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Naftali Bennett Brings New Start For Israel's National Religious Party

Will the young leader of the National Religious Party, Naftali Bennett, be able to overcome the old rabbinical establishment and restore his party's spirit of openness, wonders Nadav Perry.
Naftali Bennett (L), head of the far-right Bayit Yehudi party, campaigns at a bar in Tel Aviv January 20, 2013. Israel will hold a parliamentary election on January 22. Bennett has emerged as the surprise success story of the country's election campaign, with polls predicting his party will win some 13 seats, and that a cabinet post for Bennett is likely. REUTERS/Nir Elias (ISRAEL - Tags: POLITICS ELECTIONS HEADSHOT) - RTR3CPCU
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We should all keep in mind the same winning slogan that accompanied Minister of Trade and Industry Naftali Bennett over the past year on his journey from the realms of almost total anonymity to the peak he reached in the recent elections. “Something new is beginning,” the young Bennett promised his party membership when he ran in the primaries against its ossified, old-time leadership. “Something new is beginning,” Bennett promised voters during the general election campaign. Hundreds of thousands were in fact persuaded that the fresh young idealist represented a vibrant, new brand of religious Zionism, which for years had been kowtowing to ultra-Orthodox Judaism instead of fulfilling its historic role as a bridge between religious and secular Jews, and between religion and state. Now Bennett has to make good on his promises and to prove that a new beginning is, indeed, at hand.

During the early years of the state, the national religious movement represented all that was beautiful in the Jewish religion. While the ultra-Orthodox were quick to shut themselves off in their own ghettos and totally separate themselves from Israeli society, those wearing ''knitted skullcaps'' — the trademark of the national religious movement — tried to live in both worlds: studying religion as well as working, attending rabbinical colleges as well as serving in the military, praying in a synagogue as well as taking in a good movie. The early leaders of the National Religious Party (Mafdal) portrayed this combination best — people like Haim-Moshe Shapira and Yosef Burg, whose conduct and very being signaled a pleasing moderation.

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