• Persian fallow deer (Dama dama mesopotamica) | Photo: Shutterstock

On Deer and War

Kay Wilson - 30 March 2021

Avraham Yoffe’s life, reads like one of swashbuckling fiction. Born by the Sea of Galilee in the early 20th century, at age 16 he had already joined the Haganah, Israel’s pre-state Jewish paramilitary organization which operated during the British Mandate and went onto become the IDF.

“Avraham Yoffe’s life, reads like one of swashbuckling fiction”

Avraham Yoffe (1967) | Photo: Wikimedia Commons by Jac. de Nijs / Anefo

In the thirties Yoffe served in the Special Night Squad, a Jewish unit run by the British General and Christian Zionist Orde Charles Wingate’s. Under the rebel Brit’s command, the unit carried out daring operations under nightfall to thwart the actions of Arab insurgents.

Yoffe went on to play a significant part in many of Israel’s wars. Following the War of Independence in which he was battalion commander in the Golan Heights, he spent years running an officer’s school. During the 6-Day War, he commanded four brigades on the Egyptian front where he and his soldiers daringly passed through terrain that was so tough it was not even guarded by the Egyptians because they believed it was impossible for tanks to cross. Avraham’s courage and dare prevented the Egyptians from calling for reinforcements, and within just 6 days, Israel won a war which changed the face of history.

Like Yigal Yadin, Israel’s second Chief of Staff, Yoffe also had a passionate interest in archeology. After Yadin had famously conducted excavations at Masada, the two men joined up in archeological excavation in a cave in the Judean Desert. There they discovered the legendary Bar-Kokhba letter, which is among one of the most important finds for studying the Land of Israel of the second century.

“Vigorously he began to search the world for the rare Fallow Deer in the hope of bringing a few to Israel”

After decades of fighting Yoffe laid down his weapons and became the Director General of the Nature Reserves Authority. A different mission filled him with as much purpose as any military battle. Vigorously he began to search the world for the rare Fallow Deer in the hope of bringing a few to Israel.

Ever since the founding of the state, Israel has been keen to bring back animals indigenous to the Land and mentioned in the Bible. Success had included the Ostrich, the Oryx and the Griffon Vulture. Concerning the identification of the Fallow Deer as the authentic Biblical deer, there were two opinions among scholars based on the Septuagint and the Vulgate translations of the Hebrew Bible. The most popular opinion believed it to be the genuine Biblical deer, while the minority opinion contested that it wasn’t. Yoffe was one of those who supported the thesis, and he set out to act.

He found some in Iran.

It was forty years ago, when Israel was on good terms with what was then Persia, that Yoffe contacted the Shah’s brother and asked to buy two pairs of Fallow Deer. In exchange he offered the Persian nobleman a chance to hunt a large Ibex in Israel’s Negev Desert.

Nubian ibex (Capra nubiana) | Photo: Wikimedia Commons by Godot13

Time was running out. This was all happening on the eve of the Islamic Revolution and the moment the coup would break out, ties with Israel would be impossible. It was in the nick of time that Yoffe managed to salvage the Fallow Deer, bring them to Israel and release them into the wild on Mount Carmel. Later on, six young were born and released to roam around the valleys surrounding the Jerusalem Mountains. When a fire broke out on Mount Carmel in the nineties and destroyed acres of trees and wildlife, the Fallow Deer crowded into a clearing and survived.

An inquisitive archeologist, a brave warrior and a man who thought out of the box, Yoffe’s contribution to his country was remarkable. One can only hope that somewhere from the world to come, Yoffe is content, that after millennia, the Biblical Fallow Deer is roaming his Land again.

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