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Netanyahu photographed for the first time wrapping tefillin

Acceding to the wish of a grieving mother, the prime minister donned the tefillin that had belonged to her son, a soldier killed in action in 2014.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dons tefillin (phylacteries), May 12, 2024. Credit: Prime Minister's Office.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dons tefillin (phylacteries), May 12, 2024. Credit: Prime Minister's Office.

On Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shared a poignant photo on social media, depicting himself donning tefillin—a rare public display for the leader.

The image was accompanied by a heartfelt caption on Instagram: “‘And all the peoples of the earth shall see that the name of the Lord is called upon you, and they shall fear you.’

The caption continues, “Ruchama, the mother of Moshiko Dvino, may his memory be blessed, who fell in Operation Protective Edge [in Gaza in 2014], brought me his tefillin. The tefillin were with him at all times during the battles and were the only item that survived the explosion in which Moshiko was killed. The smell of gunpowder still remains on the tefillin case.

“I promised Ruchama that I would wear these tefillin for the elevation of Moshiko’s soul and the elevation of the souls of all our fallen. This is what I am doing today with holy reverence. May the memory of our fallen be forever blessed and kept in our hearts,” the caption ends.

Netanyahu, who hails from a family that followed the revisionist Zionist leader Ze’ev Jabotinsky, has long maintained a secular persona, stressing Israel’s historical and political claims to the Land of Israel over biblical grounds. However, he has fostered close alliances with religious parties throughout his political career.

The prime minister’s personal relationship with faith has often been a subject of speculation, particularly after he famously declined opportunities to put on tefillin, including during a diplomatic visit to London where he was photographed near a Chabad stand but refused to partake in the ritual.

Since the Oct. 7 massacre, some observers have noted a shift in Netanyahu’s rhetoric, with increased mentions of God in his speeches, echoing the tone of his hero, former Prime Minister Menachem Begin.

The photo of Netanyahu wearing tefillin drew excited responses online, as it appears to be the first time the prime minister has been publicly captured performing the religious practice.

“What a rare picture. You surprised us. Yeshar Koach [‘Well done’),” someone commented on Netanyahu’s new post. Another wrote, “I am crying with excitement because Netanyahu is a person of substance and depth, and until today he has not agreed to publish a picture of himself with tefillin.”

The emotional responses underscore the symbolic weight of the image, which not only pays tribute to a fallen Israeli soldier on Memorial Day (Yom Hazikaron) but also hints at a possible shift in Netanyahu’s public persona, embracing a more overtly religious tone.

This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.

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