Op-Ed: Rabbi Froman Actions Inexplicable, But Well-Meant

Even when I disagree with Rabbi Menahem Froman I know that his motives are pure even if sometimes mistaken.
Published: Sunday, September 04, 2011 6:52 PM


Let me state at the outset that I disagree with Rabbi Froman's visit to Ramallah, said to have been in order to wish Mahmoud Abbas good luck on the statehood bid at the UN.

Having known him for over 30 years, learned with him, was honored by having him as the sandak of my first born son and officiate in the marriage of my second son, I also know that when he gets an idea in his mind it is impossible to dissuade him. This is what makes him alternatively a source of inspiration and sometimes a source of exasperation.

I agree with his analysis that the Israeli Arab conflict is essentially a religious conflict. I disagree with him on the utility of his religious contacts  given Islam's belief that it is on a roll and will soon subdue Europe, let alone Israel. Some of his efforts in this direction are fruitless, counter-productive and perhaps damaging.

I do take issue with those who impute to him baser motives.

Having seen some of the talkbacks to the article on his visit, so allow me to dispose of some of the irrelevant ones first. Anyone who walks into the rabbi's ascetic home knows not to 'follow the money', as one talkbacker would have it. Three of the Rabbi's married children live in trailers in Tekoa. Rabbi Froman does not have a car and before he was stricken with cancer, he would hitch to Otniel where he taught in the yeshiva in addition to teaching in the yeshiva in Tekoa.

Second, he has proven his devotion to the land of Israel countless times. He was at Yamit and at the Katif Bloc and had to be dragged out both times. Behind the scenes, he has been active in lobbying the government not to give into Hamas extortion on Gilad Shalit. Knowing the Muslim interlocutors, he is certain that they will view Israel's surrender on this issue as a divine sign to engage in even worse atroctities.

While he displays respect for Arabs as fellow human beings, anybody who listens to him in Tekoa knows that he has not gone overboard on this issue. I remember way back when David Landau, an observant Jew, but also on the extreme left, did reserve duty in Tekoa.

Landau, as may be recalled, gained notoriety when while editor of Haaretz he told an American diplomat that Israel would like to be 'raped' by the USA. Landau listened to the rabbi's talk and came out muttering "this is the guy they call a dove?

After the recent terror attack near Eilat the rabbi made a blessing in the synagogue that Gaza, which dispatched the terrorists, would burn that very night. It didn't, but that was the fault of the Israeli government. He has referred to the Arab terrorists as Amalekites, hardly a term of endearment.

So what makes Rabbi Froman run to Ramallah and other questionable places? Rabbi Froman's major concern is not peace but Jewish unity.

One night, he was giving a talk in the synagogue and he threw out the question: why was Napoleon Bonaparte defeated? Somehow I had the distinct impression that he did not want an answer along the lines of Napoleon overextended his supply lines during the Russian campaign or that his adversaries turned the French weapon of nationalism against him by mobilizing their peoples against the French.

I nailed it on my first guess: Napoleon lost because the Lubavich Hassidim stole Napoleon's niggun (melody) from him. Rabbi Froman believes, perhaps mistakenly, that the only way to win over the Israeli left to our side is to appropriate and show empathy for their peace niggun. As part of the renewed interest in the works of Rabbi Nahman of Bratslav, Rabbi Froman stresses Rabbi Nahman's saying on the importance of the right hand meeting the left-hand -  while clapping.

Rabbi Froman does his utmost to keep the lines of communications open with the Jewish left and he will not give up on this. He views this as both a religious duty and political necessity.

I can still differ with him about the price that he pays for his ability to engage with the Israeli left, but this is a far cry from selling one's soul or one's country. Therefore even in disagreements, the Rabbi is entitled to the respect and veneration that he merits as well as our prayers in his unequal struggle with cancer.