Rabbi Menachem Froman, the rabbi of the settlement of Tekoa and one of the more unusual settlers and peace activists, died on Monday after a prolonged battle with cancer. He was 68 at the time.
His son Shivi Froman said he died Monday after a long illness.
Froman was born in 1945 to a secular family in Kfar Hasidim, a moshav in northern Israel. He studied at the Reali school in Haifa, served in the paratroopers and was among the liberators of the Western Wall during the Six-Day War. During high school he started to become more religiously observant and completed the process during his studies at the Hebrew University. He acquired his Torah education at Mercaz Harav, Yeshivat Hakotel, and the Israel Torah Research Institute.
Froman became famous through meetings he held with the enemies of Israel. At the end of the 1980s, he met with Sheikh Ahmed Yassin in an Israeli jail. In 2000, he met with Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat and blessed him on the occasion of the Muslim holiday Eid al-Adha. Arafat gave Froman's daughter a bracelet and gold necklace ahead of her wedding. Over the years, he built friendships with many sheikhs in Israel and abroad. He sustained searing criticism when he met with Turkish Prime Minister Erdoğan a few days after the Mavi Marmara affair.
Froman was a founder of the Gush Emunim movement promoting Israeli settlement of the West Bank. He opposed the removal of Jewish settlers from the area, claiming a sacred biblical connection to the land.
In an interview with Israel Hayom two years before his death, Froman said, "My idea is to bring peace from the ground up, from below, from people who will live in peace before peace is made between governments. First let them play soccer together, let them playact in the theater together. This is the first practical step. To do politics from above doesn't work. Ordinary Palestinians really want peace, really want progress."
In keeping with his uniqueness and the breadth of his personality, the reactions on Monday night came from across the political spectrum. MK Ahmad Tibi (Ra'am-Ta'al) said that he knew Froman ever since he used to visit Arafat at the PA's administrative headquarters in Ramallah.
"He was full of energy to advance ideas," said Tibi, "he was not ordinary, and he cooperated with Muslim clerics. He showed empathy for the suffering of the other."
"Rabbi Froman lived his life without bowing to convention," said MK Tzipi Hotovely (Likud-Beytenu). "He was a pursuer of peace, real peace, and operated not for the sake of political symbols but love for human beings."
The Yesha Council released a statement saying that "Rabbi Froman worked hard to strengthen the settlement enterprise, both openly and clandestinely."
"Rabbi Froman was one of the great fighters for and lovers of the land," said MK Uri Ariel (Habayit Hayehudi). "He loved peace, hated arguments, loved people and brought them closer to Torah. He always was able to see the person beyond the difference of opinion."
Rabbi Froman was buried on Tuesday at noon in Tekoa.