Menachem Froman, a maverick Orthodox rabbi who helped lead settlers into the territory seized by Israel in its 1967 war with Arab nations, then became a fervent, startlingly unconventional voice for conciliation with the Palestinians, died on Monday in Tekoa in the Israeli-administrated West Bank. He was 68.
His first step in approaching Arab leaders, he said, was “a long conversation,” beginning with two hours devoted to praising God. The essential refrain was: “God is great. God is merciful. God gives great prizes to the man working for peace.” Three more hours were spent comparing religions: “In the Koran it is written. In the Bible it is written.”
Some dismissed Rabbi Froman as a mystic given to idealistic but unachievable policy proposals. One was to jump-start the peace process by making Jerusalem an international city, so as to safeguard the religious treasures of Islam, Judaism and Christianity. Israel’s capital would move to another city under the plan. In an interview with The New York Times in 2008, Gershon Baskin of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information called the rabbi a “very esoteric kind of guy.”
As he rejected national patriotism in favor of his vision of peace through religion, he became more liberal in other respects. He broke tradition by inviting a female flutist to play in his synagogue. He called for an end to the Orthodox Jewish belief that men should not hear women sing. He protested gender segregation in Israel. He hosted gatherings at which rock musicians played. And he shared his deepest thoughts, like his fear of death.