Netanyahu: Longest Levite Rule in Israel Since Hasmoneans

“He shall act like a smelter and purger of silver; and he shall purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, so that they shall present offerings in righteousness.” Malachi 3:3 (The Israel Bible™)

As the chief political correspondent analyst for the Jerusalem Post, Gil Hoffman’s expertise is making sense of the maelstrom that is Israeli politics. But as a Jew in the Holy Land, his insights occasionally take on a Biblical nature. His normal beat is the Knesset and on Monday, while the world was wondering about the Israeli national elections on Tuesday, Hoffman speculated on the spiritual implications.

In a tweet, Hoffman noted that if Netanyahu does not continue as the prime minister, it will end the longest period of time that someone from the tribe of Levi has ruled over Isreal since the Hasmonean Dynasty ended in the First Century CE.

It should be noted that the tribe of Levy served in the Temple and had political responsibilities as well. Moses was a Levite as was his brother, Aaron who became the priest in the Tabernacle. Kohanim (priests) are descendants of Aaron and are, as such, a subset of the Levite clan.

The Hasmonean dynasty ruled over Judea and surrounding regions between 140 BCE. They were a family of Kohanim who ruled for 103 years until they were deposed in 37 BCE by Herod the Great, an Edomite whose ancestors had converted to Judaism. Herod was raised as a Jew. 

“I think it is fascinating,” Hoffman told Breaking Israel News. “Over the years, many Levites have held influential positions. In the current Israeli government, Avigdor Liberman, the head of Yisrael Beytenu, is a Levite as is Yariv Levine, a Likud MK and Minister of Tourism. Significantly,  Jerusalem Police Chief Deputy Commissioner Yoram Halevi who is in charge of keeping the peace on the Temple Mount is a Levi.”

Netanyahu became the longest-serving prime minister in July when he surpassed David Ben Gurion’s 4,876 days (over 13 years) in office, though neither served uninterrupted terms.

“If Netanyahu does not win the election, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the leadership of Israel will go to Yair Lapid or Benny Gantz, the leaders of the Blue and White Party, who are not Levites,” Hoffman explained. “There is another scenario in which Gantz will be tasked with forming a coalition and fail. Likud will then be tasked with forming a government. Netanyahu may be indicted in the meantime or the party may choose to vote for a different leader to form a government.”

Hoffman noted that Yisrael Katz, a veteran member of Likud who held several key positions over the years, is a Kohen. 

Another possible candidate to head Likud according to Hoffman is Speaker of the Knesset Yuli Edelstein.  Edelstein is not a Levite but has an intriguing connection to Judaism. Born in Ukraine, Edelstein’s mother was Jewish but his father was born to a Christian mother and a Jewish father.  Both of Edelstein’s parents converted to Christianity, and his father is now a Russian Orthodox priest. Edelstein was raised by his maternal grandparents. 

No one knew that Netanyahu was a Levite until 2011 when a Likud conference was held in Tzfat (Safed). At the afternoon prayers, the rabbi asked if there was a Levite for the appropriate portion of the Torah reading and Netanyahu announced that he was a Levite. It is now common knowledge however it is significant that he first made this known in Tzfat, which means ‘to look out over.’ It was so named since it overlooks the upper Galilee which is prophesied to be the first pace the Messiah will be revealed.

Though Netanyahu’s main rival, Benny Gantz, is not a Levite, he seems to aspire to be of that tribe. During an interview with Walla news that was published on Sunday, Gantz was asked by an Orthodox reporter about his many malaprops and misspeaks. Gantz replied by comparing his gaffs to Moses’ speech impediment.

“We both know that Moses stuttered and needed [his brother] Aaron to speak for him, but he was a great leader,” Gantz replied. “We’ll get there.”

Gantz was criticized by MK Yisrael Eichler (United Torah Judaism) who said: “Moses accompanied Aaron the High Priest who blessed the Jewish people with love. And not to even draw a comparison but Gantz accompanied Balaam to curse the Jewish people with world hatred.”