Israel’s First Orthodox Prime Minister Can Demonstrate the Compatibility of Torah and Public Service

Not only is Naftali Bennett the first strictly observant Jew to obtain the Israeli government’s highest post, he is probably the first to hold such a position since the fall of the Hasmonean dynasty. David Stav, a leading religious-Zionist rabbi, comments on the implications:

Naftali Bennett’s election illustrates that Torah observance is not an inherent barrier to serving in the top position of the Israeli government. . . . Bennett’s religious observance will be on greater public display than it has been in the past. Certainly, that alone creates a great kiddush Hashem—a public exaltation of God’s name. And the very fact that a prime minister of a Jewish state is able to act fully within the guidelines of halakhah further exalts the Divine Name.

The Jewish tradition dictates that even the highest-level public servant, such as a king, or in this case the prime minister, is not above the law, and is subject to the same halakhic requirements as every subject or citizen. This includes upholding the halakhic principle [that] saving a life . . . takes priority over nearly every other matter of Jewish law. This responsibility to safeguard the primacy of life is manifest in an even more comprehensive manner when applied to the practice of a national leader.

On such grounds, writes Stav, Bennett would, for instance, be given a wide berth to violate the Sabbath to tend to matters of security and public safety. Stav sees such conflicts not as awkward problems, but as opportunities:

Though it would seem that the questions of how one can manage religious observance while the state makes its many demands spotlight the potential for conflict between the two, really the country should focus instead on the beauty of halakhic practice, and its dynamic nature. . . . Deliberations and debates that were once the purview of only certain rarefied elements of Jewish society are likely to become of interest to the broader [Israeli] public in ways that I firmly believe will allow it better to recognize and to appreciate the beauty and meaning of our halakhic-legal system.

Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Judaism in Israel, Naftali Bennett, Religion and politics, Religious Zionism

Why Hizballah Is Threatening Cyprus

In a speech last Wednesday, Hizballah’s secretary general Hassan Nasrallah not only declared that “nowhere will be safe” in Israel in the event of an all-out war, but also that his forces would attack the island nation of Cyprus. Hanin Ghaddar, Farzin Nadimi, and David Schenker observe that this is no idle threat, but one the Iran-backed terrorist group has “a range of options” for carrying out. They explain: 

Nasrallah’s threat to Cyprus was not random—the republic has long maintained close ties with Israel, much to Hizballah’s irritation. In recent years, the island has hosted multiple joint air-defense drills and annual special-forces exercises with Israel focused on potential threats from Hizballah and Iran.

Nasrallah’s threat should also be viewed in the context of wartime statements by Iran and its proxies about disrupting vital shipping lanes to Israel through the East Mediterranean.

This scenario should be particularly troubling to Washington given the large allied military presence in Cyprus, which includes a few thousand British troops, more than a hundred U.S. Air Force personnel, and a detachment of U-2 surveillance aircraft from the 1st Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron.

Yoni Ben Menachem suggests there is an additional aspect to Nasrallah’s designs on Cyprus, involving a plan

to neutralize the Israeli air force through two primary actions: a surprise attack with precision missiles and UAVs on Israeli air-force bases and against radar and air-defense facilities, including paralyzing Ben-Gurion Airport.

Nasrallah’s goal is to ground Israeli aircraft to prevent them from conducting missions in Lebanon against mid- and long-range missile launchers. Nasrallah fears that Israel might preempt his planned attack by deploying its air force to Cypriot bases, a scenario the Israeli air force practiced with Cyprus during military exercises over the past year.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Cyprus, Hizballah, U.S. Security