Menachem Begin’s Minyan and Israel’s Future

Nov. 17 2022

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.

Read more at Commentary

More about: Israeli Election 2022, Judaism in Israel, Menachem Begin


When It Comes to Peace with Israel, Many Saudis Have Religious Concerns

Sept. 22 2023

While roughly a third of Saudis are willing to cooperate with the Jewish state in matters of technology and commerce, far fewer are willing to allow Israeli teams to compete within the kingdom—let alone support diplomatic normalization. These are just a few results of a recent, detailed, and professional opinion survey—a rarity in Saudi Arabia—that has much bearing on current negotiations involving Washington, Jerusalem, and Riyadh. David Pollock notes some others:

When asked about possible factors “in considering whether or not Saudi Arabia should establish official relations with Israel,” the Saudi public opts first for an Islamic—rather than a specifically Saudi—agenda: almost half (46 percent) say it would be “important” to obtain “new Israeli guarantees of Muslim rights at al-Aqsa Mosque and al-Haram al-Sharif [i.e., the Temple Mount] in Jerusalem.” Prioritizing this issue is significantly more popular than any other option offered. . . .

This popular focus on religion is in line with responses to other controversial questions in the survey. Exactly the same percentage, for example, feel “strongly” that “our country should cut off all relations with any other country where anybody hurts the Quran.”

By comparison, Palestinian aspirations come in second place in Saudi popular perceptions of a deal with Israel. Thirty-six percent of the Saudi public say it would be “important” to obtain “new steps toward political rights and better economic opportunities for the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.” Far behind these drivers in popular attitudes, surprisingly, are hypothetical American contributions to a Saudi-Israel deal—even though these have reportedly been under heavy discussion at the official level in recent months.

Therefore, based on this analysis of these new survey findings, all three governments involved in a possible trilateral U.S.-Saudi-Israel deal would be well advised to pay at least as much attention to its religious dimension as to its political, security, and economic ones.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Islam, Israel-Arab relations, Saudi Arabia, Temple Mount