Israelis, MKs Up in Arms Over ‘Shameful’ Portrayal of Tefillin

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Naftali Bennett. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Condemnations poured in Thursday after a denigrating portrayal of Education Minister Naftali Bennett on a satirical program that showed him wearing tefillin. The portrayal, on the Eretz Nehederet (Wonderful Country) program, was panned by Israelis of all religious backgrounds, with many protesting against the producers of the program, and others complaining to Communications Minister Ayoub Kara, demanding that he sanction the producers.

In a statement, Bennett said that he was not insulted for himself – but for the tefillin. “You can laugh at me all you want, but when it comes to tefillin and other devarim sheb’kedushah, lay off. I pride myself on being among the ‘mezuzah kissers’ and the ‘tefillin wearers,’” he said, referring to a scandal that erupted in the 2015 elections, when leftist artist and author Yair Garbuz railed against the “mezuzah kissers” and practicers of “primitive religion” who supported Binyamin Netanyahu.

Commenting on the affair, Deputy Health Minister Rabbi Yaakov Litzman said that he was “very shocked at the shameful use tefillin were put to. This is a terrible insult to Jewish tradition, and I utterly condemn it. Humor and satire also has its red lines that cannot be crossed. The holy traditions of the Jewish people are not fodder for comedy. This is a shameful incident.” Interior Minister Rabbi Aryeh Deri said that the program “insulted and denigrated a tradition that Jews throughout the generations have laid their lives down for. Had this been broadcast anywhere else in the world, we would have screamed ‘anti-Semitism.’ But here, in the Jewish state, it passes without criticism. This is shameful.”

Other politicians chimed in as well. MK Shuli Muallem-Refaeli (Jewish Home) said that “if this had been broadcast elsewhere, like in Europe, you could be sure that Israel would be burning up the phone lines with complaints. But here, Jews choose to denigrate the honor of Judaism. Shameful.” MK Rabbi Yinon Azulai (Shas) demanded that the producers of the program be suspended, and that they issue an official apology. “The disgusting use of tefillin by the Keshet network is a serious offense to all those who respect Jewish tradition, which constitute the majority of Israelis.”

Knesset Chairman MK Yuli Edelstein said that “when the Russian KGB arrested me and sent me to prison, they took everything from me, but I managed to keep my tefillin. When they tried to take that from me, I went on a hunger strike. Without the tefillin, I believe, I would not have survived. It is so sad that someone has turned tefillin into a joke. There are things that are just not done.”

The program was also panned on social media, even by those who viewed it; according to Channel Ten, 80 percent of the responses posted were against the portrayal, even among those who stressed that they were secular.

In response, the producers said that they had had “no intention to denigrate or hurt anyone’s sensibilities.” The use of the tefillin in the sketch was incidental, and was not intended to make fun of the tefillin themselves, they added.