Rabbi Menachem Froman, a unique and colorful figure with many internal contradictions, who passed away Monday after a long battle with cancer, was a man who could not be neatly categorized. Was he a right-wing settler who found himself identified with the Left, or was he a leftist who lived among the religious Right? Froman was a relentless champion of peace between Israelis and Palestinians, advocating political autonomy for Palestinians. He also defended the rights of Jewish settlers and rejected attempts to make the West Bank judenrein. He was eulogized by heads of both Peace Now and the Council of Jewish Communities in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip.

While he might have misread the underlying causes of the conflict and was no friend of secular liberalism, Froman, who dedicated much of his time to teaching Torah to the non-religious, harbored a deep love for humanity that motivated him to pursue peace against all odds – whether by demonstrating against “price tag” attacks by settlers against Arabs or by protecting the rights of Jews to return to their historic homeland.

Froman was swept away by Israel’s miraculous victory in the Six Day War and the sudden expansion of the Jewish state to include sites resonant with Jewish history such as Hebron, Shiloh and Tekoa – where religious and secular lived in harmony and where he raised his 10 children. Perhaps it was his background as an Israeli brought up in a secular household who embraced religion as an adult that lent to his unconventional and independent-minded approach as a rabbi and as a spiritual leader. Undoubtedly, Froman was a deeply spiritual man who believed that religious faith could be used as a bridge to overcome cultural, national, territorial and political barriers. Despite all their differences, devout Jews and Muslims’ shared belief in a spiritual dimension that recognized God as the ultimate source of morality could serve as a basis for peaceful co-existence, Froman argued relentlessly as early as the 1991 Madrid Conference. It was the secular aspect of Zionism as a national movement that religious Muslims viewed as a threat, he said. Ironically, Froman saw Hamas’s rise to power in the 2006 Palestinian elections as an opportunity for peace, since Hamas’s leadership, unlike Fatah’s, was more clearly motivated by religious faith. Froman stubbornly adhered to his convictions though he failed repeatedly in his efforts to bring about concrete results – such as the release of kidnapped soldiers Nachshon Wachsman and Gilad Schalit – through interfaith dialogue with Hamas.

Froman, undeterred by those who mocked him or called him a traitor, on occasion blamed “secular Zionism” for being an obstacle to peace. In an interview in 2006 after Hamas won the Palestinian election, Froman told The Jerusalem Post that many of his Muslim interlocutors such as senior Hamas official Mahmoud Zahar or Sheikh Ahmed Yassin – the spiritual leader of Hamas who spearheaded a yearslong suicide bombing campaign that killed scores of innocent Israelis – believed “that America sent the secular Zionists to this land to destroy the Islamic tradition, to humiliate the Muslims, to show how we’re successful and they’re primitive, that we’ve created this great economy and they live in the woods.”

Except on the extreme Left, there were few in Israel willing to accept Froman’s diagnosis that it was secular Zionism that provoked religiously motivated terrorist organizations like Hamas. Except on the religious Right, few were convinced that faith-based dialogue between devout Muslims and Jews could solve territorial and political disputes. But many rightly respected Froman for the risks he took to follow through with his convictions – including meetings in Gaza with Yassin – and his boundless optimism that peace through dialogue was attainable. Anyone who met Froman could not help but be captivated by the rabbi’s eccentric appearance – his scraggly long white beard, wild hair and ever-ready smile.

He was said to prefer white clothes as a symbol of his desire to spread light and positive energies. Increasing goodness in the world was, said Froman, the best way of combating the forces of darkness. “Peace is the goal of our life,” he said.

May his memory be a blessing.

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