By Larry Gordon

To help some of our local shuls mark the state of Israel’s 65th Independence Day, the 5 Towns Jewish Times and Congregation Beth Sholom of Lawrence are hosting newly elected Member of Knesset Rabbi Dov Lipman of the Yesh Atid party, Israel’s second largest political party led by former TV journalist, Yair Lapid.  Rabbi Lipman will be speaking to the community at several venues over next Shabbos and will deliver the drasha from the pulpit at Beth Sholom on Shabbos morning, April 13.

Today at the very beginning of his political career, Dov Lipman, 41, is perhaps the one figure in Israel who most represents a transitional Israel on the cusp of possible dramatic change.  Lipman is number 17 on the Yesh Atid party list that today owns 19 seats in the current Knesset and along with Bayit HaYehudi, Bibi Netanayhu’s newest governing and coalition partners.

The most challenging and perhaps contentious issue facing Israel today is the changing role of the ultra-Orthodox or Chareidi community in the country.  As an immigrant from the US and a graduate and recipient of his Rabbinical ordination or smicha from Yeshiva Ner Yisrael in Baltimore and a resident of Bet Shemesh, it seems and it may indeed be so that a great deal of the changes in today;s Israel revolve around MK Lipman.

Lipman says in a phone conversation we had the day after Pesach that there is way too much of a sectarian divide in Israel and that the issue has gone unaddressed for far too long.  He says that neglecting the substance of the Jewishness of the majority of Israeli’s is unhealthy and has damaged Israel society to a great degree.  Because of the strictures of the fashion in which halacha has been interpreted all these years in Israel it seems that there has been no choice but to leave large segments of Israeli society that is not known for their religious observance, neglected and outside the realm of what can perhaps be best referred to as national religious observance.

And this is precisely where the problems begin.  Those inside as well as outside of government feel a betrayal by possibly handing over the legislation of religious matters to government rather than keeping it strictly inside the domain of the Orthodox rabbinate.  Rabbi Lipman will be addressing this and other issues during his several speaking engagements here in New York next week and next Shabbos here in the 5 Towns.

The objective of the new government is to break the logjam or the downward spiral that religion seems to be experiencing in Israel today.  “This is not at all about compromising halacha,” Lipman says. “Judaism in Israel can flourish without compromising or changing halacha,” he says.  At the same time Lipman adds, that we cannot make the kind of progress we need to make by having one segment of religious society trying to force everyone to be just like them.

This issue that also has attached to it the matter of integrating the Chareidi community into doing national service, joining the IDF and eventually joining the workforce is part of the effort of moving the larger population in the direction of unity but—for now anyway—also being mired in significant controversy.

And the issues facing the new government, the religious as well as the overall population are legion.  One of the previously seemingly insurmountable problems facing todays Israel is the matter of the great number of Russian immigrants who reside in Israel but who are not considered Jewish according to halacha, Jewish law.

“We have 300,000 people living in Israel today who were persecuted in Russia for being Jews and now they are ostracized in Israel because they are not Jewish,” Rabbi Lipman says.  He describes that status quo as untenable and one of the great issues that requires movement and what he describes as flexibility within the parameters of halacha.

On one level, however, it seems to an outside observer, a product of a solid Torah education that there is a fundamental contradiction between the idea of living according to Torah law and also applying principles of compromise to the lifestyle that such a commitment dictates.   On this matter, Lipman points out that there are many solidly grounded positions in Jewish law that adhere to more of “a loosely structured” interpretation of the law so that it may be inclusive and relevant to a greater number of Jews.

As an example he cites the matter of Russians in Israel whom the chief Rabbinate determined were not Jews according to Jewish law.  Still this population made aliya to Israel under the Law of Return that allows only Jews automatic citizenship in the state of Israel by virtue of two things—their arrival in the country and their being Jewish. The youth amongst this population serves in the IDF and many consider themselves Jews.

At the same time though they live in and identify with life in a country that is predominantly Jewish, they are told if the wish to be considered Jews they will have to go through a traditional halachic conversion process.  Many amongst this large group are reluctant to do so because they believed that they were Jews and are disappointed that they are being treated this way in the Jewish homeland.

“There is a psak from Rav Ovadya Yosef that says that a person whose father is or was Jewish does not have to go through as rigorous conversion process as someone who is interested in converting and whose parents are both not Jews,” MK Lipman says.  He explains that the area in which the rules are somewhat loosened according to this Rabbinical decision is on the matter of the need  of being fully acceptant of the full gamut of Mitzvos which in Israel is a key sticking point on matters of conversion.

He explains that there is an even earlier halchic opinion that says that immersing in a mikva as part of  the process is not necessarily required because, Lipman says, it is widely accepted that all our ancestors immersed in a mikva as part of the formation and establishment of the Jewish people prior to accepting the Torah at Mount Sinai.

It is precisely with long neglected burring issues like these that controversy erupts and Lipman get accused by those on the religious right or within the Chareidi establishment of making an attempt to undermine or change Jewish law.

But that is the furthest thing from reality, Dov Lipman says.   On the matter of Yeshiva students doing national service with an option of joining the IDF, MK Lipman says that it may be a little uncomfortable or even difficult for a short while, but he is certain as are the Rabbinic authorities that he consults, that this is the best thing for the health and vitality of the younger Chareidi generation and the overall future of Israeli society.

So as it is today, Dov Lipman who hails from Silver Spring, Maryland and who made aliya with his family just eight year ago stands as just about the lone Chareidi Jew in today’s government.

On the matter of the political jockeying for position that left United Torah Judaism and Shas out of the governing coalition, Lipman says that this is just politics and that despite the cosmetic differences the parties are all still working together to effect change.

Dov Lipman arrives in New York on Tuesday.  He will be speaking at the 92nd Street Y on Thursday night and will be in the 5 Towns for Shabbos speaking Shabbos morning at Beth Sholom and Shabbos afternoon at the Irving Place Minyan in Woodmere.  On Friday he will be addressing high school students at HAFTR, DRS and Rambam Mesivta.

This is of course Rabbi Lipman’s first trip to the US as a member of the Israel government.   He says that the type of unity he seeks amongst Jews transcends the borders of the state of Israel  and it is indeed closer ties that he hopes to forge between American Jews and Israel.  Lipman is a member of the Knesset Committee charged with dealing with Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs.  On that basis this should be the first of many trips he makes to the US in his capacity as an Israeli official.  His upcoming visit is much anticipated, promises to be most fascinating and indeed historic.


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