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February 01
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Israel's new finance minister says his economic strategy will be based on religious beliefs as outlined in the Torah, predicting it will help the country prosper, Reuters reported.

Bezalel Smotrich, head of the far-right Religious Zionism party, said that as finance minister he would delve deeply into the inner workings of the economy. However, he noted that the Torah teaches that obedience to God brings prosperity.

He also suggested changing the spending priorities of the new government, including significantly increasing the budget for religious research.

Smotrich was appointed by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu as finance minister for two years. He will then be replaced by Aryeh Deri, who heads the ultra-Orthodox party.

Netanyahu won a parliamentary majority on Thursday after winning the November 1 election, but he has yet to finalize coalition agreements. Until he does, the interim government remains in power.

Smotrich is better known for his hard-line politics than his economic views, which, according to his party's platform, are fiscally conservative.

He spoke about his approach in an interview with the ultra-Orthodox magazine Mishpacha.

"They tried many economic theories, right? They tried capitalism, they tried socialism. There is one thing they didn't try: 'if you obey'," Smotrich said, referring to Jewish scripture that calls on people to follow God's will."

He said believers, including himself, believed that the more Israel promotes Torah, Judaism, kindness and solidarity, then God will give us great abundance.

In a separate interview with the religious news site Kikar Hashabat, Smotrich said he expected new priorities from the new government, adding that state funding for religious seminaries would "grow significantly."

Instead of compulsory military service, many ultra-Orthodox men are granted exemptions to attend religious schools, a point of contention among Israelis. At the same time, according to the government, only about half of the ultra-Orthodox men work. Many prefer to devote their time to Torah study.

Israel's central bank has stated that this is draining the economy, and has recommended incentives to attract more ultra-Orthodox men into the labor market.

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