Although David Ben-Gurion was an enthusiastic reader of the Hebrew Bible, the Labor Zionism he espoused was essentially secular, while cultural Zionists such as Ahad Ha’am likewise sought to overthrow religious traditionalism. Much has changed since then, writes David Eliezrie, and the fact that the current prime minister wears a kippah is only a small part of that story. Perhaps more significant, Eliezrie notes, is an unnoticed gesture by Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, the embodiment of Israel’s secular, liberal, cosmopolitan elite, whose father led a political party that was nakedly anti-religious.
Last week in the United Arab Emirates, Lapid was busy putting up mezuzahs. The first in Dubai, at the new embassy, and the second a day later in Abu Dhabi. It was a full-fledged religious ceremony. Lapid was capped by a kippah and assisted by the local rabbi.
Today no one would think much of this, but it’s a stark contrast to the old Labor Zionist attitude to Judaism. When Menachem Begin became prime minister in 1977, one of the first things he noticed was that the prime minister’s office had no mezuzah. His five predecessors—David Ben-Gurion, Moshe Sharett, Levi Eshkol, Golda Meir, and Yitzḥak Rabin—were not bothered by a door with no mezuzah. [But] Begin wanted a mezuzah affixed. . . . Moments later the new prime minister, [although by no means strictly religious], recited the blessing that he knew by heart and installed a mezuzah.
That blessing represented a new era in Israel, one in which Judaism became more natural to Israeli society.