In Memory of Three Great Jewish Visionaries
When the prophet Eliyahu ascended to heaven in a mighty whirlwind, drawn by horses and chariots of fire, his disciple Elisha bore witness to an event at once magnificent and unspeakably traumatic. Elisha remained on earth, bereft of his beloved teacher, and cried out, “Father, father! The chariots and horsemen of Israel!”[i] He tore his garment in mourning, but immediately “took up the mantle of Eliyahu that fell from him.”[ii] The textual juxtaposition of mourning and active succession is not accidental; for Elisha, the only proper mode of memorialization was to continue the mission of leadership from which his master was suddenly removed.
Kol Hamevaser rarely publishes commemorations of deceased figures; typically, this magazine’s contributing writers will undertake such a task after the passing of a man or woman who impacted our community directly and immensely. The events of recent weeks, however, demand an exception. Three men, all of them bold rabbis, thinkers, and visionaries of Judaism in Israel, passed away in February and March. Menachem Elon, David Hartman, and Menachem Froman, of blessed memory, dedicated their lives to Israel, Judaism, and the Jewish people in different ways, each one leaving an indelible mark on Jewish life, tradition, and values. Precisely because the works and lives of these men have been less relevant to, and less read within, the Yeshiva University community than they have been in Israel, I will attempt very briefly here to present their personalities and their works. Not a single one of the following presentations does its subject justice. I only hope that we can learn more about these men and their work so that we can ultimately take up their respective mantles of Jewish conscience.
Menachem Elon was born in Düsseldorf, Germany in 1923 and arrived in Palestine with his family in 1935. He studied and earned semikhah in Yeshivat Hevron (formerly Slabodka) in Jerusalem, a law degree from Tel Aviv University, and a doctorate in Talmud and Philosophy from the Hebrew University.[iii] He participated in the founding of Kibbuts Tirat Tsevi in 1937 and served as a military prosecutor during Israel’s War of Independence.[iv] His 1973 encyclopedic work on Jewish jurisprudence, ha-Mishpat ha-Ivri: Toledotav, Mekorotav, Ekronotav (English edition titled “Jewish Law: History, Sources, and Principles”) revolutionized the study and application of Jewish law in Israel.[v] In that same year, Elon was appointed a justice of Israel’s Supreme Court, and he was named deputy president in 1988. Elon established himself as a preeminent legal thinker and religious Zionist leader through his written works and his lectures at the Hebrew University. He was awarded the Israel Prize for jurisprudence in 1979. Menachem Begin nominated Elon for the presidency of Israel upon the latter’s retirement from the Court in 1993. Elon died on February 6 at the age of 89.[vi]
David Hartman was born to a Hasidic family in the Brownsville neighborhood of Brooklyn in 1931.[vii] He left the world of Haredi yeshivot on his own to study in Yeshiva University.[viii] After earning semikhah from RIETS, Hartman served as a pulpit rabbi in New York and Montreal, during which time he studied Philosophy, ultimately earning a doctorate from McGill University.[ix] Inspired by the Six-Day War, Hartman made aliyyah with his family in 1971. He was a professor in the Hebrew University for more than two decades, during which time he also lectured as a visiting professor in both UC Berkeley and UCLA.[x] Hartman founded the Shalom Hartman Institute, named for his father, in 1976 in Jerusalem. The Institute operates as a scholarly center for exploration of contemporary theological, cultural, and political questions facing Judaism and Israeli society, and administers two high schools – separate, one each for boys and for girls – in Jerusalem. Through the work of the Institute, university lectures, and several books on Jewish theology and philosophy in both Hebrew and English, Hartman established himself as a leading voice of liberal Orthodoxy, arguing that the Jews’ covenant with God demands the adaptation of religious principles to modern times. As such, Hartman’s critics often characterize his thought unorthodox or even heretical, and his opponents include some figures in our own institution. His political work includes service as an advisor to Zevulun Hammer, education minister from 1977 to 1984; Teddy Kollek, mayor of Jerusalem from 1965 to 1993; and Ehud Olmert, prime minister from 2006 to 2009. Hartman died on February 10 at the age of 81.[xi]
Menachem Froman was born in Kefar Hasidim in the Galilee in 1945, fought in the battle for Jerusalem as a paratrooper during the 1967 Six-Day War, and came to religion only after leaving the army. He studied in Yeshivat Merkaz Harav and earned semikhah from former Ashkenazic Chief Rabbis Shlomo Goren and Avraham Shapira, after which point he and his wife Hadassah became leaders of the Gush Emunim movement to settle territories newly conquered in 1967. They participated in the founding of the Gush Etzion settlement of Tekoa in 1977, and Menachem served as the rabbi of the settlement and lecturer at several local yeshivot until his death. As an author, teacher, and activist, Froman emerged to enigmatic prominence as a visionary and negotiator of peace with the Palestinians who ardently opposed ceding any land in an agreement of territorial division. At the heart of Froman’s philosophy lay a deep attachment to the sanctity and mystical quality of the Land of Israel along with a conviction that Jews and Arabs, both Christian and Muslim, can live together in harmony and mutual respect. He established personal relationships with Palestinian leaders, including Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and Mahmoud al-Zahar of Hamas, and advocated peaceful cooperation founded upon the joint basis of religion and physical proximity. Froman believed that the “peace process” attempts to separate Jews and Arabs physically while sidelining the religious interests and leaders of both sides ignore the roots of the Israeli-Arab conflict and the best hopes for its resolution.[xii] In his own words, “I always say that the settlements are the fingers of the hand that is extended to peace.”[xiii] Rabbi Froman died on March 4, at the age of 68.[xiv]
Chesky Kopel is a senior at YC majoring in History and English, and is an editor-in-chief for Kol Hamevaser.
[i] II Kings 2:12. This and the following excerpt are from the JPS translation with minor modifications.
[ii] Ibid. 2:13.
[iii] Aaron Kalman, “Menachem Elon dies at age 89,” The Times of Israel, 6 February, 2013, available at: www.timesofisrael.com.
[iv] Yaffah Goldstein, “Interview with Justice Menachem Elon (Hebrew), ha-Tsofeh, 3 December, 1993.
[v] The original Hebrew edition was published by Hebrew University’s Magnes Press in 1973. The English edition of the title provided above was translated by Bernard Auerbach and Melvin Sykes published by the Jewish Publication Society (Philadelphia, PA) in 1993.
[vi] Kalman, ibid.
[vii] Jodi Rudoren, “Rabbi David Hartman, Champion of an Adaptive Judaism, Dies at 81,” The New York Times, 10 February, 2013, available at: www.nytimes.com.
[viii] Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz, “Rabbi David Hartman: A Transformative Force And A [sic] Unique Legacy,” The Jewish Week Online, 14 February, 2013, available at: www.thejewishweek.com.
[ix] Stuart Winer, Liberal rabbi-philosopher David Hartman dies, The Times of Israel, 10 February, 2013, available at www.timesofisrael.com.
[xi] Rudoren, ibid.
[xii] Yair Ettinger, “Rabbi Menachem Froman of West Bank settlement Tekoa dies at 68,” Haaretz English online, 4 March, 2013, available at: www.haaretz.com.
[xiii] Ayelett Shani, “The West Bank’s Rabbi Menachem Froman has the solution to the conflict, Haaretz English online, 20 July, 2012.
[xiv] Ettinger, ibid.