Satirical TV show uses religious items in skit, drawing fury
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Satirical TV show uses religious items in skit, drawing fury

Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox ministers, chief rabbi slam depiction of Naftali Bennett wearing joke tefillin to resemble Eurovision winner's hairdo

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Still from video of a comedy sketch by the Eretz Nehederet satire show depicting Education Minister Naftali Bennet wearing joke tefillin, May 16, 2018. (Screen capture: Hadashot news)
Still from video of a comedy sketch by the Eretz Nehederet satire show depicting Education Minister Naftali Bennet wearing joke tefillin, May 16, 2018. (Screen capture: Hadashot news)

Government ministers and Israel’s chief Ashkenazi rabbi slammed a popular satirical television show Wednesday evening over a sketch that included cases for tefillin (phylacteries), saying the “contemptuous use” of the sacred item to mock Education Minister Naftali Bennett was offensive to religious people.

The episode of hit show “Eretz Nehederet” showed 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 a pair of cases for tefillin boxes, a reference to the set of arm and head boxes religious Jews wear during morning prayers.

Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, who leads the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, said the antics would be considered anti-Semitic in any other country in the world.

“This evening a shameful and hurtful segment was broadcast on ‘Eretz Nehderet,’ which mocked and lampooned the tefillin, that same sacred commandment that Jews gave up their lives to fulfill throughout the generations. If something like this was presented in some other country, everyone would shout anti-Semitism. But specifically here, in the Jewish state, it passes quietly. Disgraceful!” said Deri.

Israel’s Netta Barzilai performing ‘Toy’ in the first Eurovision 2018 semifinal, May 8, 2018. (Screen capture: YouTube)

Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel David Lau, commenting on the broadcast in an address he gave during a religious event, called on the show’s producers to apologize.

“The contemptuous use of religious items, in a sarcastic and offensive manner, is terrible,” he said. “It is unacceptable that something like this was broadcast on Israeli media. This isn’t a culture or entertainment, it is a mockery of tefillin and religious articles and tramples on the feelings of millions of Jews.”

Lau said he expects that “the program that broadcast the disgraceful contempt of tefillin will apologize and not repeat it.”

Israel’s Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau March 29, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

In the skit, characters such as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev, as well as Bennett, were all shown enthusiastically rejoicing at Barzilai’s victory.

Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, who heads the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party, said in a statement that “Eretz Nehderet” had crossed a line.

“I was very shocked by the despicable use of tefillin as was broadcast this evening in a satire program. This is serious violation of Jewish tradition and I absolutely condemn it. Even humor and satire have red lines that should never be crossed. It is a terrible disgrace to violate tefillin in the Jewish state and in an official broadcast.”

Interior Minister Aryeh Deri attends a Finance Committee meeting in the Knesset in Jerusalem on February 27, 2018. (Flash90)

Bennett, who is religious, responded to the skit saying, “They can laugh at me as much as they want. But tefillin and Jewish holy items — no.” He noted that he is proud to wear tefillin.

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 in the heads of some of the characters participating in the skit, in different ways. There was no intention to offend or to show contempt.”

Education Minister Naftali Bennett speaks to press before the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on March 25, 2018. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool/Flash90)

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.

On Saturday night, the real-life Barzilai clucked and bucked her way through “Toy,” a catchy ditty that had been the bookmakers’ favorite to win for weeks before the international contest in Portugal, clinching an Israeli victory.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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