The biggest surprise of Israel’s election results in January was the phenomenal success of Yesh Atid – a new party headed by Yair Lapid that won 19 seats and is now part of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s coalition government.
Yesh Atid is sometimes perceived as avidly secular, but two rabbis currently serve in the party as MKs. One is Rabbi Shai Piron, Israel’s new education minister. The other is Rabbi Dov Lipman, the first American-born Knesset member since Rabbi Meir Kahane. A graduate of Yeshivas Ner Yisroel and the holder of a Master’s degree in education from Johns Hopkins University, Rabbi Lipman made aliyah in 2004 and lives with his wife and four children in Beit Shemesh.
Last month, Rabbi Lipman was named a member of the Knesset’s Committee for Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs.
The Jewish Press: What is an Orthodox rabbi doing in a party that’s widely regarded as secular?
Rabbi Lipman: Before Yair Lapid even went into politics, he stood up before a haredi audience and said, “You won.” At the beginning of the state, he said, there was a battle for what Israel was going to be. Was it going to be secular, without Torah – possibly even without God? Or was it going to be religious-based? He said that we on the religious side have shown that there is no basis for us being in Israel without God. And then he said, “Now let’s work together.”
So from my perspective as someone who is haredi, to hear that call from a secular person and not to respond would be the worst thing that I could do. Therefore, I decided to see what Yair was all about, and I got to know him well. He’s not anti-religious, he’s not anti-Torah, he’s not anti-anything. He wants to work together on the things that we all agree about and move the country forward. He wants to break down the walls between the secular and the religious.
And that means what, for example?
We have a plan for national service – a compromise plan that takes into account the sensitivities of the haredi community. We also have an education plan which says, on the one hand, that there should be general studies on the religious side, but also that there should be more Jewish studies on the secular side.
We also want to help haredim get to the workforce. Can you imagine that the haredi parties have never had a task force to help haredim enter the workforce? I started that task force because I’m not interested in trying to keep us secluded and creating more walls.
There has been much hysteria over the proposed draft of haredim into the IDF. What is Yesh Atid’s precise position on this issue?
The starting point of Yesh Atid’s plan is that everybody serves – either in the military or in national service – but there will be exemptions for those who are the real iluyim.
The same way you have yeshivot hesder for the religious Zionist community, we will have similar programs for the haredi community that combine Torah learning and service. It will take five years to build those plans. In the interim, the plan states that any haredi who wants to leave yeshiva or kollel and go to work can do so – legally, as opposed to now where it is illegal [to work during the years of draft eligibility]. It is estimated that as many as 30 percent of haredim might take up that offer and leave tomorrow to learn a trade or go to work because [right now, economically] they’re starving.
Some people argue that the haredim aren’t bothering anyone. They just want to sit and learn and be left alone. Why can’t you respect their wishes?
Three answers. First, it’s destroying us as a people. Having a separate camp that does its own thing and doesn’t view itself as part of society is destructive. We were one people for 2,000 years, and if we were one people while we were persecuted, let’s be one people here in Israel. That’s number one.
Number two: Economically, it can’t work. You can’t have a society where this large of a population lives off the tax base but doesn’t contribute to it.