Rabbi Menachem Froman, a settler rabbi who is also a confidant of Hamas and thorn in the side of the Shabak, has received a cancer diagnosis. His doctors decided the illness was so advanced they would not operate. As a result, his family arranged for a massive celebration in song and Torah study at his Tekoah home. Froman joined with Israeli pop star, Ehud Banai to sing Jewish liturgical and spiritual songs.
I met Froman in Washington, DC a few years ago after he’d met with George Mitchell. I urged him to publicize his meeting in order to advance his own goals for peace, but he proudly, even stubbornly refused to do so out of concern that it might anger Mitchell. I thought he was incredibly naive about how the political process works, but I had to admire the rock-ribbed way in which he clung to his convictions. His is definitely of the flinty stock that produced the Biblical prohet Amos, who also hailed from Tekoah.
What is most interesting about Froman, and part of the reason he can befriend Hamas leaders like Sheikh Yassine, is that Froman’s allegiance is not to a state or nation. He sees himself as a Jew more than an Israeli. His allegiance is to his tradition and to the land in which his forefathers and mothers lived. He has no interest in political power or even nationality. For that reason, he was entirely prepared to continue living in Tekoah under Palestinian sovereignty, yet another example of his deeply principled, even iconoclastic vision of Jewish-Muslim co-existence.
He is a man of God, a man of the Book. Not a man of the gun. Not a man of political power, but of spiritual power. All of this runs completely counter to the prevailing Israeli ethos, so he is viewed as a maverick or irrelevant by the majority of Israelis. The Shabak views him as a dangerous man and even disrupted his plan to hold a news conference with a Hamas affiliated journalist with whom he planned to present a joint peace plan. Apparently, Shabak is terribly threatened by Israeli settlers who talk peace. It prefers settlers who refuse any compromise or concessions. Froman also met with Turkey’s president after the Gaza flotilla massacre in an attempt to further reconciliation.
In this YouTube video, Ehud Banai leads the assembled guests in a powerful rendition of the Selichot piyut, Ha-Neshama Lach (“The Soul is Yours”). One of his students interviewed by Yediot said this:
He didn’t speak explicitly of his illness. No one else did either. He simply danced and embraced those who came to be with him. There were so many hugs. The rabbi hugged his students (disciples) and they hugged him back. He looked very strong. It was incredibly special to see him so. Others facing such circumstances would seclude themselves, refuse to open themselves to receive such love. It was very unusual to see him among all of his disciples receiving so much love from them.
A true man of peace. If we had more like him we wouldn’t be in the mess we are. H/t to reader Dedi.