Israel’s cabinet approved calling up 10,000 reservists Thursday, as the Israel-Hamas fighting threatens to extend past the summer and into the next school year. In Hebrew, this can be summed up in two words: tzav shmoneh, which literally means “Order 8” and is the term used to refer to the emergency call-up notice that summons Israelis away from their day-to-day life – studies, work, family – and back into uniform.
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Like a catch-22, an Order 8 conveys a world of meaning with nothing but a noun and a number. But while in China, the government auctions off license plates with the lucky number eight for thousands of dollars, in Israel, the number signals it’s time to dress in olive and hug your kids goodbye.
Although Israelis perform their military service – called milu’im in Hebrew – throughout the course of the year, a tzav shmoneh specifically refers to emergency situations such as war, comes on top of regular reserve duty and, for obvious reasons, typically offers reservists less warning ahead of time. It can also be more dangerous, since the focus is more on combat than run-of-the-mill training exercises.
In addition to directly affecting the many families across the country who have relatives fighting at the same time, a tzav shmoneh is also seen as a general sign that the country is in for another round of trouble.
A tzav is an order, injunction, directive or command. It shares the same root as mitzvah, or “commandment,” the Jewish laws that children are traditionally considered old enough to shoulder once they hit bat or bar mitzvah age.
A tzav isur pirsum (literally “order banning publication”) is a gag order, and a tzav ma’atzar is an arrest warrant; a tzav giyus is a draft notice, and the rhyming Tzav Pius, which plays on the military terminology and literally means “reconciliation order,” is an organization that works to bring together different segments of Israel’s Jewish population.
(There is also a tzav that’s an altogether different animal: a turtle. But though both tzavim sound the same in Hebrew as well as English, and look the same in English transliteration, they are actually two different words that are spelled differently in Hebrew.)
Getting back to the military kind of tzav, what exactly does lucky No. 8 have to do with emergency call-ups?
The answer is pretty prosaic: The laws pertaining to calling up the reserves in an emergency situation were laid out in section 8 of the 1949 Defense Service Law.
Section 8(a) of the law, which has since been amended several times, reads: “The Minister of Defense may, if he is satisfied that the security of the State so requires, call, by order, upon any person of military age who belongs to the reserve forces of the Israel Defense Forces to report for regular service or reserve service, as shall be specified in the order, at such place and time as shall be fixed therein, and to serve so long as the order shall be in force; and such person of military age shall report and serve accordingly.”
As the law was revised, the placement of the section on emergency call-ups moved around, to section 26 in the 1959 version and section 34 in the 1986 law. But it continued to be called tzav shmoneh in colloquial Hebrew.
Eventually, Israel’s lawmakers got out from behind the eight ball and, in the Reserve Service Law of 2008, placed the tzav shmoneh back in section 8, right where it belongs.
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