Netanyahu, His Books, and the Biblical Commandment for Kings of Israel

“Let it remain with him and let him read in it all his life, so that he may learn to revere Hashem his God, to observe faithfully every word of this Teaching as well as these laws.” Deuteronomy 17:19 (The Israel Bible™)

A recent article in Artuz Sheva, a Hebrew language news site, revealed the books behind the uber-successful prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu. The article, written by Aryeh Ehrilch of Mishpacha Magazine, analyzed a recent photo showing a meeting in the prime minister’s office between Netanyahu and his political rival, Benny Gantz. The author was surprised to discover that most of the books belonging to the prime minister were religious in nature. This was surprising since despite being a noted Bible scholar, Netanyahu has never claimed to be religious.

One set of books was a selection of teachings from Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the Lubavitch Chabad leader who died in 1994. Netanyahu had a personal connection with the rabbi who was the spiritual leader to millions of Orthodox Jews. The two first met in 1984 when Netanyahu was Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations.

Netanyahu’s shelves also held Halachic (Torah law) rulings from Rabbi Yitzchak Yosef, the Chief Sephardi Rabbi of Israel known as the Rishon Letzion. Another set of books were the collected letters of Rabbi Yisrael Bar Odessar title Ivay Hanahal (streams).  Another shelf contained a set of the Shulchan Aruch, the seminal work outlining Jewish observance of the Torah commandments written by Rabbi Yosef Karo first published in 1563. Also on the shelf was the Tanya, an early work of Hasidic philosophy, by Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the founder of Chabad Hasidism, first published in 1797, and the Sefer ha-Chinuch, a work that systematically discusses the 613 commandments of the Torah. It was published anonymously in 13th-century Spain. Also in the collection was the book Birkat HaChaim, a commentary by Rabbi Yosef Chaim of Baghdad on the haftorah portions, a series of selections from the Prophets and Writings that is publicly read in the synagogue on the Sabbath.

Some may see the collection of books as an aspect of the Biblical commandment for a King to write a Torah scroll and to have it with him at all times, as described in Deuteronomy.

When he is seated on his royal throne, he shall have a copy of this Teaching written for him on a scroll by the levitical Kohanim. Let it remain with him and let him read in it all his life, so that he may learn to revere Hashem his God, to observe faithfully every word of this Teaching as well as these laws. Deuteronomy 17:18-19