One of the great ones of our generation has just passed: Rabbi Menachem Froman. He died of cancer today at age 68. I have posted about him several times. I will feature here Rita Castelnuovo’s wonderful photograph that accompanied the NY Times profile of him. This is Haaretz’s Hebrew epitaph (and the English version). This is The Forward’s story which includes an interesting video.
He was one of those magnificent iconoclastic figures Israel has thrown up over the decades like Martin Buber, Judah Magnes, Zelda, Yeshaya Leibowitz, Yaakov Talmon, Gershom Scholem, Uri Avnery, Abie Nathan, and many others.
What was so extraordinary about him was that he perfectly exemplified Whitman’s dictum:
Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.
He was a settler rabbi who made common cause with Sheikh Ahmed Jassin, Hamas’ spiritual leader. He lived in the settlement of Tekoa, also the ancestral home of the prophet Amos. He represented the same fiery demand for morality and justice as his Biblical forebear. He was a teacher and educator. But he didn’t teach the hate that passed for religious piety at yeshivot like Yeshivat Ho-Kotel, Yeshivat Rav Kook, or Yeshivat Od Yosef Chai. He taught that Jews had an obligation to the Land, but not to politics. They had an obligation to God, but not to Greater Israel. He had no allegiance to a Jewish State. His allegiance was to God and his spiritual journey. He accepted the possibility of Palestinian political sovereignty over the Territories and was prepared to live there under such control. Something no other settler extremist would accept.
I had the privilege to meet him one time thanks to Shamai Leibowitz. Froman was in Washington DC at the invitation of George Mitchell. I was struck by the fact that Mitchell would meet such a visionary as Froman, a man who the Shabak went to great lengths to frustrate. It spoke well of the good faith and broad mindedness of Mitchell.
I knew Rabbi Froman was terminally ill and that it was just a matter of time. But I hoped he would be with us as long as possible. As long as he was here, it was that much harder for the ultra-nationalist madness that passes for political discourse in Israel, to triumph.
But he is gone. May his sainted memory be for a blessing.