Rabbi Chaim Druckman
Rabbi Chaim DruckmanOlivier Fitoussi/Flash90

Rabbi Chaim Druckman, one of the leading religious Zionist rabbis in Israel, passed away Sunday evening, after he was hospitalized with the coronavirus. He was 90 years old.

Members of Rabbi Druckman's family and public figures arrived at the hospital to visit the rabbi during his last days. Finance Minister-designate MK Bezalel Smotrich said upon leaving the hospital earlier this month: "The people of Israel owe a great deal to our teacher and rabbi, Rabbi Druckman. The rabbi's condition is not good, the rabbi is unconscious. I am very grateful to the medical staff here at Hadassah and the intensive care department and call on the public to tear open the gates of heaven through prayers for the recovery of Rabbi Chaim Meir ben Milkah. And G-d does not tire of the prayers of the masses."

Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu said: "I pray from the bottom of my heart, along with many of the people of Israel, for the recovery of Rabbi Chaim Meir ben Milkah Druckman. Oh Lord, please heal him.''

Rabbi Druckman had previously been diagnosed with the coronavirus in February and recovered from the disease then. He has been hospitalized several times in the past year.

Rabbi Druckman felt unwell on Friday, December 9, and subsequently tested positive for the coronavirus. He was treated at home for several days, during which he was in serious but stable condition. The rabbi was taken to Hadassah Ein Kerem Medical Center in Jerusalem after his condition deteriorated the following Wednesday morning.

Rabbi Chaim Druckman was the Rosh Yeshiva of the Or Etzion Yeshiva and its daughter institutions and head of the Center for Bnei Akiva Yeshivot, and was one of the most politically influential rabbis in the religious Zionist community, whose every quote on political matters generated headlines in the media.

Although the Religious Zionist Party has a rabbinical council which advises it on religious matters, Rabbi Druckman was considered the highest authority on the council, and the party's important meetings were held at his home. Many credited his influence with playing a significant part in the party's success in the elections for the 25th Knesset in November.

Political moves made behind the scenes also passed through his house. Under pressure from associates of then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, MK Mansour Abbas came to a meeting at the rabbi's home in Mercaz Shapira regarding the option of establishing a narrow right-wing government with the outside support of the Ra'am party. Discussions on conversion and kashrut laws were also held at his home.

Rabbi Druckman, a Holocaust survivor who studied at the Kfar Haroeh Yeshiva and the Merkaz HaRav Yeshiva, is one of the greatest alumni of the school of Rabbi Zvi Yehuda HaCohen Kook. In addition to his rabbinical duties, he also held public positions, beginning with several terms as an MK and ending with the position of head of the conversion system in the Prime Minister's Office. He was married to Sarah Druckman and father of nine and grandfather to hundreds of grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Thousands of his students serve in the rabbinate and in key positions in Israeli society. Even at the age of 90, Rabbi Druckman continued his educational and public activities.

According to the biography "Hineni" (Here I am), written by Eliashiv Reichner, the story of Rabbi Druckman at the public level in the last few decades is largely the story of religious Zionism, and he was there at every crucial juncture. He was the head of the Or Etzion Yeshiva in Mercaz Shapira, as well as the head of the yeshiva high school and the military preparation school that operate alongside it. At the same time, he served as chairman of the head of the Center for Bnei Akiva Yeshivot, as a member of the national board of Bnei Akiva and as the rabbi of the movement, and also served as chairman of the umbrella organization of Hesder yeshivas.

Israeli journalist Yair Sherki once said about Rabbi Druckman in an interview with him for Besheva: "The rabbi's optimistic approach to reality, the deliberate choice to deal with what he defines as the 'outgrowth of light' and also the perception of the struggle as a necessity but not as a goal - superficially there will be those who will see this as a somewhat naïve or compromising approach, but Rabbi Druckman once again clarifies that this is a principled, reasoned decision, an orderly worldview, which sometimes requires difficult and more complex decisions, both in terms of the internal tension within religious Zionism and in terms of the broader struggle for the Jewish identity of the country."

Sherki asked Rabbi Druckman in the same interview: "When you look at the biography, which is in a way a summary of everything you've done so far, what is important to you that they remember you, that it be your signature achievement?"

"I didn't think about that at all, I'll be honest," answered Rabbi Druckman. "When the writing of the biography was suggested to me, what motivated me was whether my life and what I went through would bring more people to act for the people of Israel and add good to the world, and for that purpose they should write. Otherwise, why is it so important to write about me?"