No calls on Shabbat: Bennett declines Putin’s Saturday phone calls

Bennett instructed his staff to decline Putin’s repeated phone calls over Shabbat.

By Lauren Marcus, World Israel News

Russian President Vladimir Putin unintentionally put Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s Shabbat observance to the test over the weekend, repeatedly phoning the premier on Saturday.

Bennett, who is Israel’s first religiously observant, Orthodox prime minister, had his team decline Putin’s calls on the Jewish day of rest.

Arutz Sheva reported that Bennett’s aides explained to the Russian president that Bennett only speaks over the phone on Shabbat regarding life-or-death matters that cannot be postponed until after sundown on Saturday evening.

Once Shabbat ended, Bennett accepted a call from Putin, who thanked him for the meeting. According to Arutz Sheva, the Russian president invited Bennett to visit St. Petersburg with his wife at a later date. Bennett reportedly accepted the invitation with enthusiasm.

Because Bennett’s Friday meeting in Sochi with Putin ran longer than expected, he remained in Russia in order to avoid desecrating Shabbat and flying on Friday evening.

Bennett was hosted by the local Jewish community for a Shabbat meal, spending time with Sochi’s Chabad emissary Rabbi Shlomo Lazar.

Soviet-born Housing Minister Ze’ev Elkin accompanied Bennett on the trip, serving as a translator for him and Putin.

There was a “very special atmosphere in the room” and “good chemistry” between Bennett and Putin, Elkin recalled, adding that what was originally slated to be a two hour meeting stretched into a five hour visit.

Putin took Bennett on a tour of the presidential palace, which Elkin said was an unprecedented act of hospitality on the part of the Russian leader.

“The fact that it happened in the first meeting [between the two men] is special,” he said.

Israel’s efforts to warm ties with Russia comes as the Biden administration places heavy pressure on the Jewish State to walk back its relationship with China.

“Russia is a very important player in our region, a kind of neighbor for us in the north,” Bennett wrote on Facebook on Sunday, referencing Moscow’s presence in Syria.

As such, our relationship with Russia is strategic, but also on an almost daily basis, and we need to maintain this direct and intimate conversation.,…Putin and I spoke about a wide range of issues, from his special relationship with the Jewish people to ways to deal with Islamic fundamentalism.”

In August, Bennett spent an unplanned Shabbat in Washington when a suicide bombing in Kabul delayed his meeting with President Joe Biden. The Prime Minister’s team transformed Bennett’s hotel into an impromptu synagogue.