    In the days that followed, the Sivan-Tammuz issue of HaMaor, a prominent Torah journal, was published. The editor, Rabbi Meir Amsel devoted a lengthy article to the rescue operation in Entebbe, beginning with a Talmudic exposition as to whether according to halacha a miracle happened. At the end of the article he concluded:

    Bottom line, there is no doubt that the military people and all the people who were moser nefesh to rescue their brothers who were in danger of death and destruction, surely their reward is great and they did a great thing in rescuing Jewish souls. However, I am bothered by the fact that in the battei medrashos they ignore those who did the mitzva with mesirus nefesh, the soldiers, and they praise only the government leaders, those who planned the rescue operation. Although those too should be praised, and Hashem does not withhold reward for any good deed, ultimately let us not forget that they stayed home in peace and did not put themselves in any danger at all.

    However, what is even worse is that in the songs and thanks on account of the government what is forgotten completely is that the Hand of Hashem wrought this, because the rescue was supernatural and entailed tremendous danger and only the miracles and mighty deeds that Hashem did helped this unique rescue.

     Credit is due to the mighty gaon, the Admor of Lubavitch Shlita who adopted the proper approach to strengthen faith, and among other things also aroused awareness that it is a mitzva to publicize the mitzva of mezuza which also has the segula of protection and security as it says in the holy Zohar and other sefarim. Most hostages were lacking the protection of the mitzva of mezuza in their homes, i.e. either they did not have a kosher mezuza on each doorway or they had none at all. He also spoke other important words in connection with this, along the lines of the foundations of faith.

    Toward the end of 5736, the Rebbe sent some letters that were published in the papers. In one of them, a letter addressed to N’Shei U’Bnos Yisrael (dated Rosh Chodesh Elul 5736), the Rebbe referred to Operation Entebbe as well as to the attack of terrorists on El-Al offices in Istanbul in which four people were killed: “In view of the recent events — the hijacking and saving of the hostages held in Uganda and the subsequent attempt of the terrorists to perpetrate a vicious reprisal, G-d forbid, in Kushta (Istanbul), it should be understood that these events are an indication that Jews must, as early as possible, strengthen all aspects of their security and defenses — first and foremost in their spiritual lives, which is the channel to receive G-d’s blessings also in the physical aspect, namely, to know the right ways and means that have to be undertaken in the natural order of things, and to fully succeed in these efforts…”


    The Rebbe took care to capitalize on the great miracles which occurred in order to strengthen the Jewish people in Torah and mitzvos and to inspire their hearts to love Hashem. This call on the part of the Rebbe aroused great opposition on the part of Satmar Chassidim in Williamsburg who refused to acknowledge the open miracles which they said were executed by irreligious Jews and with the desecration of Shabbos.

    Satmar Chassidim published denigrating articles in the papers and put up posters in which they attacked Operation Entebbe and Lubavitch and its leader.

    The fire of dispute burned in Brooklyn and reached Eretz Yisrael as was publicized in Maariv on 3 Elul 5736 under the headline, “Satmar And Lubavitch War In The Wake Of ‘Operation Yonatan.’”

    Mivtza Yonatan [That is what the Entebbe Operation was called, for the commander who was killed, Yoni Netanyahu] has caused a war among Jews in New York. While the Lubavitcher Rebbe praised the operation a number of times and crowned the IDF soldiers who endangered their lives to rescue the hostages of the Air France plane in Entebbe, a rabbinic organization affiliated with Satmar Chassidim came out with a sharp denigration of those “who praise and extol the army of the state of heretics.”

    In one of his public sichos, the Lubavitcher Rebbe firmly rejected the claims raised by the extremists against Operation Entebbe and asked why it was permissible to have one man [the Satmar Rebbe] rescued by Zionists [Dr. Kastner] and it was forbidden to rescue a hundred Jews from certain death.

    These words generated much agitation in the religious community in Williamsburg and as reported in the Algemeiner Journal, demands were heard among Satmar Chassidim to “take steps” and even open “a holy war” against Lubavitch.

    Following “Operation Yonatan” there was also a battle of public proclamations with the Hisachdus HaRabbanim affiliated with Satmar criticizing the “confusion of the minds” in our camps, regarding the rescue of the lives of our Jewish brethren who were in distress and captivity and terrible danger with wild animals plotting to annihilate them, and murderers who called themselves “rescuers” made their blood forfeit r”l (i.e. by using force rather than negotiation).

    The Rebbe responded to the claims of Satmar Chassidim during farbrengens that took place in the summer of 5736 and the winter of 5737: We see openly that this is the Hand of Hashem. Hashem can do miracles even through someone who is not yet observant of mitzvos as is related in several places in the Oral Torah.

    – The merit of the soldiers who chose to put their lives in danger in order to rescue Jews, is very great. Their merit will stand by them forever and their portion in the World to Come is assured.

    – It’s a pity on one who does not see the Hand of Hashem in this and an even greater pity on those who try to claim that it comes from the “other side” and foment dissent among Jews. A protest ought to be made against what they say.


    For a number of months, the Rebbe spoke about the great miracle and decisively responded to all challengers. The latter did not remain silent and continued to attack the Rebbe.

    At the Simchas Torah farbrengen of 5737, after the Rebbe spoke at length about the need to thank for the miracles, he said that in light of the situation in which there are people who not only do not publicize the miracles but even try to minimize and ignore them, he would ask rabbanim to respond to the following three questions and these questions would be clear proof that, according to halacha, this was a miracle:

    1 – When one of those rescued returns to Entebbe, must he say the blessing “she’asa li nes” with sheim and malchus?

    2 – Can a sick patient seek treatment from an expert doctor who is not religious?

    3 – In the event of a hijacking can one rely on an expert and desecrate the Shabbos in order to save him?

    The Rebbe asked that the rabbis not conduct themselves in a manner of “they buried their faces in the earth” and “the rabbis were silent,” but they should respond to the questions clearly albeit briefly, yes or no, so as not to leave any room for avoidance by way of debate and argumentative reasoning.

    These questions were published in a number of newspapers. In HaTzofeh, they were published as an announcement under the headline, “The Entebbe Episode Continues To Vex The Lubavitcher Rebbe”:

    The Lubavitcher Rebbe issued a call to acknowledge the miracle even if it comes through Jews who are still not religiously observant. The liberation of the hostages in Entebbe is still making waves in the court of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson. As is known, there have risen up challengers from extremist groups who attacked the Rebbe for praising the rescue mission and wishing, ‘yasher koach’ to the IDF soldiers for their daring action and for saying it was a miracle […]

    The Rebbe posed two rhetorical questions to rabbanim around the world [the author then delineated the two questions].

    In the interim, those Chabad activists involved in Mivtza Mezuza announced the results of checking mezuzos of the Entebbe hostages. As is known, the Lubavitcher Rebbe foresaw after the operation that the mezuzos of the Entebbe hostages were invalid […]. Teams of Chabad Chassidim who checked mezuzos with a majority of the hostages were astounded to find out that all the mezuzos were found to be pasul.

    Many rabbanim around the world responded to the Rebbe’s call and issued nuanced piskei din with answers to the three questions. Among the poskim were the Gaavad of the Eidah HaChareidis, Rabbi Yitzchok Weiss, Rabbi Gershon Mendel Garelik on behalf of the beis din in Milan, the Rabbi of the Kosel, Rabbi Meir Yehuda Getz. Many American rabbanim of various groups also issued piskei din that demonstrated that according to halacha, Operation Entebbe was a great miracle.

    Members of the Beis Din Rabbanei Chabad in Eretz Yisrael gathered on 24 Cheshvan 5737 and issued responses to the three questions. Regarding the first question they said if one of the hostages went to Entebbe, he would have to say the bracha. Regarding the second question they said a patient should go to a greater expert and not to a religious doctor who is not as expert. Regarding the third question they said one needs to obey the irreligious expert and desecrate Shabbos in order to save a Jew in captivity.

    This was signed by Rabbis: Shlomo Yosef Zevin, Yaakov Landau, Alexander Yudasin, Gershon Chein, Yehuda Butrashvili, Dovid Chanzin, Yitzchok Yehuda Yaroslavsky, Zev Dov Slonim, Moshe Ashkenazi, Yechiel Michel Dubroskin, Shraga Meilech Kaplan, Dov Eliezerov and Mordechai Ashkenazi.

    In HaMaor, the editor published a long dissertation, thirteen pages long, which he prefaced by citing his earlier writing right after the Operation in which he said it was an open miracle and one should thank the soldiers who executed it.

    HaPardes, published by Agudas HaRabbanim in the United States published an article by Rabbi Simcha Elberg, chairman of the organization, who said that what happened in Uganda was a great miracle for which Hashem should be praised:

    Chasdei Hashem and the miracle in Uganda. Obviously, the daring move to liberate the Jewish hostages in Uganda with the help of military forces entailed serious danger […]. Hence, a miracle from heaven occurred and the operation was a success.

    Additional piskei din were published in Torah periodicals. Rabbi Efraim Eliezer Yolles, Av Beis Din in Philadelphia and one of the great rabbanim in the United States, responded mainly to the question about the bracha over the miracle and paskened that a former hostage must say it.

    However, in Williamsburg things did not quiet down and they began to carry out verbal and physical violence including throwing rocks at the Mivtza Tank that drove through the neighborhood and worse. But the Rebbe, the shepherd of the Jewish people, saw to it to hold up the great miracle that happened in Entebbe in order to call out the name of Hashem and draw the hearts of Jews toward their Father in heaven.


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