Judaism: Rabbi Menachem Froman - Not What You Thought
First and foremost, Menachem Froman was a community rabbi who dealt with questions of what is permitted and what is forbidden. Although he seemed to exist beyond time and space, he refused to permit anyone who arrived after sunset to hold Mincha prayers in his synagogue.
The many young people who flocked to Menachem, thinking him a great reformer, ought to take note: you can’t take home only the easy things.
When Menachem participated in Shabbat camping programs, he kept a copy of Keeping Shabbat in hand for reference when dealing with any problems that came up. He received his ordination from two great luminaries who were exacting regarding things great and small: Chief Rabbis Rabbi Shlomo Goren and Rabbi Avraham Shapira. And as Rabbi Moshe Levinger, Hevron pioneer and uncompromising trailblazer, who went to visit Menachem during his illness, said, Menachem was a skilled halakha decisor.
During that visit as on many other occasions, the two old friends found themselves in a political argument. I can imagine that was said: I had often had such arguments with Menachem in the past, ever since he went to the Madrid Conference, calling for a compromise with the Palestinians, while we terror victims took the opposite position, calling against talks with terrorist organizations. But it was impossible to argue with Menachem for very long. He put an end to any disagreement with a bear hug.
In Rabbi Levinger’s words, Menachem was not a great politician, but he had a big heart, which is why Rabbi Tvi Yehuda Kook loved him so much. Because of his goodheartedness, he refused to believe that it was impossible to find some good on the Palestinian side. Menachem thought that through love and planned encounters he could reduce the tension, forgetting that one does not go to the political marketplace with love.
The Palestinians have political aspirations that do not mesh with ours, aspirations that do not allow for Jewish statehood in a place where they and Sha’ariah law hold sway, but only for individual Jews living under protection.
Those on the other side shook his hands and kissed him as is customary in the East, and some truly respected him—but they made no concessions to him.
There also were times when Menachem adopted a more hawkish stance. He worked against the Schalit Deal with me in my capacity as head of Almagor, both in talks with politicians and with prayers. When the deal did go through, he took it hard.
So where did his goodheartedness and daring make a difference? Among Jews. Menachem’s approach brought to Judaism the young, the estranged, people from one end of the ideological spectrum to the other.
At his funeral, Yehuda Etzion, one of the heads of the Jewish Underground and a leader of Gush Emunim, stood side-by-side with Naftali Raz of Peace Now, who was heard to join in the singing of “A Woman of Valor,”which Menachem had instructed be sung at his funeral as a final thank-you to his wife, Hadassa. At the words “Her children rise up and praise her,”the assembled joined his children in applause for their mother as they shouted “bravo”mid-verse.
At how many funerals have we seen a husband being lowered into his grave leave a final song to his wife, thanking her for all her long, loyal years with him? For one who knew Menachem, it stands to reason that it was the practice at his home every Friday night to shout “bravo”for his wife: one of many novel customs that he instituted in Tekoa.
Another was to pause prayers in the synagogue for whatever comments, dancing, and hand motions came to his ever-active mind and warm heart in his very personal relationship with God.
Odd, you say? Strange? Menachem wouldn’t have cared. He’d have dismissed you as “meshuga.” Menachem transcended all that.
And what about some dignity?
That came in the form of a kind of eccentric, theatrical costume that he made out of white robes and a white shtreimel.
Theatrical, you say? So what? Who said it’s not appropriate to put on some theater for God and his people? You want us to be serious all the time? He is our father, after all.
Menachem made it legitimate for young people to experience both rises and falls in their personal and religious lives. As one of them said to me, “His brand of religiosity allowed us, the second generation of settlers, to connect. We became his chassidim and he became our rebbe: the rebbe of Tekoa!”
So it was that last Hoshana Rabba eve, the Tekoa basketball court filled with thousands of national-religious and formerly religious Israelis of various stripes and all jumped around energetically along with him and his music stars, roaring, clapping, jumping, as Menachem moved about contentedly on the stage.
At first I thought these were just a bunch of young people who had come to hear Jewish rock, enjoying themselves with the eccentrically dressed dear rabbi as he took hold of the microphone and put on a show. As a casual acquaintance of Menachem’s, I was somewhat embarrassed for him, until it became clear to me and my wife, whose family we were going to meet, that these were his followers. A community had sprung up around him. He had become the leader of a certain sector of the Tekoa-going religious youth.
But not only the religious.
On the way back from the funeral, at which hours of songs full of joy accompanied the rabbi to his grave, a young woman from the high-tech industry remarked to me that she is not religious, but she and many others like her came to Tekoa to spend long nights studying the Zohar with Rabbi Menachem.
“Nu, and you understood what he was teaching?”
“No,”she said, “we came to learn from his happiness and excitement.”
Menachem had his own special way of bringing the masses closer to God. He also bequeathed a peculiar but modest style of dress to his followers. Joining the hundreds of cars parked in the wadi on the way back from Tekoa, we saw young couples with baby carriers, the husbands in costumes they had brought back from India, and the wives modestly dressed from head to toe, with colorful Indian pashminas covering their hair, returning home after paying their final respects to their spiritual mentor.
Translated from the Hebrew Makor Rishon newspaper.