Politicians paid tribute on Sunday to religious Zionist Rabbi Chaim Druckman following his death at age 90, with many citing his abundant love of fellow Jews as his enduring legacy.
Druckman, himself a former member of Knesset and a top settler leader, passed away after contracting coronavirus, according to the Or Etzion Yeshiva, which Druckman presided over for 50 years.
The rabbi was a major power broker in Israeli politics for decades, as an MK, a deputy minister and more recently as the spiritual leader of religious Zionist parties.
In a statement, incoming prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu lamented the “great light” that had been “extinguished” by the death of Druckman, whom he called a “personal and dear friend.”
As head of conversion in Netanyahu’s office as prime minister between 2009 and 2012, Druckman brought a “heartfelt approach” to helping many thousands of people “join the ranks of our nation,” Netanyahu’s statement read.
“My heart aches deeply with his dear family at this time.”
Druckman, one of the most revered figures in the religious Zionist world, was eulogized by the chair of the Religious Zionism party Bezalel Smotrich as a man characterized by “wisdom, humility, righteousness and leadership.”
Smotrich said that even in the final weeks of Druckman’s life, he’d met with the rabbi for “conversation and advice in the early hours of the morning… Until his last days, there was not a moment when the rabbi was not free and available for the needs of the Jewish nation.”
Druckman served multiple stints in the Knesset beginning in 1977, before retiring from political life in 2003. He was a leader in the establishment of Gush Emunim, a right-wing group dedicated to growing Jewish settlement in the West Bank.
For years, he was the spiritual leader of the Jewish Home party when it ws led by Naftali Bennett, before switching to publicly support Bezalel Smotrich’s far-right Religous Zionism party ahead of the March 2021 elections.
He also held influential religious posts, serving as dean of the Or Etzion Yeshiva, head of a network of seminaries affiliated with the religious Zionist Bnei Akiva movement, and president of the union of Hesder yeshivas — seminaries for men who combine military service with religious study.
Bennett tweeted Sunday that the rabbi “embodied in his life Zionism, giving to the people of Israel, a life of Torah… I will miss him very much. I loved him.”
Outgoing Prime Minister Yair Lapid tweeted his condolences to the family and students of Druckman, noting that the rabbi was a Holocaust survivor as well as a winner of the Israel Prize awarded for his contributions to the state.
MK Yitzhak Goldknopf, leader of United Torah Judaism, said he mourned Druckman “along with the Jewish world and all of his many students.”
UTJ’s number two Moshe Gafni shared similar sentiments, adding “I was pained to hear of the passing of one of the elders of religious Zionism… I send my condolences to his family, his students and his close acquaintances.”
Outgoing Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked labeled the rabbi a “scholar, a great leader and an outstanding educator,” who “embodied in his life the integration of the Land of Israel, the people of Israel and the Torah of Israel.”
Like Smotrich, Shaked revealed she had sought the rabbi’s advice, developing a personal relationship and discovering that Druckman had immense “life wisdom” and an ability “to accept others.”
“With his passing, we lost a man who devoted himself to the State of Israel, to the people of Israel, to the Land of Israel, to the Torah of Israel and to religious Zionism, which were so important to him,” Shaked said.
National Unity party head Benny Gantz said he “heart is pained” at Druckman’s passing, noting he’d studied under the rabbi as a youth and saying he was “a man of faith, devoted to Israel and the Zionist idea.”
Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.