Religious-Zionist rabbis to Smotrich: Demand Defense Ministry

The rabbis explained Smotrich was needed "to strengthen Israel's safety, the spirit of the IDF," to prevent a Palestinian state, and regulate settlements in the West Bank.

Then-head of the National Union party MK Betzalel Smotrich and attorney Itamar Ben-Gvir attend Otzma Yehudit party's election campaign event in Bat Yam on April 06, 2019.  (photo credit: GILI YAARI/FLASH90)
Then-head of the National Union party MK Betzalel Smotrich and attorney Itamar Ben-Gvir attend Otzma Yehudit party's election campaign event in Bat Yam on April 06, 2019.
(photo credit: GILI YAARI/FLASH90)

A leading group of rabbis associated with the Religious Zionist Party encouraged party leader MK Bezalel Smotrich on Sunday night to "insist unequivocally and uncompromisingly on the job of Defense Minister," the party said

The party released the statement following a meeting between Smotrich and the group of rabbis hosted by Rabbi Haim Druckman, head of the Bnei Akiva yeshivot and seminaries. The rabbis explained that the reason to insist on the Defense Ministry was "to strengthen Israel's safety, the spirit of the IDF, to prevent the formation of a Palestinian state and to regulate the settlement of Judea and Samaria," according to the statement.

The rabbis also requested that Smotrich insist on receiving the Education and Religious Affairs ministries, as "there was utmost importance that the religious Zionists lead the activity for the country's Jewish character in the spirit of the Torah of the Land of Israel," according to the statement.

Rabbinical support

"Torah of the land of Israel" is a phrase that denotes a philosophy formulated by Israel's first chief rabbi, Avraham Isaac Hacohen Kook, which views Zionism as the beginning of the process of messianic redemption.

The rabbis also "personally called" on prime-minister elect MK Benjamin Netanyahu to "acknowledge the strength, value and partnership of the Religious Zionist Party, which received the trust of over half a million voters and received 14 seats," according to the statement.

 Head of the Religious Zionist party Bezalel Smotrich speaks to supporters as the results of the Israeli elections are announced, at the party's campaign headquarters, November 1, 2022. (credit: YOSSI ALONI/FLASH90) Head of the Religious Zionist party Bezalel Smotrich speaks to supporters as the results of the Israeli elections are announced, at the party's campaign headquarters, November 1, 2022. (credit: YOSSI ALONI/FLASH90)

The notable rabbis who participated in the meeting included Yaakov Ariel, former chief rabbi of Ramat Gan; David Chai Hacohen, head of the Orot Hatorah yeshiva in Bat Yam; Yehoshua Shapira, head of the Ramat Gan "hesder" yeshiva (combining yeshiva studies and military service); Haim Gantz, head of the Ma'ale Eliyahu yeshiva; and a number of others.

One of the other attendees included Rabbi Yigal Levinstein from the Eli pre-military academy, according to a source from the party. However, Levenstein's name did not appear on the list of attendees sent out by the party, possibly because he has made controversial statements in the past against the LGBT community, such as calling them "perverted."

Coalition negotiations

The meeting came after Shas chairman Aryeh Deri announced on Sunday morning that he had decided to demand the Finance Ministry. The two top ministries are widely viewed as Finance and Defense, and the demand to receive the Defense Ministry reflected RZP's position that if Deri received one of the two top positions, Smotrich should receive the other.

Both Shas and RZP also covet the Religious Affairs Ministry, and it is unclear if RZP's demand to receive both the Defense and Religious Affairs ministries will be granted.

Netanyahu reportedly does not want Smotrich as Defense Minister, as the Likud has at least two highly qualified candidates – Maj. Gen. (res.) MK Yoav Gallant and former Shin Bet head Avi Dichter, while Smotrich served in the IDF for 16 months in a non-combat role and has little experience otherwise.