Top religious Zionist leader Rabbi Haim Drukman died on Sunday evening after suffering from multiple medical issues.

Rabbi Haim Drukman at an event for the Har Bracha yeshiva. (photo credit: YISRAEL BARDUGO)
Rabbi Haim Drukman at an event for the Har Bracha yeshiva. (photo credit: YISRAEL BARDUGO)


A bit less than a month ago the most senior religious Zionist leader, Rabbi Haim Drukman, celebrated his 90th birthday on a stage in front of thousands of his students, men, women and children, in Jerusalem’s International Convention Center. He sat in front of them on a wheelchair since he was already very ill. On Sunday evening, he passed away after suffering from multiple medical issues—including, recently, COVID-19.

Drukman was the head of the Ohr Etzion Yeshiva and the head of Yeshivot and Ulpanot Bnei Akiva – the largest chain of Yeshiva high schools for boys and girls in the religious Zionist community. Drukman also served in many rabbinic roles as the Rabbi of the Bnei Akiva youth movement in Israel, as well as of World Bnei Akiva. In 1977, Drukman also became a Member of Knesset on behalf of the National Religious Party (NRP) and a deputy minister as well.

Last Passover Drukman was hospitalized after he had difficulty eating. He felt weak and his body temperature rose. He was taken to the Hadassah Ein Kerem hospital from his home in the Mercaz Shapira since he was suffering from acute pneumonia. After a few days of hospitalization, which included the administration of antibiotics, he was discharged.

“The elder of the religious Zionist rabbis passed away,” a press release on behalf of Yeshivot and Ulpanot Bnei Akiva stated. They shared that Drukman was “a model man, a family man, a great leader in Torah, a man of spiritual education and action.”

Drukman’s life

Drukman was born in Poland and hid with his parents for a few years, surviving the holocaust. He made aliyah to Israel in 1944 and since then has been a leader in almost any major religious Zionist institution. He served as president of the Hesder Yeshiva Union, Chairman of Yeshivot and Ulpenot Bnei Akiva, an emissary for World Bnei Akiva in North America and many other positions. Drukman was the head of the official Israeli conversion system in the Prime Minister’s Office for eight years and received the prestigious Israel Prize for Lifetime Achievement.

 Rabbi Haim Drukman (credit: ROI HOCHHIZOR/OR ETZION YESHIVA)
Rabbi Haim Drukman (credit: ROI HOCHHIZOR/OR ETZION YESHIVA)


“Rabbi Drukman was the pillar of fire before our camp,” Elchanan Galtt, CEO of Bnei Akiva Yeshivot and Ulpanot said. “With his personality, he led a large public, influenced the Israeli public and outlined an educational path of Torah and Avodah (Torah and work), of the love of the people and the land of Jews and Israelis, in the generation of redemption. His character, deep insights and broad vision will be missed by the entire nation of Israel.”

Drukman was as focused as can be at the age of 90 and until his last days he was involved in tens of fronts, such as the political situation with the new government and with Jewish halachic issues in the many organizations in which he had a role.

“I remember a reality where a boy who finished the eighth grade would throw away his beret” Drukman said at an event that was produced by the weekly Makor Rishon newspaper in his honor, about what it was like to be a religious Zionist in Israel tens of years ago. “They [these religious Zionist teens] didn’t wear kippahs. Who dreamed of wearing a kippah? This was the reality.” Drukman told the audience that “nowadays you see knitted kippahs everywhere and they are the best [the young religious Zionists]. Everyone recognizes that. Everyone knows that they are the best.”

“Our expectation, hope and belief is that the entire people of Israel should be like this,” he said.

He concluded by stating that “I’m not alive in order to celebrate my birthday. I’m alive because I have to do good for the people of Israel.”

Young Drukman studied in the Bnei Akiva Yeshiva in Kfar Haroeh and later on went to the Mercaz Harav Yeshiva in Jerusalem. He served in almost any possible role in the Bnei Akiva movement such as a member of a group that served together on behalf of the movement in the IDF, a member of the national secretary and even as an emissary of the movement in North America, based in New York.

He established the Ohr Etzion Yeshiva in 1977 in Mercaz Shapira and he remained the head of the Yeshiva until his last days. He also founded schools on the same campus for olim from Ethiopia and a religious IDF academy for boys. Drukman broke away from the NRP in 1983 because of the Camp David Accords and became a single MK without a party. He created a new party named Morasha in the 1984 elections and it won two seats. He later returned to the NRP.

Drukman was considered the highest spiritual authority of the national religious community and his home became a pilgrimage center for politicians from religious Zionism who often asked for his advice and for his approval of dramatic decisions. He said of the religious Zionist leadership that “for many years we have seen that the religious-Zionism stream has been a leader in all fields: We’ve been leading in settlement of the land, we’ve been leading in the field of immigration to Israel and we’ve of course been leading in education. We see many Israelis who wear kippot in the offices of ministers and surrounding the prime ministers. We are not second class.”

Over the years, he supported the HaBayit HaYehudi Party and later the Religious Zionist Party (RZP) and stated that “Bezalel Smotrich and the Religious Zionist list are the continuation of the NRP.” In the recent elections for the 25th Knesset, he was even placed in the last and symbolic place on the RZP list.

Drukman created controversy when he supported Rabbi Motti Elon who was convicted by a Jerusalem Court on two counts of forcible sexual assault against a male minor. Drukman initiated a weekly class taught by Elon in his yeshiva even after he was convicted of indecent acts by force. Only in 2019, did Drukman retract saying that Elon “will not be able to teach classes or hold other public activities for the general public.”

Drukman was married to Dr. Sarah, a physician. He and his wife had nine children, one of them was adopted and close to two hundred grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Even though many saw him as conservative, Drukman was a very moderate voice in the religious Zionist community. The rabbis that see themselves as his students are, for the most part, much more conservative than Drukman ever was.

As reported by The Jerusalem Post