(JTA) — Rabbi Chaim Druckman, whose mission was to unite the people of Israel, was father to a movement now poised to sow some of its deepest divisions in decades.
Druckman, who died Sunday at 90 after contracting COVID-19, was a giant in the religious Zionism movement, which sought to integrate the two preeminent philosophies that saw themselves as bulwarks against Jewish disintegration: Orthodox Judaism and Zionism.
In the 1950s, he established the hesder movement, which blended Torah study with military service. For tens of thousands of religious Jews, his innovation resolved a dilemma that had beset Israel’s founders: What was the most meaningful way for young Orthodox men to spend their first years of adulthood?
“We study Torah to fulfill our national obligation and serve in the army to fulfill our religious obligation,” Druckman often said.
Over the years, he led yeshivas and youth movements to extend that vision, and in 2012, he won the Israel Prize, Israel’s national award, for his lifetime of contributions to religious Zionist education.
Yet as much as he sought to bridge divides, he was as frequently positioned at their fault lines, in recent years disparaging non-Orthodox Jews and mentoring extremists who seek the marginalization of non-Jewish and non-Orthodox minorities in Israel. He also at least twice defended and sought to rehabilitate religious leaders convicted of sexual abuse, including of children.
Druckman was born in 1932 in Kuty, in what was then Poland and what is now Ukraine. He and his parents went into hiding during the Holocaust and then fled to the Soviet Union. He entered British Mandate Palestine in 1944 posing as the child of another couple and was reunited with his parents after the war.
He soon became a disciple of Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook, the rabbi who helped shape the nationalist outlook of the National Religious Party. Kook’s teachings drove Druckman to become one of the first leaders of the religious Zionist movement to embrace the settlement of lands captured by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War. He was at the seminal 1968 Passover seder in Hebron that is widely seen as the launch of the religious settlement movement and is believed to have coined the name of its principal body, Gush Emunim, which means bloc of believers.
Druckman became a figurehead of the settlement movement, although he lived most of his life in Mercaz Shapira, the Israeli village near Ashkelon where he ran the influential Or Etzion Yeshiva. He served in the Knesset in coalitions led by Likud and Labor prime ministers, from 1977 to 1988 and then from 1999 to 2003, with short periods in the opposition.
In the wake of the massive influx immigrants after the fall of the Soviet Union, Druckman as a senior religious court judge led an effort to ease conversion to Orthodox Judaism. His suasions backfired, leading haredi Orthodox judges to seek the nullification of thousands of conversions he had supervised.
However much he preached reconciliation among Jews, he stood hard and fast against any attempt to dismantle settlements, going so far as to advise soldiers to refuse orders to take part in the removal of settlements. He also stood by Jews accused and convicted of violent crimes associated with tensions over the settlements, including murder and terrorism, raising funds for those accused and welcoming them back into society.
He also stood by people who were accused of sexual abuse multiple times. He was rebuked in 1999 for failing to report credible reports of sexual assault by a yeshiva head he supervised, Zev Kopilevich, and he later championed another rabbi convicted of sexual abuse, Moti Elon. While he conceded in 2013 that the government was right to rebuke him, he also dismissed as “gossip” just this month multiple allegations of rape against another yeshiva head, Zvi Tau.
Until recently, Druckman championed Naftali Bennett and his Jewish Home Party as the natural heir to the National Religious Party tradition — but in 2021 when Bennett chose the path of reconciliation once championed by Druckman, joining a unity government with secular parties, Druckman cut him off and instead embraced the extremist Religious Zionist Party led by Bezalel Smotrich.
Druckman played a role in brokering the entry of the Religious Zionist Party into the government that Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to bring to power in coming days. The entry of Smotrich and a colleague, Itamar Ben-Gvir, into the government is likely to precipitate a crisis with Diaspora Jewry. They favor restricting Israeli laws to favor the Orthodox, annexing the West Bank and loosening laws that restrict troops from killing or physically harming Palestinians.
At Druckman’s funeral on Monday, Smotrich said Druckman “reproached” him frequently for his excesses, but in a recent interview with Yisrael Hayom, the nationalist daily, Druckman made clear that many of the ideas Smotrich champions had his blessing, including his proposal for a state based on religious law and his plans for anti-LGBTQ discrimination.
Tens of thousands of people attended Druckman’s funeral Monday in his home village of Mercaz Shapira. Israel’s leaders at his funeral remembered him as a unifier.
“All of us were your sons, all of us were your students,” President Isaac Herzog said, according to the Times of Israel.
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Dr. NATHAN WISEMAN
Wiseman, Nathan Elliot
1944 – 2023
Nathan, our beloved husband, Dad, and Zaida, died unexpectedly on December 13, 2023. Nathan was born on December 16, 1944, in Winnipeg, MB, the eldest of Sam and Cissie Wiseman’s three children.
He is survived by his loving wife Eva; children Sam (Natalie) and Marni (Shane); grandchildren Jacob, Jonah, Molly, Isabel, Nicole, and Poppy; brother David (Sherrill); sister Barbara (Ron); sister-in-law Agi (Sam) and many cousins, nieces, and nephews.
Nathan grew up in the north end of Winnipeg surrounded by his loving family. He received his MD from the University of Manitoba in 1968, subsequently completed his General Surgery residency at the University of Manitoba and went on to complete a fellowship in Paediatric Surgery at Boston Children’s Hospital of Harvard University. His surgeon teachers and mentors were world renowned experts in the specialty, and even included a Nobel prize winner.
His practice of Paediatric Surgery at Children’s Hospital of Winnipeg spanned almost half a century. He loved his profession and helping patients, even decades later often recounting details about the many kiddies on whom he had operated. Patients and their family members would commonly approach him on the street and say, “Remember me Dr. Wiseman?”. And he did! His true joy was caring for his patients with compassion, patience, unwavering commitment, and excellence. He was a gifted surgeon and leaves a profound legacy. He had no intention of ever fully retiring and operated until his very last day. He felt privileged to have the opportunity to mentor, support and work with colleagues, trainees, nurses, and others health care workers that enriched his day-to-day life and brought him much happiness and fulfillment. He was recognized with many awards and honors throughout his career including serving as Chief of Surgery of Children’s Hospital of Winnipeg, President of the Canadian Association of Pediatric Surgeons, and as a Governor of the American College of Surgeons. Most importantly of all he helped and saved the lives of thousands and thousands of Manitoba children. His impact on the generations of children he cared for, and their families, is truly immeasurable.
Nathan’s passion for golf was ignited during his childhood summers spent at the Winnipeg Beach Golf Course. Southwood Golf and Country Club has been his second home since 1980. His game was excellent and even in his last year he shot under his age twice! He played an honest “play as it lies” game. His golf buddies were true friends and provided him much happiness both on and off the course for over forty years. However, his passion for golf extended well beyond the eighteenth hole. He immersed himself in all aspects of the golf including collecting golf books, antiques, and memorabilia. He was a true scholar of the game, reading golf literature, writing golf poetry, and even rebuilding and repairing antique golf clubs. Unquestionably, his knowledge and passion for the game was limitless.
Nathan approached his many woodworking and workshop projects with zeal and creativity, and he always had many on the go. During the winter he was an avid curler, and in recent years he also enjoyed the study of Yiddish. Nathan never wasted any time and lived his life to the fullest.
Above all, Nathan was a loving husband, father, grandfather, son, father-in-law, son-in-law, uncle, brother, brother-in-law, cousin, and granduncle. He loved his family and lived for them, and this love was reciprocated. He met his wife Eva when he was a 20-year-old medical student, and she was 18 years old. They were happily married for 56 years. They loved each other deeply and limitlessly and were proud of each other’s accomplishments. He loved the life and the family they created together. Nathan was truly the family patriarch, an inspiration and a mentor to his children, grandchildren, nephews, nieces, and many others. He shared his passion for surgery and collecting with his son and was very proud to join his daughter’s medical practice (he loved Thursdays). His six grandchildren were his pride and joy and the centre of his world.
Throughout his life Nathan lived up to the credo “May his memory be a blessing.” His life was a blessing for the countless newborns, infants, toddlers, children, and teenagers who he cared for, for his colleagues, for his friends and especially for his family. We love him so much and there are no words to describe how much he will be missed.
A graveside funeral was held at the Shaarey Zedek cemetery on December 15, 2023. Pallbearers were his loving grandchildren. The family would like to extend their gratitude to Rabbi Yosef Benarroch of Adas Yeshurun Herzlia Congregation.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Children’s Hospital Foundation of Manitoba, in the name of Dr. Nathan Wiseman.
Bill Maher tells it like it is when it comes to what “the river to the sea” really means
Bill Maher cuts to the chase like no one else. Here’s a link to a segment from the most recent episode of “Real Time with Bill Maher” where he exposes the total hypocrisy of the “useful idiots” everywhere chanting “from the river to the sea”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KP-CRXROorw
Jewish community holds solidarity rally November 25
The Jewish Federation of Winnipeg held a rally in support of Israel on Saturday evening, November 25.
A number of speakers addressed the crowd of 800, including Rabbi Yosef Benarroch of Adas Yeshurun-Herzlia Congregation; Members of Parliament Ben Carr & Marty Morantz; Yolanda Papini-Pollock of Winnipeg Friends of Israel; Paula McPherson, former Brock Corydon teacher; and Gustavo Zentner, President of the Jewish Federation.
Click here to watch Ben Carr’s remarks: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=crfREGNRKfg
Click here to watch a video of Marty Morantz’s remarks: https://studio.youtube.com/video/zHzC-iaqivg/ed
Click here to watch a video of Gustavo Zentner’s remarks: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L3M_cCYuLgs