Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu waded into a controversy Thursday about a sketch in a popular satirical TV show that portrayed tefillin, saying that “there are some things that one just doesn’t do.”
The episode of the hit show “Eretz Nehederet,” aired Wednesday night, showed Education Minister Naftali Bennett and other government figures with headgear styled to look like the signature hairstyle of Israel’s Eurovision song contest winner, Netta Barzilai. In Bennett’s case, the faux minister, played by comedian Eran Zarahovitsh, wore what looked like tefillin, also called phylacteries, the arm and head boxes religious Jews wear during morning prayers.
“I saw something apparently satirical, and I want to tell you I am in favor of satire and parodies — you all know that we are the butt of a lot of it and that’s fine — but there are some things that one just doesn’t do,” Netanyahu told people at the opening of the Bible study group at his official residence.
“One doesn’t have to be a kippa-wearer to understand the importance of our heritage for the future of our nation,” the prime minister said. “It is the essence of our existence, it is what separates us [from the non-Jews], it is what unites us, it is what strengthens us.”
Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, a former Russian refusenik, said that the sketch was in bad taste.
“When the KGB agents dragged me into custody in Russia they took everything from me. But there was one thing I managed to smuggle into my cell — a set of tefillin,” he tweeted. “When they tried to take them from me I went on a hunger strike. Without them I know I could not survive.
“It is sad that someone turns tefillin into a tasteless joke,” he added. “‘Eretz Nehederet,’ there are some things you don’t do.”
In the skit, characters such as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev, as well as Bennett, were shown enthusiastically rejoicing in Barzilai’s victory.
On Wednesday several other politicians spoke out against the show, as did the chief rabbi, who called on the program to apologize.
Bennett, who is religious, said: “They can laugh at me as much as they want. But tefillin and Jewish holy items — no.”
“I am proud to be among those who kiss mezuzot and wear tefillin,” he wrote on Facebook with a photo of himself wearing tefillin. “I am proud to be a Jew.”
עליי תצחקו כמה שתרצו. אבל על תפילין וקודשי ישראל-לא. אני גאה להיות בין מנשקי המזוזות ומניחי התפילין. אני יהודי גאה. ????????
Responding to the criticism, the show’s producers said in a statement: “The skit dealt, among other things, with Netta Barzilai’s win at the Eurovision and with the extensive public preoccupation with the matter. Netta’s identifying hairstyle was incorporated on the heads of some of the characters participating in the skit, in different ways. There was no intention to offend or to show contempt.”
The topical sketch comedy show is known for skewering Israeli politicians and other figures, as well as making fun of other sacred cows.
It has raised the ire of religious officials in the past over its sketches.
In 2016 the country’s top rabbinical authorities condemned a promotion showing the cast standing around an open Torah scroll in a synagogue. A 2008 skit depicted an Israeli family celebrating a bar mitzvah in a synagogue — a move that sparked a similar outcry.
In February, Netanyahu panned the show for a segment he said made light of the Holocaust.
Stuart Winer contributed to this report.