Rabbi with a Cause

Article excerpt

Last week Rabbi Menachem Froman was invited by Yasir Arafat to his presidential palace in Ramallah. It was not the first time that Froman, 56, a hardcore member of the right-wing settlement group Gush Emunim, had crossed the lines that divide Palestinians and Israelis. He has devoted his life to achieving understanding through religious dialogue and has developed close ties with Muslim and Christian leaders. Arafat, who refers to Froman as Alhakeem, or wise one, was seeking Froman's orthodox religious perspective on the ongoing bloodshed in the Middle East. Speeding through the streets of Ramallah to the meeting, Froman prayed for peace. NEWSWEEK's Joanna Chen accompanied him and spoke with him afterward. Excerpts:

CHEN: What did you discuss with Arafat?

FROMAN: I urged Arafat to give his blessing to the formation of a joint committee of sheiks and rabbis to discuss religious aspects of the [Israeli-Palestinian] conflict. Religious problems must be separated from political ones. I want Arafat to draw up a letter addressed to the two chief rabbis of Israel, stating his approval for such a committee. He said he would seriously consider it.

Historically, the majority of wars have been grounded in religious conflict. Why should religion play a constructive role now?

Religious energy is like nuclear energy. It can either destroy the world or build it. Politics and religion is like gunpowder and matches. [In the Middle East,] the energy and the motivation come from religion, on both sides. If politics and religion can be separated, religion can fulfill a positive role.

It is widely accepted that the main stumbling block in the peace process is Jerusalem. What solution do you propose?

Jerusalem is the easiest problem to tackle. Material issues such as water and land are much more difficult. I have always said that peace cannot be achieved in the Holy Land without taking religion into account first. You cannot ask either side to give up, since both sides feel that Jerusalem belongs to God and therefore cannot be given away. So I say: give Jerusalem to God.

What does that mean in practical terms?

The Temple Mount has no oil, no gold and no water. It contains the deepest emotions of Christians, Jews and Muslims. It contains holy faith. The religious committee that I propose will be responsible for removing the Temple Mount from the politicians' jurisdiction. …