Rabbi Froman with his friend, Sheikh Ibrahim (Photo: Avishag Shaar-Yashuv)
Chief rabbi of Tekoa, who was both settler and peace activist, leaves huge void among wide and often opposing publics. ‘Rabbi Froman proved that religion can be a bridge to peace and coexistence,’ Peace Now says in statement. Yesha Council: He worked to reinforce settlement enterprise
Many in the Right and in the Left, in the Arab sector and in the Religious Zionism movement, are lamenting the death of the man who was both a settler and a peace activist, a rabbi and a spiritual leader, who embodied a distinguished halachic personality – as well as a graceful personality.
Froman was considered one of the most colorful and modernistic rabbis in the Religious Zionism movement in general, and among the settler public in particular. He was one of the pioneers of the Hasidic movement in Religious Zionism and was also known as a poet and artist.
He was considered very moderate politically. Despite his objection to the removal of settlements for ethical reasons, he was established close ties with Palestinian and Muslim leaders, with whom he attempted to reach a formula that would allow coexistence and pave the way to a peace agreement.
The Peace Now movement lamented Froman’s death on Monday, saying in a statement that “Rabbi Froman was a symbol of peace between Jews and Arabs. While most people see religion as grounds for battle between people, Rabbi Froman proved that religion can be a bridge to peace and coexistence rather than a tool for increasing conflicts and radicalizing opinions. His legacy will live on until the day the conflict is over.”
The Yesha Council mourned Froman’s death too, saying that “Rabbi Menachem Froman did a lot to reinforce the settlement enterprise, both openly and secretly. Through his special way of life he connected to diverse sectors among the Jewish people – and thereby succeeded in strengthening the love of man, Torah and land.”
‘He had the innocence of a child’
Former Chief Military Rabbi Avichai Rontzki was Rabbi Forman’s student at the Machon Meir Center for Jewish Studies at the time he became religious. He says the deceased rabbi left a significant mark on him.
“We were a small group of students just starting our path in the world of Torah,” Rabbi Rontzki told Ynet. “And already then, I felt a strong connection to his innocence. At the time you could see it in the teaching, in the way he lived it, in the way he would jump, get excited and almost cry, and later in the other things he was famous for. He had the innocence of a child, it was like he lived in the afterlife.
“When I served as chief military rabbi, he would offer to help the IDF with the Palestinians, because he lived in another world and really believed that religious officials on both sides can chant ‘Allahu Akbar’ (God is great) together and solve the crisis or bring about Gilad Shalit’s release. We need such innocent people in our world, which is very formal, businesslike, technical and realistic.”
‘One of settlement’s central pillars’
Tzohar Chairman Rabbi David Stav, considered one of the leading candidates for the post of chief Ashkenazi rabbi, eulogized Rabbi Froman as well.
“I remember him when I was a young student in Har Etzion Yeshiva, sitting and studying Torah in good company. For me, his special personality was a fascinating meeting with the world of Torah. Later on, Rabbi Froman escorted our work in Tzohar in many ways and was connected to our activity in his body and soul.
“Alongside his pursuit of peace between Israel and the Palestinians, he saw the connection of the Israeli society to the Torah as a great value. In the past few weeks I got to talk to him several times, and these conversations strengthened us greatly in all our work.”
Knesset Member Rabbi Eli Ben Dahan (Habayit Hayehudi), who studied with Rabbi Froman in Mercaz Harav Yeshiva, said: “I still remember how devoted he was to the study of Torah, which was an inner part of him.”
He defined Froman as “a person who led the Tekoa community, while connecting knowledge and different colors of the Jewish people, into a united community. I regret the fact that we did not get to fully enjoy his work.”
Froman, the chief rabbi of the settlement of Tekoa in Gush Etzion, was a well-known figure among his neighbors in the Palestinian villages as well, but that did not reduce his status in the eyes of the moderate settler public.
Gush Etzion Council head Davidi Perl referred to Froman after learning of his death as “a huge scholar, with a great soul, who loved people and brought them closer to Torah. He was one of the central pillars of the settlement enterprise in Gush Etzion and all of the Land of Israel, and bestowed a legacy of loving fellowmen and making peace.”
Gershon Mesika, head of the Shomron Regional Council, said that “the State of Israel and the Judea and Samaria settlements lost an important rabbi and spiritual leader. Throughout his life, Rabbi Menachem Forman of blessed memory used original and diverse ways to strengthen and expand the settlement enterprise in Judea, Samaria and the entire Land of Israel.”
Bennett: A Jew with a huge heart
Many others in the political arena expressed their sorrow over the rabbi’s passing as well. MK Uri Ariel (Habayit Hayehudi) said, “This land lost a great man. Rabbi Froman of blessed memory was one of the land’s greatest fighters and lovers. A peace lover and a peace seeker, who hated disagreements, loved people and brought them closer to Torah. He could always see the person beyond the dispute and respect him.”
Habayit Hayehudi Chairman Naftali Bennett referred to Froman on his Facebook page as “a peace lover and a peace seeker, a Jew with a huge heart.”
MK Tzipi Hotovely (Likud) said that Rabbi Froman was a special person. “He lived his life beyond the borders of consensus, without considering conventions. He did not act out of political symbols, but out of the love of man.”
Froman served as the rabbi of Tekoa while teaching in the local yeshiva and in the Otniel Yeshiva in South Mount Hebron. He is survived by his wife Hadassah and 10 children.
In 2010 he was diagnosed with colon cancer. He was treated in conventional and natural means, and survived much longer than doctors predicted. Upon learning of his disease, Froman added the name Hai Shalom (living peace) to his last name and declared that he would devote himself to peace and coexistence between Jews and Arabs in Israel.
In the last few months of his life he decided to carry on as usual, delivering sermons and giving interviews. His final days were spend at home. “He wanted to experience what he was going through with his family,” his son said.
On Sunday, about 200 of the rabbi’s students took part in a music and study evening in his house’s backyard, where he had delivered a lesson on the mystical book of Zohar every Sunday.
Many of the participants saw the event as a chance to bid farewell to their beloved rabbi following the significant deterioration in his condition. He had just been released from the hospital several days earlier and lost consciousness.
“We wanted to wrap him up with the students he loved so much, and the Torah which was the air he breathed,” explained his son, Shivi Froman. “With the melodies, the music and singing he was surrounded by, especially in the past two years.”
He added that “father still lives and exists, and we live and exist with him. Father will always influence us.”
Kobi Nahshoni, Itamar Fleishman and Moran Azulay contributed to this report