The Radical Ideology of Rabbi Menachem Froman

Rabbi Froman Visits Qusra

Opening scene of "A Third Way" - Rabbi Froman visits Qusra hours after its mosque was vandalized by extremist settlers. Help us finish our documentary. Contribute as little as $5, and everyone gets a gift, here: www.jewcer.com/athirdway. Thanks for sharing!

פורסם על ידי ‏דרך שלישית - A Third Way - Settlers and Palestinians as Neighbors‏ ב- יום שני, 23 בפברואר 2015

I recently had the privilege of attending a screening of Harvey Stein’s feature film A Third Way-Settlers and Palestinians as Neighbors which provided a deeply refreshing perspective on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. The normative media depiction regarding the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is often one of brute violence, hate and intolerance. Images of rocket launches, rogue stabbings, house demolitions and military arrests often pollute TV screens and news outlets, leaving the average individual outside the region with the impression that peace, and justice moreover, between the two sides is impossible. Furthermore, Western media often blames the source of tension on religious or fanatic actors, claiming that if it weren’t for their idealism, peace would descend upon the region. However, in the feature film and documentary A Third Way-Settlers and Palestinians as Neighbors directed by Harvey Stein, a new, and perhaps, more truthful narrative is unearthed and presented, by focusing on the life and legacy of Rabbi Menachem Froman and his peace activism in the Holy Land. Harvey Stein’s depiction of Rav Froman dispels the notion that religious or ethnic actors are merely the drivers of conflict by showing how these religious and ethnic actors can be the chief arbiters of peace and justice when it comes to healing the Israeli/Palestinian ethnic and religious divide.

The film A Third Way-Settlers and Palestinians as Neighbors explores the possibilities, and barriers to peace in Israel/Palestine, by focusing on the life of Rabbi Menachem Froman, the revered and enigmatic Jewish leader. At first glance, Rabbi Menachem Froman seems like the antithesis of Jewish and Palestinian coexistence. Rav Froman’s appearance is one of the archetypal Jewish “settler” (1) : he is graced with long flowing white sidelocks unfolding from the sides of his ears, a long white beard that splits by the bottom of his neck and descends to the middle of his chest, and he dons a large white rimmed Kippa covering the totality of his head onto which rests the sacred Jewish prayer artifact, the Tefillin.

Furthermore, Rav Froman’s past is not one that hints of coexistence. Rav Froman served in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) as a paratrooper, partaking in the liberation of the Western Wall in 1967. Likewise, Rav Foman studied at the preeminent Mercaz HaRav Yeshiva, a Yeshiva well steeped in espousing religious-Zionist ideology which heavily encourages the settlement of the Land of Israel. Lastly, Rav Froman was one of the founders of the Gush Emunim Movement which encouraged the building of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza through which Rav Froman founded, and served as the chief Rabbi of the Jewish settlement of Tekoa in the Judean mountains, just north of Hebron, until his passing in 2013.

Yet, despite Rav Froman’s leadership position within the “Settler” movement, the film A Third Way depicted how Rav Froman was able to transcend the normative binaries imposed onto him in pursuit of peace with his neighbors. In fact, the name of the film itself, A Third Way-Settlers and Palestinians as Neighbors, is suggestive of the classical paradigms that are often imposed onto the region. From a socio-historical point of view, the dilemma has often been as such: the left in Israel cares about Palestinian rights but not about the ancient Jewish ties to the land to the point that they are willing to sacrifice large swaths of their indigenous and Biblical homeland to allow for the creation of a Palestinian state, while the right in Israel advocates for full Jewish rights in their indigenous and biblical homeland, yet they generally do not care about Palestinian rights and often see Palestinians as an hostile enemy population who are living amongst them. The film displayed how Rav Froman was able to transcend this divide: he deeply cared about the Jewish connection to their homeland, as Rav Froman founded a Settlement in the southern Judean hills, while at the same time, Rav Froman had regular interactions with local Palestinians and fostered deep friendships across both communities.

The film focused on the regular meetings that Rav Froman, a leader of the “Settler” community, had with his Palestinian neighbors, a rarity at the time in which Rav Froman was living. The film traced the regular meetings between local Palestinians Ziad and Ali and Rav Froman, in addition to the meetings between the two local communities. Furthermore, the film showed how Rav Froman believed that the only way to peace was through the total acceptance and love for the other. Rav Froman, throughout the film, often spoke out against anti-Palestinian racism and advocated for the utmost civil rights for Jews and Palestinians alike. One poignant scene in the film that reflected this sentiment was when Rav Froman visited the nearby Palestinian town Qusra after Jewish extremists had vandalized the town mosque by breaking its windows and spraying graffiti on its walls. Rav Froman, in front of the entire Palestinian town, denounced the Settler violence by exclaiming that “there are many servants of the Devil” and that we should “throw this person out of the land.” Likewise, in one scene someone asked Rav Froman about population demographics and he said that he doesn’t think that anyone should have to leave their home in addition to stating that he did not mind whether he lived under a Palestinian or Israeli government.

This unconditional acceptance of the other is in staunch opposition to the socio-historical backdrop to which Rav Froman was living. The film was mainly filmed between 2000-2014, and the events at the time did not reflect Rav Froman’s acceptance of the Palestinians. During the early 2000’s and still today, the Israeli and Palestinian populations were forcibly divided by walls and checkpoints and had little civilian contact with one another, as contact was reserved for the Israeli Military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and Palestinian terrorist suicide bombings and stabbings of Israeli civilians. Nonetheless, Rav Froman believed that the only path forward was through engaging the other in full acceptance of oneself and the other’s identity. Rav Froman believed that the Jewish “Settlers” and the Palestinians living in the west bank were “the fingers of the land that touched one another” and it was on them to make peace.

Nonetheless, Rav Froman’s approach was not normative, and his efforts towards peacemaking were seen as subversive to the Israeli regime. In one scene, the Israeli army forcibly dispersed a group of Palestinians and Jews peacefully demonstrating for equal rights for both populations in Israel proper. Unfortunately, separation has been the socio-historical reality that has plagued the region the past decades and creates the conditions for ongoing hatred and divide. In another dramatic scene, Rav Froman is seen meeting with Sheikh Ahmad Yassin the founder and spiritual leader of the terrorist organization Hamas. Furthermore, when Sheikh Ahmad Yassin was released from Israeli prison back to Gaza City in a prisoner swap, Rav Froman was invited to sit on stage next to Sheikh Ahmad Yassin and his son at Sheikh Ahmad Yassin’s welcome back parade, to which Rav Froman accepted and attended, wearing his signature Tefillin. However, this radical willingness to not only meet with but to also befriend a man responsible for the thousands of innocent Jewish deaths, speaks to Rav Froman’s radical, yet transformative, thesis towards solving the conflict: that the religious and ethnic communities are best equipped out of anyone to make peace. In another scene Rav Froman speaks about how Sheikh Ahmad Yassin once said to him during one of their many visits that “Menachem, if it was just me and you we would make peace in five minutes.”

Yet this unconditional acceptance of the other stemmed from Rav Froman’s unconditional acceptance of himself. Rav Froman believed that he did not have to sacrifice his identity and his people’s aspirations to live in the cradle of Jewish civilization, just like he did not expect Palestinians to compromise on any of their aspirations and aspects of their identity in order to arrive at peace. Is it precisely because Rav Froman was so deeply rooted in Jewish history, tradition and identity that he was able to serve as the ideal peacemaker as Rav Froman fundamentally understood the centrality and importance of identity and a peoples’ historic aspirations allowing him to relate to his Palestinian neighbors in a deep and uncanny way. Perhaps it is only because Rav Froman wore his Tefillin throughout the day, downed his thick white beard and religious sidelocks and vehemently protested against the uprooting of the Gush Katif Jewish community in 2005, that Sheikh Ahmad Yassin enjoyed a friendship with Rav Froman, as Sheikh Ahmad Yassin genuinely saw Rav Froman as a natural son of the land, and someone, who like him, was willing to sacrifice for the fulfillment of their peoples’ national aspirations.

While Rav Froman was certainly a novelty, perhaps Rav Froman truly paved “A Third Way” for Jews and Palestinians to come together and arrive and a longstanding peace rooted in coexistence. Rav Froman redefined the typical socio-historical norms within Israeli and Palestinian society allowing for a peace that is born out of mutual respect, equality and idealism, rather than forced evacuations, military violence and compromise. Rav Froman skipped across the normative binaries thrown at him, refusing to disrespect the land or his Palestinian neighbors. Rav Froman did so by clapping his hands; as he often quoted the great 18th century leader Hassidic Leader Rebbe Nachman of Breslov who used to say that when we clap our hands we transcend all binaries as we don’t know if our left hand is hitting our right, or is our right hand is hitting our left. Rav Froman taught that when we clap our hands we are simply one; fingers touching, and hands clenching.

Footnotes:

1) I hesitate to use the word Settler, but do so for familiarity of the term. I am much more comfortable with using the Hebrew word-מתנחל (Mitnachel) which comes from the Hebrew word נחלה (Nachala) meaning portion. The connotation of the word Settler is that there is an individual settling somewhere in which they have no connection too and in which they do not belong. However, in the case of the Jewish people in Israel, the term settler would be preposterous due to the fact that Israel, and Judea and Samaria moreover, (what the west refers to as the West Bank) is the indigenous and Biblical homeland of the Jewish people and cradle of Jewish civilization. Therefore, the term מתנחל (Mitnachel) is more appropriate as the word מתנחל (Mitnachel) comes from the word נחלה (Nachala) meaning portion, to say that a מתנחל (Mitnachel) is simply one existing in their portion.

More Information: http://www.jerusalemny.com/athirdway.html

 

About the Author
Simon Kofman, or better known as Shlomo Yitzchak, is a 22 year old rising junior and multi faith activist at New York University, majoring in Politics Rights and Development and minoring in Hebrew and Judaic Studies and Public Policy and Management. Prior to attending NYU, Shlomo graduated SAR High School and then studied for two years at Yeshvat Oratyta in the Old City of Jerusalem. As the founder of the Aish Kodesh Chabura, Shlomo offers weekly lectures on Jewish identity, Jewish mysticism and Jewish philosophy. Shlomo is also an active member of the VISION movement which seeks to decolonize Jewish Identity, further Jewish Liberation and foster grassroots dialogue between West Bank Jews and Palestinians in Israel, serving as the VISION representative to the 2020 World Zionist Congress. Shlomo is also active in Kol Hanearim, an organization that organizes summer camps and yearlong programming for over 2,500 at-risk youth at its partner children's homes in Israel by bringing American high school volunteers to Israel for the summer to live in and volunteer inside youth group homes/orphanages for Israeli youth at risk. To get involved with either VISION, The Aish Kodesh Chabura, Kol Hanearim or to bring Shlomo into speak, please email: Simon.Kofman@gmail.com
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