Dov Lipman’s introduction to the conundrum of the ultra-Orthodox in modern Israel began more than two decades ago, when he was a 19-year-old American student in a Jerusalem yeshiva. It was during the gulf war, with Scud missiles threatening Tel Aviv, yet the prayer for Israeli soldiers that is commonly said daily in synagogues worldwide was not recited at the school.
“I couldn’t understand any ideology that justified living here and not praying for the soldiers who are risking their lives for us to be here,” said Mr. Lipman, who grew up in Maryland. But when he questioned the yeshiva rabbis about it, he said “they had no answer” beyond “it’s complicated - it’s politics.”
Now, Mr. Lipman is playing a critical role in trying to unravel those complicated politics and integrate the insular ultra-Orthodox into the broader society. They have long lived a world apart: they attend separate schools with a curriculum short on math, science and English; rarely serve in the military; and have large families living on welfare because men study Torah rather than work. He was among the 19 people elected to the Israeli Parliament last month from the new Yesh Atid Party, whose primary platform is to “equalize the burden” between the ultra-Orthodox, known here as Haredim, and the rest of society.
But unlike the party’s secular leader - and the vast majority of its voters - Mr. Lipman, an ordained rabbi, has an ultra-Orthodox background and has tried to position himself as a constructive critic from within.
“I share the same value system,” Rabbi Lipman said, citing the importance of studying Torah, the “fears about societal influence” and the desire to limit interaction between men and women. “The Haredim have done themselves a disservice by saying it’s us against them and we will not be part of Israeli society.”
Sworn in on Tuesday as one of 48 first-time lawmakers - the most since the earliest days of Israeli independence - Rabbi Lipman, 41, is the first American-born member of Parliament since Rabbi Meir Kehane was elected in 1984. The new 120-seat body also has more Orthodox members (39 of them) than ever and more women (27), including the first born in Ethiopia, and the youngest member ever elected, Stav Shaffir, who is 27 and was a leader of the 2011 social protest movement.
Rabbi Lipman, an educator and author of three books, is also the first legislator from Beit Shemesh, a city of 80,000 people halfway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv that became an international symbol of the Haredi conflict when a group of men spit at an 8-year-old girl on her way to school in late 2011 because they considered even her modest dress inappropriate. Rabbi Lipman’s activism after that episode and in other Beit Shemesh controversies paved the way for his political future, but also created many critics close to home.
He is beloved by many of the modern Orthodox in Beit Shemesh, but several Haredi leaders here questioned his legitimacy as a spokesman for their community, pointing out that the Yesh Atid Party received 1,273 of the city’s 29,593 votes. They also noted that Rabbi Lipman does not pray in a Haredi synagogue or send his children to Haredi schools, and said he did not understand the “nuances” of Haredi culture. Some have called him a “rabbi of Purim,” a holiday in which children don costumes.
“He has created a kind of Haredi that allows him to don the black kippa, wear the suit of a yeshiva student, while being part of a party with values that are opposite of the values of the Haredi sector,” said Moshe Abutbul, the ultra-Orthodox mayor of Beit Shemesh. “It is as though I would put on a white robe and call myself a doctor.”
More at NY Times: NYT: Rabbi Dov Lipman Seeks to Brid
Kol hakavod to Dov Lipman. He is facing a lot of opposition in Beit Shemesh, but he he has Babushka’s support! Yair Lapid is also to be supported for recruiting Haredim to become members of his party, in spite of his late father’s reputation as the Enemy of the Haredi sector.
It is a very sad thing that Dov Lipman has so many opponents in the Haredi sector. Israelis of all types: Secular, Haredi, Arab, need to learn to live and work together for goals they all want to achieve.