Obituary: Chaim Druckman

Controversial Israeli rabbi and politician who influenced the right-ward shift of the Religious Zionist Party


Sixty thousand mourners gathered in Merkaz Shapira, the small rural centre in the south of Israel, for the funeral of Rabbi Chaim Druckman.

Among them were the president, the prime minister, the ex-prime minister, the defence minister as well as the chief rabbis. Druckman passed away aged 90 on the last day of Chanukah after contracting Covid.

He served as head of Yeshivat Or Etzyon for 60 years , as well as of Yeshivot and Ulpanot Bnei Akiva, and was a resident of the Hesder Yeshivot, whose pupils combine frontline military service with religious studies.

Druckman was universally referred to as the Elder of the Religious Zionist Rabanim and was involved in numerous projects and activities.

Chaim Meir Druckman was born in the village of Kuty, then in Poland now Ukraine, and had a few near-death experiences during the Holocaust.

He survived by hiding with his parents and eventually escaped Europe, pretending to be the child of a couple who came to British-controlled Palestine.

His parents joined him in Tel Aviv after the war.

Druckman studied in Yeshivat Kfar Haroeh but had to leave to help his family. He joined the Bnei Akiva youth movement, becoming a madrich and was later appointed to its national directorate.

Aged 15, Druckman joined the Haganah underground movement and after the creation of Israel he enlisted in the Army.

After his service, he spent time in the USA with Bnei Akiva and in the 1950s he studied in the prestigious Merkaz Harav Yeshivah in Jerusalem. In 1954, despite his young age, Druckman was one of the initiators of a new concept, Yeshivat Kerem DeYavneh, which enabled people to study before joining the army.

In 1958, Druckman met Sara Epstein, a medical student working for Bnei Akiva and they married in Jerusalem.

Like Abraham’s tent, their home in Merkaz Shapira was always open and the modest Druckman always had a broad and warm welcoming smile. Being both high-profile and very popular, he was invited to, and attended, thousands of weddings, barmitzvot and also funerals.

HaRav Druckman was a natural leader who led by example; he thrived on responsibility. He did not wear traditional rabbinic dress to avoid setting himself apart, and perhaps to enable him to be independent.

He was dedicated to the Jewish people, the Torah and the Land of Israel. Journalists tried vainly to entice him to make negative comments on opponents.

He was also very involved in politics, serving as a member of the Knesset for 15 years, including seven months as deputy religious affairs minister. Politicians, from prime ministers down, sought his advice and blessing.

Druckman was also instrumental in the shift of the Religious Zionist Party from centre left to firmly right. I cover this in my book Growing Up With Israel, (Starhaven).

He was one of the leaders of the settler movement, Gush Emmunim, which was created in his home in 1974. He participated in the high-profile Passover “seder” celebrations in Hebron after the Six Day War.

Strongly opposed to the dismantling of the settlements in Sinai in exchange for peace with Egypt and later the disengagement from Gaza, he moved both times with his family to the settlements ear-marked to be relinquished. He directed his followers not to use violence but controversially advocated disobeying evacuation orders.

In the wake of the large emigration to Israel from the former Soviet Union, Ariel Sharon appointed Druckman Head of the State Conversion Authority.

The Ultra-Orthodox considered him too lenient and tried, unsuccessfully, to reverse his conversions; his signature is on some 50,000 conversion certificates.

Also controversially, he defended three rabbis accused of sexual abuse.

As those who knew him will testify, Druckman was too innocent to believe such behaviour was possible.

Like so many (including staunch opponents), I always had a huge admiration and respect for HaRav Druckman, notwithstanding some of his views.

In 2012 he received the Israel Prize for Lifetime Achievement. He is survived by his wife Sara, nine children and more than 200 descendants.

Chaim Meir Druckman: born November 15, 1932. Died December 25, 2022,

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