Rabbi Menachem Froman on the Theater

Rabbi Menachem Froman is the Rabbi of the Settlement of Tekoa, he is an advocate of peace, pluralism, and love. He has a Sufi influenced Orthodoxy. There is a recent interview that focuses on politics and his terminal illness. (No politics in the comments.) Here is a little gem from from the interview where he discusses theater from the perspective of experimental theater.

Despite your condition, you are still active and are now working to establish a theater.

A theotoron: toron referring to the Torah and theo referring to religion. A religious theater. Samuel Beckett said, “What is theater?” A group of people standing on a cliff while below there is a stormy sea in which a drowning man is crying for help − and they cannot help. The drowning people are the actors and the people on the cliff are the audience. In the theater, life is presented as distress. The audience cannot help the prince of Denmark, Hamlet, but is present and is confronted with the problem of human existence. [The late Polish theater director Jerzy] Grotowski proposes a different definition. He likens theater to a hill at night where someone has poured gasoline on himself and set himself alight, while around the hill people are standing and watching, their faces lit by him.

What I gather from this is that the actor gives his life, and his selfless devotion illuminates the faces of the viewers. A third definition is that in the theater the actors and the audience overcome gravity for an hour and a half. The audience is elevated. As [Rabbi] Moishe Levinger says, What is dancing? A person jumps up and overcomes the force of gravity. In Yiddish the “force of gravity” is the “force of gravitas” − in Hebrew “koved,” in Yiddish “koived.”

Is there no element of idol worship in theater?

A person in the theater jumps up, overcomes his ego, his self − the self-definition that does not allow you to be free. To play-act is to be free. Also, in the biblical sense, to love. That is certainly freedom. So this theater is a religious theater, not in the sense that it observes the halakha [Jewish religious law] or draws on the Jewish sources, but that it achieves the purpose of religion: to liberate man and cause him to love. This is the repentance of the religious public, from subjugation to the halakha and its rigidity to freedom and love.

When I sat with my son Shibi and we thought about what we were getting into, owing to my illness, Shibi said that the only thing we need to work on is the theater. That is the dream. In the past few years I have been teaching the Zohar, because it posits itself as an answer to the revealed Torah. It seeks to liberate us from religious dogmatism and from the halakha. “To be a free people in our land” − I am not enthralled by the national anthem, but when I hear that line I am moved. The idea that for certain moments you can liberate yourself from gravity and gravitas is truly wonderful.

Peace between a man and his fellow man, between a nation and its neighbor is all a kind of mental adjustment, a decision of the soul, which wants to move to the side of peace. It is necessary to purify the Jewish religion.

What do you mean?

On festive occasions I dress like my grandfather, who was a Gerrer Hasid. I put on a white kapote [robe-coat] and white spodik [tall fur hat]. I think Judaism has to be transformed from black to white. I spent many hours in meetings and in studying Islam, and this activity was undertaken to transform the religion into white. Rabbi Kook, whose picture is here opposite me, says that the whole of the Jewish religion is a process of purification from idol worship.

From what would you like to purify the Jewish religion?

From idol worship. From egoism. I feel that there is something very, very deep in the love between man and land. That has always been my image. Man is made from dust and to dust he will return. The connection between man and his land is the connection to his life source. That connection can derive from love or it can derive from possessiveness: meaning that you want to be the owner of the land, to control it. Instead of being swallowed up in your wife, you want to be the owner of your wife. When I met with [Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip] Erdogan, he gave me volumes of the poetry of Jalaluddin Rumi. Rumi writes that one can be swallowed in the earth like sugar that dissolves in water. If you have an orientation toward being swallowed, of abnegation in the face of the objective truth, that is peace.
Read the Rest Here

2 responses to “Rabbi Menachem Froman on the Theater

  1. It seems that for R. Froman the power of the theater lies in its power to convey universal truths about the human condition. Completely absent is the focus on individual expression that is so in vogue in the daati world today. There seems to be no emphasis on individual creativity as there is in say Rav Shagar’s thought.
    I don’t know have much a background in R. Froman’s ideas so perhaps I am stating the obvious but as I read the rest of the interview, I was struck by the apparent influence of Rav Ashlag’s thought. Perhaps R. Froman represents the radicalism of a previous generation.

  2. I think Nachum’s last sentence is close to truth. When I was a young man in yeshiva, Rav Froman would give shiurim on Rav Kook. Orot Hateshuvah, Orot, other writings. He was always able to flesh out the already apparent transcendence in the Rav’s writings. From afar, it appears to me that tendency for both transcendence but also embracing or encompassing a larger reality became more and more his inclination and direction. This is, of course, part of why he went to Tekoah to be the rav of a mixed community and to try and create a more encompassing reality.

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