'For about two years I didn't wear a kippah'

Naftali Bennett shares details of his personal life, including his decision to leave - then rejoin - the religious community.

Tzvi Lev ,

Education Minister Naftali Bennett at the Western Wall
Education Minister Naftali Bennett at the Western Wall

Education Minister Naftali Bennett (Jewish Home) spoke about the two year period during which he abandoned religious observance, in a wide-ranging interview last week with HOT TV's Mehubarim Plus 2.

Speaking to journalist Lior Dayan, Bennett said that he first became non-observant during his IDF service out of a desire to explore the secular world. "After I completed the punishing training course in the Sayeret Matkal (elite commando, ed.) unit and arrived at Officer Training School, I removed my kippa (head covering)," Bennett admitted. "I wanted to be exposed to the secular world - it was something which kept pulling me towards it. For about two years I did not wear a kippa."

"When you grow up in the Religious Zionist world you live a certain type of life and there are entire worlds which you aren't aware of," Bennett continued. "When I was in the Sayeret Matkal, I became aware of different worlds, interesting worlds."

"Being without a kippa means what it sounds like. When someone is secular - he is secular" Bennett hinted cryptically after Dayan asked him whether "removing his kippa" meant he fully embraced the secular lifestyle. "When I came home I respected my parents, but I wasn't religious during this period," clarified Bennett.

Bennett corrected Dayan's assertion that he experienced a crisis of faith. "I never felt like I was having a crisis - I simply removed my kippa," Bennett asserted.

Bennett said that he returned to religion after witnessing the anti-religious sentiment that was rife in Israel after Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin was killed in 1995 by an Orthodox Jew. "I was already a Company Commander when Rabin was assassinated, an admired commander I would say," he recalled. "There was a very difficult period after the murder. It was as if the entire religious world was blamed for it."

"I had already decided to put my kippa back on after I finished my service but then thought that it wasn't right. There are 100 soldiers here who admired me, so one day I just showed up wearing a kippa on my head. Everyone thought I was strange but I figured that if there is one sector that everyone is beating up on, it is important for me to stand with them."

Bennett said that there are many aspects of the secular world which he admires and that he tries to bridge both worlds. "There is a good deal to praise in the secular world. The greatness is to connect the two," he told Dayan. "What is good about the secular world is the skepticism- you can question anything you want and everything is open."