Like every other Israeli prime minister, save Naftali Bennett, the Likud leader Menachem Begin was not a traditionally observant Jew. But he was far more sensitive to the Jewish religion than either his rival David Ben-Gurion or his mentor Vladimir Jabotinsky. Meir Soloveichik tells an illustrative anecdote, which occurred in 1977:
Following an election in which he had emerged victorious, Begin was engaged in assembling a governing coalition when the members of a ḥaredi party burst into his office, upset over a matter pertaining to the political horse-trading. Begin sat silently as they expressed their agitation, and then he calmly responded in Yiddish: Raboysay, hobn ir shoyn gedavent minkhe (Gentlemen, have you already prayed the afternoon service)? Stunned by the unexpected query, the Orthodox men paused and then replied that they had, in fact, not yet engaged in this obligatory ritual. So, at Begin’s urging, a minyan, or prayer quorum of ten, was formed in his own office. . . . By the time the service had concluded, tempers had subsided, and, bound by a shared reverence for a millennia-old faith, Begin and his future coalition members resumed negotiations with equanimity.
This event, Soloveichik notes, says much not only about Begin, but about the significance of the 1977 Israeli election, which brought him to power on the shoulders of a coalition of religious and traditionally minded Jews, especially Sephardim. Turning to the most recent election, Soloveichik writes:
Much has been written on the various and very different views of the members of Israel’s newest government. But less focus has been given to the remarkable fact that this seems to be the first Israeli coalition with a majority made up of Orthodox Jews. This includes not only the members of the religious parties themselves but also those MKs from the Likud who are part of the Orthodox community. And this is an accurate representation of what the country has become.
Begin was a singular figure in Israel’s history—one who seamlessly joined deep familiarity with, and knowledge of, Jewish tradition, a personal, natural faith in the God of Israel, and a Zionism that defended both Western democratic traditions and the Jewish right to the Land of Israel. But there is no question that Israeli society today reflects the fact that only Begin among the nation’s founders sensed what the future of Israel would be.
In the ministerial offices of Israel’s 37th government—and its 47th, and its 57th—there will be many more minḥah minyanim yet to come.