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Feb 17, 2013

Interview with MK Rabbi Dov Lipman

Congratulations on the tremendous success of Yesh Atid in the elections, and to you specifically for winning a Knesset seat. Thank you for taking the time out of what I am sure is definitely a busy schedule to be interviewed and share with us some of your thoughts and reflections.

MKRDL: It is my pleasure.  It is important for your readers to have these important questions answered.

1.       So, have things calmed down? How was your first day, and first week, in the Knesset? Is it down to the nitty gritty work now or is it still very emotional?

MKRDL: Things actually get busier and busier.  My first day was focused on getting my office in order and learning the basics about the computer system, the phone system, when the minyanim are, etc.  The next day we got right to work with meetings and planning our agenda.  It continues to be emotional every time we turn the corner and I see the building which is where I work, but then you walk in and the nitty gritty work begins right away and that last all day.  As you pass the guards on the way out and wish them a good night you feel the emotion again.  

2.        In the past you have worked very hard at a local level in Bet Shemesh. How do you see your relationship with local work continuing once you are in the Knesset?

MKRDL: I view myself as the MK for Bet Shemesh.  Let's remember, I am the first MK in the history of the city and the city's residents expect me to serve them - regardless of whether people voted for me or not.  I have given the last few years of my life to trying to make things better in Bet Shemesh and this won't change.  I have been in touch with city leaders about how I can help the city and will be at all important city events.  

3.      How do you see your future in the Knesset as a venue for helping Bet Shemesh with its needs?

MKRDL: I already spoke about the needs of Bet Shemesh during my inaugural speech from the Knesset podium.  There are issues related to highway 38, future neighborhoods being constructed, absorption, and schools in which I can be of help - aside from being available to help people with their personal needs.   

4.    Can you give us any hint as to what is going on behind the scenes with the intriguing coalition negotiations that have begun? Do you have any indication what the results might be in regards to what type of coalition will most likely be formed?

MKRDL: I can say with clarity that Yesh Atid is prepared to lead the opposition if the Prime Minister decides not to accept our plan regarding equality in national service.  The government that he will form without us is not likely to last long and we believe we will come roaring back with more mandates after the next elections which would come soon.  There is an historic opportunity to make real and necessary changes, especially with Naftali Bennet agreeing with Yesh Atid regarding some of these core issues.  There is no discussion regarding portfolios and Yesh Atid is looking for a government which will enable it to follow through on its promises to its voters. 

5.  Will you be earmarked by Yair Lapid, perhaps because of the extraordinary effort you put forth in the campaign season, to have a special role or appointment in the upcoming Knesset session?

MKRDL: Serving as an MK is already a special role.  There is so much that can be done in this role and I am not looking for more.  There are certain committees in which I would be a natural fit and can do the most and I hope that materializes.  

6.  How will you, or perhaps yesh Atid, get involved in the municipal election season that is soon going to begin in Bet Shemesh?

MKRDL: Yesh Atid is running candidates in municipal elections throughout the country but I don't see that happening in Bet Shemesh.  I am working very hard to make sure there is one candidate in the general population (moderate ultra-Orthodox through secular) and then I will do whatever I can to help that candidate get elected.  

7.  Will Yesh Atid begin forming municipal alliances throughout the country and running candidates for municipal positions and mayorships or is Yesh Atid concentrating only on the national scene for now?

MKRDL: There is a person whose full time position relates to municipal elections and MK Meir Cohen (former mayor of Dimona) is overseeing this as well.

8. can you elaborate about where you (Yesh Atid) stand on the big issues - conversion, peace negotiations, and the "shivyon b'netel"

a. conversions - do you see a solution that will be acceptable to all, considering the orthodox will most likely never accept conservative and reform conversions. do you see them compromising on that when they never before have?

MKRDL:  I believe that we can work together to create a universal conversion policy which would mean relying on more lenient but legitimate opinions on the Orthodox side, and this would mean that not all conversions are accepted on the non-Orthodox side.  The first issue which must be addressed is zera yisrael which is a huge percentage of them.

b peace - you have been quoted as being supportive of land concessions  is that a pragmatic position? why do you support it? do you think the Palestinians are finally ready to sit down and accept a peace agreement?

MKRDL:  I don't "support" giving up land in Eretz Yisrael.  There is a reality on the ground called the Palestinians.  We cannot ignore it.  Throwing up our hands and saying "there is no solution" means we are looking at our children in the eyes and saying "here, the problem is yours.  You deal with it but with millions of more Palestinians."  We may never come to an agreement but we have to try and it will take time - not for a happy marriage with the Palestinians but a necessary divorce.  If, and I emphasize if, we reach a point where we have an internationally backed agreement which they will sign (not like Gush Katif which was unilateral) which includes our terms including an undivided Yerushalayim, then I believe we would have to accept it even though that that means the painful giving up of Jewish homes and land.

c. how can the haredi parties come down off their position and compromise to your position of accepting a 5 year exemption and then starting to send their boys to the army? why do you think you (yesh atid) have the power to persuade them to compromise on something they were never before willing to?

MKRDL:  Our plan does not say that everyone has to serve in the army.  The chareidi political leadership is distorting our plan and creating fear in the chareidi community.  First of all, those who do serve in the army will be able to do so in special programs that are created over the next five years which enable them to combine Torah learning and service.  Second, those who don't serve in the army will be able to enter Torah learning programs which include a period of time with joint Torah learning and national service - even within the chareidi community.  Third, the really talented learners will receive a blanket exemption and will focus on learning alone.  This notion that the only ones who are truly learning are those who do nothing else but learn is a complete distortion of who we have been throughout our history.  Since when is the person who combines Torah learning with other pursuits not learning?  I did that when I was in Ner Yisrael and there was plenty of Torah learning and the yeshiva produces Talmidei Chachamim of the highest caliber.

9. how do you see Yesh Atid being different than all the other "centrist" parties that have formed over the years, sometimes successfully in their initial attempts, and then disappeared fairly quickly? Do you see yesh Atid learning from the mistakes of those other parties and becoming a long-term player in Israeli politics? What did all those other parties do wrong, that yesh Atid is going to avoid doing?

MKRDL:  Yes, I see Yesh Atid lasting for a long time.  This is not a party of former MK's from other parties who jumped ship to find another political home and prolong their careers.  This is a party which was put together very carefully with a process of turning the list into a family.  We have tremendous unity of purpose and all left other careers in order to make real changes and bring new politics.  Just look at who is sitting in the Knesset chamber when it is in session and you will already see the difference - Yesh Atid is the only party in which all MK's show up with minor exceptions here and there because of other Knesset business.  

10. How busy is a person working in the Knesset? Do you still have time to teach or did you have to give that up? Are you always there or is much of your work outside the walls of the Knesset? Can you describe the "typical" day in the life of  Knesset Member?

MKRDL:  It has been non-stop for me.  Between meetings, interviews, planning sessions, answering e-mails and Knesset sessions it is more than a full time job.  I am in the Knesset almost every day and people can actually monitor our attendance from the Knesset web site.  As we walk in the doors, guards put it into the computer that we are in the building and they mark it when we leave.  A typical week for me looks as follows:

  • Sunday - morning we have constituent meetings.  People can contact my office to arrange a meeting

            - I then meet with my staff regarding the follow up steps to those meetings
            - in the afternoon I host groups and Jewish leaders

  • Monday - morning is the committee meetings, early afternoon is our party meeting, 4pm the Knesset meets in the chamber, this can last into the night hours

  • Tuesday - morning is planning legislative agenda with my staff, midday meetings with the focus groups (shdulot) I am part of or started 

               4pm the Knesset meets in the chamber - this can last into the nighttime hours

  • Wednesday - Knesset meets at 11 in the chamber - beforehand we have prep because many votes are brought during this session

                   - afternoon meetings with outside groups, visiting leaders, and other MK's

  • Thursday - this is generally the day for MK's to be out in the field visiting site, learning about legislation, assisting constituents

          I will fill these days with meetings and tours to learn more, I will also be in the Knesset

  • Friday - mornings there are usually events to attend throughout the country

Mincha every day at the Knesset is at 12:30p.m. or 1:30p.m.
Evenings throughout the week are also filled with many events  

11. Why do so few MKs actually show up to the Knesset? Do you plan on being there for the votes that are famously empty or will much of your work take you outside of the Knesset?

MKRDL:  It is certainly troubling and I view it as my job and will be there whenever I don't have something Knesset related outside the building.  I plan on being in the chamber for every session and to be there for every vote.

12. After hearing Yair Lapid yesterday talk about pushing Reform Judaism in Israel and civil marriage, what are your thoughts on the issue? Will it not create a further rift and drive the orthodox to establish a "sefer yuchsin" as they have considered in the past, and only marry according to the listings in the registry? Will you, as an Orthodox (or Haredi) Rabbi, support pushing growth of Reform Judaism?

MKRDL:  While I am passionate about my Orthodoxy and have written books about it, we cannot force people to do what we believe.  We have pushed people further and further away from Judaism.  If the country decides that it won't support any religious services then that is fine.  But I see no justification for supporting the services of some and not others in a democracy.  Regarding marriages, I actually believe that forcing people into Kiddusin and Nesuin when they don't want it actually causes worse halachic problems when they leave those marriages without a halachic process.  At the same time that we do this, we should change the Rabbanut to be far more embracing, loving, caring, and user friendly and this will without a doubt draw people to make use of the rabbanut.  I meet secular people throughout the country who say, "I hate Judaism and I hate that I hate Judaism."   It is time for us to begin the process of creating a strong and proud Judaism in Israel and taking these bold steps will begin that process.

One last word:  Yair Lapid, a secular icon (who believes in G-d and appreciates the richness and value of Torah), stood up and said to the religious world, "Let's work together."  I believe that din v'cheshbon will have to be given by all who mock that call and turn away from it.  Every source about geulah says that one thing will bring it - unity.  And it is right there in front of our eyes.  We have to grab it.  It is time to stop looking at things as "us versus them" since most on the secular side don't see it that way anymore.  In the last two days, more words of Torah have been shared in the Knesset chamber than in any two day period in its history - and it came from Yesh Atid MK's - both religious and secular.  When we had a get together with our spouses at Yair Lapid's house, we all stood in a circle and sang Adon Olam and Shir Hamaalos.  Something special is happening and I hope people open their eyes to see it, join it, applaud it, and daven for it to succeed.

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  1. Brilliant. This is why Yesh Atid did so well in the election. They are plain spoken and make sense.

  2. Is it true that the Chareidi MK's didn't count him for a Minyan?

    1. a Hebrew blogger posted such an anonymous claim on his site the other day. I linked to it, with Lipman's response that ""I have no idea if it is true and I am not going to spend time on such speculation. It is tragic that we have reached a point where there is even discussion of this kind. I am busy focusing on working for the people of Israel and especially to help the chareidi population."
      Stay Connected to your MailBox when on the move, you go with BlackBerry from Cellcom! Get access from your mobile device to your mailbox anytime, when out and about."

  3. is it true that lippman went to the new york times with the orot story with no rabbinic backing causing an even more masssive chilul Hashem?

    1. I dont know the relevance of this question, but I also dont know the answer. you'd have to ask him.

    2. The extremists' behavior was the Chilul Hashem. Going to the media stopped it.

    3. Is it true that Rabbi Lipman stepped up and acted like a man and a mentch by publicizing an intolerable situation of abuse against innocent young girls, thereby helping to bring the situation to an end, while other community leaders, and particularly those rabbis whose backing "Jack" thinks he should have sought, stood silently by instead of protesting?

      Good interview, Rafi. Go get 'em, Rabbi/MK Lipman!

  4. Is his Semicha framed and sitting next to his Hopkins diploma?

  5. what an amazing country we live in. a new immigrant can move here, learn the language, integrate and become a member of parliament within a decade! it's a proud reality, regardless if you agree with Dov Lipman or not.

  6. I'm shocked that someone who is obviously intelligent and educated still thinks, after all our experience, that land for peace will work.

    1. We know that one can be a great guy and do lots of mitzvot, but at the end of the day be treacherous to Eretz Yisrael and be damned. May all those who even think pragmatically, do tshuva. Eretz Yisrael is not ours to negotiate the exact same way that we cannot negotiate any other mitzva for 'peice'.

  7. Two education-related questions for Yesh Atid (if you get a chance to follow up with Rabbi Lipman):

    1) It's well known that Yair Lapid never received a high school diploma. Given that he's pushing a domestic agenda, of which education is an important part, has he ever explained why he didn't get his diploma? This is not an ad hominem attack. Political leaders, especially leaders of parties are, like it or not, role models. What kind of message is he sending about the importance of education having not completed basic studies, and now gearing up to be PM in four years?

    2) Dr. Calderon, in her innagural speech, made reference to the fact that while those who work and serve in the army feel that they are carrying the physical burden of the country, those who learn full time feel that they are carrying the spiritual burden of the country, the implication being that both sides are correct. Given that this is the case, and that Yesh Atid will not compromise on the national-service burden-sharing part of its platform, how come we haven't heard anything about their refusal to compromise on an educational reform which introduces Torah to the curriculum? From Dr. Calderon's remarks (and the warm and "viral" response her speech received), it would seem that both would be equally important to the party.

    1. Yoni said "those who learn full time feel that they are carrying the spiritual burden of the country". There is little evidence that this is true and much evidence to the contrary. Halevi those who are dedicated to learning would demonstrate in some way, any way, that they actually care about the country. (They often do demonstrate the opposite.)

      Furthermore, the existence of programs like Hesdar completely invalidates the comparison as hesdar proves that one can do all things: learn to protect the country, fight to protect the country and then go to work. The Chareidi leadership and media keep trying to foist the specious nonsense on us that it's a zero sum game: either you learn or serve. And of course that is completely false. So question 2 is a non-starter and I wouldn't bother Dov with it.

    2. Dr. Calderon said it. I was only quoting her. The point I was making was not whether or not they are carrying a burden (I hate that word, as if serving your country is a burden; in any event, I wrote, and Dr. Calderon said, that they feel like they are carrying the burden), but that in her speech, Dr. Calderon equated the importance of both serving the country physically (through the army/national service and participation in its economy) and spiritually.

    3. I'll rephrase it a bit simpler:
      Dr. Calderon equated Torah learning with other forms of serving the country (even if, in practice, the way many people who learn full time doesn't serve the country anywhere as near as it should). Why does Kadima insist that "equal service" is a requirement for their entering the coalition, but not strengthening Torah education?

      As someone who is being "advertised" (forgive the terminology, but I can't think of a better word right now) by his party as being chareidi, the question increasing Torah education should not be something which "bothers" Dov. Quite the contrary - I would think that it would be an important issue for him. It's not entirely clear to me why you have a problem with it either, nor why the chariedi system is even relevant here. (I only brought it up tangentially since it was how it was brought up by a member of Yesh Atid.)

  8. Now that I've thought about Yoni's first question more, I don't see the issue. I've also heard that Lapid didn't graduate, but have not taken the time to verify if it's true and if it is why. However, assuming its true, for starters, he has certainly overcome it and become quite successful in many areas.

    Further, while it would be lovely if our leaders were perfect role models in all areas, most of them are human and are not. And in some ways, having a deficiency in an area can help make a person more of an expert in trying to remedy that deficiency in others. Given that a large number of Israelis do drop out of high school it may be better to have someone advocating for education who understands the problem from the inside. Some of the best Kiruv workers are ones who have been Mekarved themselves. Very often the best advocates are the ones who truly understand, from personal experience, what they are advocating for. Think of parents who didn't finish high school or go to college and often how much harder to work to make sure their children have what they didn't. As parents are the ultimate role models, it's evident that that the caring for the future far outweighs the personal deficiency of the past.

    So to answer Yoni's question, the kind of message sent depends on the message itself and how its presented and not so much on the messenger's past. And I think Yoni need to do some soul searching and as himself if maybe this was more "ad hominem" than he thinks.

    1. The fact that he was able to "overcome" (your word) his lack of a complete high school education to get to where he is today only strengthens the questions. How could he be touting the importance of an education when he didn't even complete a basic one himself, without even addressing as to why that is (maybe he missed one exam because of an illness, but his education was otherwise complete, something like that)?

      The comparison to kiruv seems a bit out of place. In that case, someone who has taken a journey is serving as a guide to those beginning a similar path. However, we don't want to encourage people to take the path Lapid did (i.e., to skip part of their high school education). In fact, we would probably want to show how they would be better off with it, not without it. (Your statement that "[v]ery often the best advocates are the ones who truly understand, from personal experience, what they are advocating for" is true, but usually their effectiveness comes from having suffered from their decisions, not having succeeded despite having made them; having not completed his education, Lapid lacks a certain amount of experience in the thing he is advocating for).

      Realize also that his educational plan is not to keep kids in school (although that may be a part of it), but concerns the content of the education to be given. Without explanation as to why he didn't view his own education as important, he lacks a certain degree of credibility in preaching the importance of education.

      You can argue that his educational background shouldn't matter. But to say that dropping out of high school before "become quite successful in many areas" (and not too long afterwards, if I'm not mistaken) actually gives him credibility when it comes to education is a very tough sell.

      Your point about how the message is sent is exactly my point. Especially given how much Israeli parties are tied together with the personalities leading the various parties (most people who voted party X say that they voted for the party leader), a message addressing how is education is lacking wouldn't seem out of line.

    2. And I don't think that your disagreeing with me requires me to do soul searching, but I appreciate your concern.

  9. MKRDL: While I am passionate about my Orthodoxy and have written books about it, we cannot force people to do what we believe.

    It's painful to watch someone with a yarmulke on their head encourage Jews to violate halocha. The one that will need to give a din vcheshbon is Dov. I refuse to give him any kind of rabbinic title after such disgraceful comments.

    1. I dont understand. you are of the opinion that we must force people to do what we believe as far as keeping mitzvis? God gives free will but we are obligated to take it away?
      Please explain

    2. It's comparable to the Rambam's psak regarding a husband that refuses to give a get. We force him to voluntarily give.

      The response to that will be that it is not comparable as that is in a halachic state and the medina is a democracy. I don't particularly care. The Torah is not democratic. I'd much prefer someone does the right thing when forced than do the wrong thing voluntarily. Where to draw the line and how practical that is without ticking off too many people is another discussion. But in all scenarios, I am vehemently against giving any kind of recognition to the reform religion.

  10. its not comparable. that is a specific situation, and it is only beis din that can force the get - not just anybody. even if someone would be given the power to force others to keep mitzvos, it would only be the beis din, or specifically a sanhedrin. I dont believe we, as individuals, have the right or the ability to demand others keep anything specific. we can try to influence, but we cannot force.

    1. A democracy is purposely made of up interest groups with different and often opposing interests and needs. Keeping of halocha to the extent possible, should be no less an interest than any other groups' interest. Other sectors of society would prefer not to keep halocha. So in a democracy a compromise is made that we can all live with. In the modern state of Israel, that has meant that chuppos, kevuros, gerushin, the rabbanut, are all nominally Orthodox. That is what we refer to as the status quo. I don't believe it is unreasonable or unjustifiable.

    2. then I misunderstood what you were saying earlier. I didnt realize you were referring to the status quo and keeping a compromise position that others must respect. I understood you to be saying we must force everyone to keep torah umitzvos in general.

    3. Yes, I was referring to the status quo, as that is what is under attack here by the left and for some bizarre reason, some MKs that identify with the Torah and even Charedism. The thing about the status quo is that nobody likes it. But at least most are able to live with it. It's the best of an unfortunate situation.

  11. Rafi--great interview. I think it would be very interesting were you to contact R. Dov's roshei yeshiva and rebbeim at Ner Yisroel to hear their reactions to their talmid's meteoric rise into Israeli society and his tremendous potential of being mekadesh shem shamayim in Israel and the entire world. I am also curious to hear what they think about his policies and if they consult with him.

    Kol tuv,


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