Rabbi Menachem Froman died on Monday at the age of 68, following a prolonged illness.
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Froman, rabbi of the West Bank settlement of Tekoa, was unique among settler rabbis in that he was a leading proponent of Israeli-Palestinian dialogue as far back as the 1980s, when contact with the PLO was still illegal. He was the spiritual leader of many young people and was known for his extensive contacts with people from a wide range of ideological circles. He was in constant contact with politicians, military leaders and in particular artists including writers, musicians and actors. More recently, he championed the idea of dialogue between Jewish and Islamic religious leaders as a path to peace, in which context he held intensive talks with religious leaders from both Hamas and Israel’s Islamic Movement.
In recent years, Froman launched several religious peace organizations. He also developed close ties with a wide range of people who spanned the political and ideological gamut, including army officers, politicians and, above all, creative artists from the worlds of literature, music and theater.
Froman suffered from cancer of the large intestine and is survived by his wife, Hadassah, and 10 children. He was born in Kfar Hasidim near Haifa. He went to high school at the Reali School in Haifa, served in the paratroopers during the Six-Day War and after the army gradually became more and more religious. He began studying in various yeshivot including Merkaz Harav alongside a number of other students who, like Froman, became the leaders of the settler movement Gush Emunim. He was ordained as a rabbi by former Chief Rabbis Shlomo Goren and Avraham Shapira. He served as the rabbi of Kibbutz Migdal Oz in Gush Etzion.
He was one of the founders of Tekoa and helped make the settlement a mixed community of religious and nonreligious centered around a mixed school run by his wife Hadassah.
He was a self-proclaimed nonconformist among the rabbis of the territories, and paid a price for it. In the 1980s, after the Jewish terrorist underground was exposed and the first intifada began, Froman came out openly in favor of a dialogue with Palestinian leaders as well as granting political rights and national symbols to the Palestinian people. Many in Gush Emunim tried to remove him from the organization and his post.
During the second intifada he traveled throughout the West Bank and Gaza, and even went to Jordan, speaking to Palestinian leaders, including Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and Mahmoud Al-Zahar from Hamas. He became more politically active in his last years, leading movements of young settlers who did not hesitate to criticize the occupation. Froman saw no contradiction between the settlements and striving for peace, and often said "the settlements are the fingers of the Israeli hand held out for peace." He saw the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians as mainly religious and saw a common bond with Islamic religious leaders. He viewed the nationalist-territorial conflict as secondary and did not rule out the continued existence of the settlements under Palestinian sovereignty.
As a rabbi, he concentrated mostly on Hassidic and mystical literature. He taught in yeshivot that were forerunners of the Hassidic wave in religious Zionist circles.
He cooperated with other rabbis known for their independent thinking, such as Adin Steinsaltz and Shimon Gershon Rosenberg, better known as Rav Shagar.
In an interview with Ayelett Shani in Haaretz Magazine last July, Froman said that he was willing to live under Palestinian sovereignty.
"I met with someone who is very close to the prime minister, and he told me that the solution I am proposing is also the solution he has envisaged for years, from the political viewpoint, and that he is working to persuade the prime minister," he told Haaretz.
"We came to Tekoa to take part in that: to participate in the establishment of a mixed community. With the intention that I want to learn, to receive. I do not want to give. I do not work for my truth. I work for the sake of the general truth, the objective truth. In the final analysis, the question is whether you abnegate yourself before God or you represent him. And I abnegate myself before God."
As to whether he thought he was crazy or had doubts about the path he took, Froman said: "Many crazy people, I think, don’t think they are crazy. Things will be good if things will be good and there is peace. It has to materialize. A life of supplication; you have a great profit from that. You ask whether it is worthwhile, but of course it is worthwhile. A life of humility. ... To accept is tremendous joy.
Because then the objective good or the objective truth speak through you. It is not only you and your thoughts. It might be expressed in a possibly cruel way. What Rachel writes is terribly cruel. Moses does not enter the land. But the nation enters. If there is someone who does not fulfill [a particular task], someone else will do it. Maybe my son," he said.
When asked what he would like to leave behind as his legacy, Froman answered with one word: "Peace."