With a New Government in Reach, Bennett's Kippa Becomes a Bone of Contention

Ultra-Orthodox politician Yaakov Litzman called on Naftali Bennett to 'remove his kippa,' saying that his wearing of the Jewish head-covering was 'a great insolence,' as a debate over issues of religion and state heats up

Samuel Sokol is a freelance journalist based in Jerusalem. He was previously a correspondent at the Jerusalem Post and has reported for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, the Israel Broadcasting Authority and the Times of Israel. He is the author of Putin’s Hybrid War and the Jews.
Sam Sokol
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Yamina party leader Naftali Bennett, Jerusalem, June 2021.
Yamina party leader Naftali Bennett, Jerusalem, June 2021.Credit: Menahem Kahana/REUTERS
Samuel Sokol is a freelance journalist based in Jerusalem. He was previously a correspondent at the Jerusalem Post and has reported for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, the Israel Broadcasting Authority and the Times of Israel. He is the author of Putin’s Hybrid War and the Jews.
Sam Sokol

Interior Minister Arye Dery on Thursday distanced himself from recent remarks made by his fellow ultra-Orthodox politicians calling into question presumptive Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s religious observance and painting him as a danger to the Jewish character of the state of Israel.

“We are all Jews, no matter what kind of kippa (we wear), and no one has the right to say who is not. That isn’t my style,” Dery, who leads the ultra-Orthodox Sephardic Shas party, said during an interview with Army Radio on Thursday morning.

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In recent days, ultra-Orthodox politicians belonging to the Ashkenazi United Torah Judaism party have used Bennett’s kippa as a rhetorical device, symbolizing his alleged religious hypocrisy for joining a coalition in which they are not a part, but which does include the secularist Meretz and Yisrael Beiteinu factions.

Shas and UTJ lawmakers lambasted Bennett, set to become Israel’s first Orthodox prime minister after a confidence on Sunday, at a Knesset gathering on Tuesday, which had been called to discuss how to push back against proposed changes to the country’s religious status quo.

UTJ MK Yaakov Litzman called on Bennett “to remove his kippa,” saying that his wearing of the Jewish head-covering was “a great insolence.”

“At least everyone should understand that he is a Reform Jew," he said.

Commenting on Litzman’s remarks on Thursday, Dery stated that the lawmaker’s “words stem from terrible pain” and called on people not to judge him for them.

Aryeh Deri at an event marking the one year anniversary since the death of Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef, founder of the Sephardi Haredi political party, ShasCredit: Emil Salman

Far-right lawmaker Itamar Ben-Gvir, leader of the far-right Otzma Yehudit party, also condemned Litzman’s “insolent” remark on Thursday, telling Army Radio that “nobody is the account book of the holy one, blessed be he.”

At the same gathering as Gafni and Litzman made their remarks, Dery used similar rhetoric, asserting that “kippa wearers whose lust for power blinds their eyes” would fulfill the dreams of Israel’s secularist parties and asserting that the new government would “destroy everything that for 73 years we have maintained together, even in the most difficult times, the Jewish character and identity of the state that allows us to live together.”

In a statement on Tuesday afternoon, Bennett pushed back against the ultra-Orthodox lawmakers’ attacks, calling them “expressions that do not bring them honor and reflect a loss of temper.”

“The ultra-Orthodox Knesset members will not teach us what Judaism is and certainly not what Zionism is,” he said, promising that as prime minister, he would “take care of the ultra-Orthodox public and the Torah world.”

“To the ultra-Orthodox citizens of the country I say, again: you have nothing to worry about,” he continued. “On the contrary, the past year has shown that you are the ones who pay, with your very lives, for a political culture of neglect, nepotism and the perpetuation of problems.”

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