‘One of Israel’s Great Rabbis’: Religious Zionist Rabbi Chaim Druckman Lamented

Tens of thousands of people, the overwhelming majority of them Orthodox men, traveled to a small community on the outskirts of Ashkelon on Monday to pay their final respects to Rabbi Chaim Druckman, the spiritual leader of the religious Zionist movement, who died the day before.

Druckman was eulogized by the country’s top political and religious leaders, as well as his immediate family, at a mass funeral beset by cold and rainy weather. Previously, Druckman’s body lay in his Or Etzion Yeshiva in his hometown of Merkaz Shapira, where students and family members mourned for him.

“We have lost… one of the great rabbis of Israel, a student of [the first-century sage] Rabbi Akiva in our generation,” said President Isaac Herzog. “All of us were your children, all of us were your students.”

Incoming Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Druckman a dedicated teacher and an “exceptionally gentle” person who was nonetheless willing to “go out there and fight for the issues at the heart of the nation: the integrity of the land, national values, Jewish identity”. education, eradicate terrorism and strengthen the Israel Defense Forces.

Netanyahu said Druckman believed in the importance of national unity and saw it as “our most powerful secret weapon.”

“Of course, we can’t agree on everything in Israel, but like him, I think we can agree on many things that are fundamental to our existence,” he said, in an apparent reference to the fiery national discourse on the controversial moves. proposed. by members of his incoming coalition.

President Isaac Herzog speaks at the funeral of Rabbi Chaim Druckman in Merkaz Shapira, in central Israel, on December 26, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Netanyahu included on his list of topics dear to Druckman’s heart the highly contentious issue of conversion to Judaism, which the late rabbi worked for years to liberalize as head of the State Conversion Authority. This angered ultra-Orthodox rabbis and led rabbinic courts to annul the thousands of conversions he had overseen, though that move was later overturned by the High Court of Justice.

“When he completed his term as head of the State Conversion Authority, I told him: ‘You are a genius among all the critics about state conversions to bring back those sons and daughters,'” Netanyahu said.

Bezalel Smotrich, head of the far-right Religious Zionism party, recalled Druckman, one of his spiritual leaders, as a unifying force in the national religious community and questioned who will play that role now.

Incoming Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the funeral of Rabbi Chaim Druckman in Merkaz Shapira in central Israel on December 26, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“What am I going to do without you? Without the smile, without the hug, without the warm handshake?” he asked. “What will we do without your dedication, without your responsibility, without you to carry the load?”

“Pray for us, rabbi. Pray for the people of Israel, for the land of Israel, for the State of Israel, for the government of Israel, for our beloved community, which they knew how to unify,” Smotrich said.

The frank and provocative parliamentarian recalled “how many times [Druckman] reproached me in the last year and a half ”, for his statements.

Tens of thousands of people attend the funeral of Rabbi Chaim Druckman in Merkaz Shapira, in central Israel, on December 26, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Major religious leaders, including Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau and Jerusalem Sephardic Chief Rabbi Shlomo Moshe Amar, also delivered eulogies at the ceremony, along with the head of the Bnei Akiva youth group, with whom Druckman was deeply involved throughout. of his life, as well as Druckman’s daughter, Rabbanit Bruria Binnenfeld.

“We were privileged to have a father who was a giant, a giant of Torah, a giant of grace, a giant of dedication,” Binnenfeld said.

“You were a man of grace. Infinite grace,” she said through tears, her voice cracking. “You returned every call and treated everyone with the same patience and seriousness, whether it was a girl, a student or a prime minister.”

Rabbanit Bruria Binnenfeld speaks at the funeral of her father, Rabbi Chaim Druckman, in the central Israeli town of Merkaz Shapira on December 26, 2022. (Screenshot)

Hundreds of police officers and volunteers were deployed to secure the event. The funeral procession was scheduled to depart from Merkaz Shapira to the nearby Masuot Yitzhak Cemetery after the speeches. The public was asked not to follow the procession, but to remain at Merkaz Shapira, where they could watch the burial on specially provided screens to avoid congestion.

Druckman, a protégé of influential nationalist Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook, was credited with coining the name Gush Emunim, literally, the Believers’ Bloc, for the nascent settler movement, which was founded in Druckman’s Merkaz Shapira living room in 1974. The movement finally shifted the political mainstream of Religious Zionism from the center-left position it had held at the founding of the state to the right, and then to the extreme right, where it stands today.

Rabbi Chaim Druckman during a press conference in Jerusalem on March 22, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Druckman was a major power broker in Israeli politics for decades, as a member of the Knesset, a deputy minister, and most recently as a spiritual leader of religious Zionist parties. He also held influential religious positions, serving as dean of Or Etzion Yeshiva, as head of the network of all seminaries affiliated with the Bnei Akiva religious Zionist movement, and as president of the union of Stink yeshivot, seminaries for men that combine military service with religious study.

Over the years, Druckman faced criticism from state authorities for his sometimes subversive stances, particularly his calls for religious soldiers to reject orders to vacate West Bank settlements. He has also been convicted of defending prominent sex offenders.

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