Yigael Yadin Born
Yigael Yadin and a Yemenite Israeli worker at the Hazor excavation site in the mid-1950s. Photo: Beit Hatfusot
March 20, 1917

Yigael Yadin, a general also known for his archaeological work, is born in Jerusalem. His father is an archaeologist, and his mother is a women’s rights activist.

Yadin joins the Haganah when he is 15 years old and goes on full active duty during the Arab Rebellion of 1936. He rises to become the head of operations for the Haganah General Staff in 1943. Although he leaves the Haganah in 1946, he returns to his role as the head of operations before the War of Independence, and his tactics outsmart Egyptian forces in the Negev campaign of December 1948. In 1949 he serves as the military adviser to the Israeli delegation in armistice talks with Egypt in Rhodes and is a delegate at the Lausanne peace conference. While in Switzerland, he studies that nation’s military reserve system, and he brings a similar system of a small standing army and a large reserve force to the Israel Defense Forces.

Yadin succeeds Yaakov Dori to become the IDF’s second chief of staff in 1949 and holds the post until retiring in 1952 amid disagreements with Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion over the military budget. Ending his military career at age 35, Yadin turns to his true passion: archaeology.

Serving on the faculty of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Yadin helps acquire four of the original Dead Sea Scrolls in 1954 and plays a significant role in translating them. He leads an expedition to search Dead Sea caves for relics and discovers letters written by Simon Bar Kochba, who led a rebellion against the Romans from 132 to 135 C.E. He also runs excavations of Masada, Hatzor and Megiddo. In writing about his excavations, he connects the findings to Jewish history and the Bible. He struggles against the theft of recovered artifacts by prominent people, including Moshe Dayan, and once says: “I know who did it, and I am not going to say who it is, but if I catch him, I’ll poke out his other eye too.”

He serves on the Agranat Commission, which investigates the intelligence failures behind the Yom Kippur War in 1973. Four years later, he is elected to the Knesset with the new Democratic Movement for Change, known as Dash, and after his party joins the Likud-led coalition of Prime Minister Menachem Begin, he is named deputy prime minister. But he retires from politics in 1981 after one term, citing his lack of influence in government decisions and his opposition to settlement construction.

Yadin dies June 28, 1984, at age 67.