During a memorial ceremony for Israel Defense Forces soldiers who fell 49 years ago in the Yom Kippur War, interim Prime Minister Yair Lapid made a blooper that gave his rivals further cause to ridicule him.
The Yesh Atid chairman took the opportunity of the somber event, held on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem, to talk about “societal unity,” a favorite campaign mantra of the parties in the anti-Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu camp. The point that the caretaker premier wanted to make was that the Israeli public had banded together when a coalition of Arab armies, led by Egypt and Syria, launched their infamous surprise attack on the country.
“When thousands of worshipers were torn from synagogue and forced to replace their tallit [prayer shawl] with uniforms and their tefillin [phylacteries] with rifles, they did not ask who was right-wing and who was left-wing, or who fasted and who did not,” he said of the response to the massive Oct. 6, 1973, assault, which began on the holiest day in Judaism.
“The religious person exiting the synagogue and the secular one teaching his children to ride bicycles [on the vehicle-free] streets all donned uniforms and headed shoulder-to-shoulder into battle,” he added.
What Lapid hadn’t realized was that tefillin aren’t laid on Yom Kippur or on any other holiday. Ditto where Shabbat is concerned. Woops.
In fairness, the former journalist-turned-politician—like many of his colleagues and much of the populace—is a secular Jew. And though he would have been taught some level of Torah in elementary school (he didn’t matriculate from high school), his unfamiliarity with the rituals of his religion isn’t terribly shocking.
Still, the above wasn’t his first Yom Kippur gaffe. On the eve of the Day of Atonement three years ago, when he was No. 2 on the Blue and White Party list, he took to social media to bid “an easy fast for those who fast, and also for those who don’t.”
Perhaps it was merely linguistic clumsiness on the part of the longtime newspaper columnist. Nothing unusual about that, unfortunately.
More astounding was the rest of his blessing, which included a reference to the secular custom of riding bicycles on the holiday that all Israelis respect by not driving their cars for the 25-hour duration.
“If you’re running after your little girl who, for the first time in her life, is opening the gates of heaven without training wheels, you should know that this, too, is also a mitzvah [commandment or good deed],” he tweeted.
If any of his followers were scratching their heads at this statement or assumed that it was mainly meant to be amusing, he concluded with a more serious description of Yom Kippur—one he simply invented. And it sounded eerily like lyrics to a song that could have been performed at Woodstock.
“Love one another, because that is the idea of this holiday,” he wrote. “Let those who are unable to hold back and continue to try to tell others how to live take into account that this is something Yom Kippur doesn’t absolve.”
OK, so Lapid can be forgiven for his ignorance about Judaism, particularly given his virulently anti-Orthodox upbringing as the son of the late Yosef “Tommy” Lapid. His father, head of the defunct Shinui Party, fought to exclude religious observance from Israel’s public sphere and legal structure.
This didn’t stop him, however, from prioritizing Israel’s 2005 withdrawal from Gaza—the expulsion of every last Jew from Gush Katif—over his antipathy to the Likud-led coalition that included haredim.
The junior Lapid has similar left-wing views. That he cloaks them in disingenuous kumbaya calls aimed at garnering votes from the “anybody but Bibi” crowd who landed him his current seat at the helm in the first place is par for the political landscape.
He also knows enough not to alienate the huge swaths of the electorate who honor Jewish tradition, whether or not they observe it to the letter of the law. Hence the rabbinical pretense.
But he’s incapable of pulling it off, which is as worrisome as his ignorance of rudimentary Judaism. That he’s too arrogant or lazy to do a little homework before pontificating on Yom Kippur is revealing.
All it would have entailed, after all, is asking a rabbi or a friend. Or doing a perfunctory Google search, for that matter.
Worse is the fact that not a single member of his staff noticed his tefillin error ahead of time, and that no apology was forthcoming afterwards. One can hardly wait to hear what cringe-worthy Jewish pearls he’s prepared for Sukkot.
Ruthie Blum is an Israel-based journalist and author of “To Hell in a Handbasket: Carter, Obama, and the ‘Arab Spring.’ ”
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