Monday, February 23, 2015

Dov Lipman - Telling it Like it Is

Guest Post by Rabbi Dov Lipman
Israeli MK, Rabbi Dov Lipman
My admiration for Dov Lipman is well known to readers of this blog. He is a man of great courage. Where others speak… he does! He not only talks the talk, he walks the walk. Given an opportunity to serve his people… and his country he jumped at the chance. There too he walked the walk.Where some beg for charity to help the needy, he legislates opportunities for them to help themselves.

And what is his reward for all this? Scorn! He is scorned, ridiculed, and even condemned for apparently not walking in lockstep with the Charedi leadership; for joining hands with the ‘devil’ - Yair Lapid, head of Yesh Atid, the political party Charedim see as anti Torah.

While it’s true that Yesh Atid is not a religious party and some of its agenda is not necessarily Torah based, it is also true that it is the party that has been in the forefront of trying to bring the Charedi world into 21st century Israel… and participate as responsible citizens along with fellow Israelis who are not Charedi.

Who is Dov Lipman? What is his background? Does he really have the credentilas to speak as the Charedi  he often says he is? Here is a brief bio from the Wikipedia entry on him: 
Dov Lipman was born in Silver Spring, Maryland... He attended theYeshiva of Greater Washington in his hometown and completed his rabbinical studies at Yeshivas Ner Yisroel in Baltimore while in a concurrent program with the Johns Hopkins University, where he earned a master's degree in education. Lipman received ordination (smicha) from his Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Yaakov Weinberg. After marriage, Lipman spent two years at the Kollel in Cincinnati. He immigrated to Israel in 2004. 
This clearly indicates that his orientation is Charedi. Those who claim he is not are clearly misinformed. MK Rabbi Lipman has been kind enough to submit a post. I am honored to host it. It follows unedited in its entirety:

Yesh Atid has put out two videos (below) featuring issues related to the haredi community.  One relates to haredi employment and the other to haredim serving in the Israel Defense Forces.

Many are asking how a party like Yesh Atid can possibly bring haredi issues into the election campaign.  Wasn’t Yesh Atid destructive for the haredi community? I appreciate the opportunity to answer this question clearly with the facts so once and for all we can abolish the misconceptions.

Leading up to the passing of the legislation regarding the haredim and the draft, meetings were held with rabbis of the highest caliber in the haredi community.  In one of those meetings, a Rosh Yeshiva actually revealed that in his estimation, 60% of the young men in the yeshiva system throughout Israel don’t belong there beyond 3-4 years after high school because Torah study is not their one and only passion and they are not truly learning day and night. 

These rabbis all agreed that boys who are not truly studying day and night should go and serve in the army.  In addition, they said that there would have to be a demonstration no matter what was written in the law.  If they are unhappy with the law, there will be a major demonstration with fiery speeches to ignite the crowd.

If they are satisfied with the law, they will call the demonstration a “prayer rally” and there will be no speeches.  Just a public prayer.  When the law was being passed, a law which sets reasonable goals for numbers of haredi males between the ages of 18 and 24 that must serve (a few thousand out of 55,000!), the haredi community came out en masse for what the gedolim called, “a prayer rally.”  Enough said.

There was one issue which they took issue with regarding the law.  They were against the “criminal sanctions.”  Just to clarify, the law says that if the goals are not met, then a full draft will apply to haredim just like the rest of Israeli society with the elite masmidim not having to serve. It doesn’t mention jail.  It doesn’t mention arresting yeshiva boys.  It says the regular draft will apply.  Since for the rest of Israeli society, failure to show up when drafted is a criminal offense, the same would apply to haredim in that situation. 

The Yesh Atid platform did not have this component as part of the law.  We knew it would be an issue for the haredi world even if it was just theoretical but there will never be police entering yeshiva dormitories and arresting the boys.  So why was it included?

The government attorneys explained that the reason why we were writing a law to begin with was because the Supreme Court demanded that the Knesset pass a law with “equality.” If there was no clause in the law which mentioned the possibility of a full draft if the goals were not met, the law suits which would come on the heels of the law’s passage would not pass the test of the Supreme Court and we would be back to trying to draft another law. 

Some suggested that the law outline economic sanctions towards haredim who don’t serve as opposed to the implied criminal sanctions.  The problem with this suggestion is that, once again, the Supreme Court would turn to the Knesset and say the consequences of not serving must be equal for all – either criminal or economic.  Economic won’t work because then we would have a scenario in which the wealthy would avoid service and the poor would serve.  Thus, it was left as is with a regular draft if the goals are not met. 

There is one part of the law which is not sufficiently condoned in yeshiva circles.  It used to be that those who learned Torah were given an exemption from serving.  This law changes that.  All of am yisrael serves.  We are one people and no one is exempt from serving the nation.  The Torah learning of those who do not serve in the army or national service will be counted as their service to the Jewish people.  This is stipulated in the law.  Torah learning is now categorized as serving the state and the people of Israel by law and Yair Lapid has said that this is one of the accomplishments he is most proud of s in our short first term in office.   

As for the question of whether the law is working and whether haredim are coming to serve in the IDF as a result of it, I will turn to a source other than me, so as not to be accused of being subjective in my answer.  The following is from Israel National News on February 21 of this year: 
“Despite continuing protests by groups of haredi community members against IDF service, more members of the community are joining the army than ever before, Yonatan Bransky said.
 Branksy is the Chairman of the Netzah Yehuda organization, which consists of veterans of the IDF and rabbis in the haredi community. 
The protests, which have been going on for months, are the work of just a small, but loud, minority in the community, said Bransky. ‘I think most of the community just ignores them," he said. "Everyone understands the importance of working together.’ Among other things, Netzach Yehuda arranges ceremonies for haredi soldiers, such as their graduation from basic training to regular service units. The latest ceremony was held Thursday, and Bransky said that it went very well.

‘Our soldiers bring a great deal of pride to the community and to their families. Our job is to enable these soldiers to serve without compromising their religious lifestyle, and we are able to work with the army on this fully.’
The system works, he said. ‘Many of the soldiers we have worked with are now working and supporting families. They are our best ambassadors. We are here and ready to help any haredi soldier who joins the army to learn Torah, to provide spiritual support, and to find the appropriate service framework,’ he said.”
There is an element of the new draft law which is also less known but is more important than the haredim who are now serving in the IDF or national service.  Until this law was passed, anyone who did not serve was not allowed to legally join the workforce until they were post army age – close to 30 years old.  This meant that young men who did not want to learn day and night were somewhat trapped since ideologically they would not serve and legally they could not work.

In order to jumpstart a culture which values work, we wrote into this law that anyone who was 22 years or older when the law was passed, was free to legally go to work.  They did not have to stay in yeshiva or kollel simply because they had nowhere else to go.  And we put hundreds of millions of shekel into the state budget to provide job training and to help find jobs for any young haredi who wants to enter the job market and sustain their families with dignity. 

The result has been a 300% increase in haredim seeking employment.  I head the Knesset taskforce to help haredim enter the job market and the projects we have set up throughout the country receive an average of 500 resumes per month from haredim seeking to find work and support their families with dignity. 

These figures indicate nothing short of a quiet revolution on a street level for haredim who realize that they can be Talmudic scholars of the highest caliber, fervently committed religiously, and sustain their families with dignity.  We have met with CEO’s of major companies and convinced them that it is worth their while to hire haredim.  Reports are coming back to us about what wonderful employees the haredim are and, especially in the hi-tech realm, how creative they are in their thinking, no doubt the result of years of Talmudic study.  In addition, remarkable stories of unity are emerging as haredi and secular Israel meets for the first time in the workplace.  Haredim come to realize that secular Israelis are not as horrific as they had been led to believe and secular Israelis discover that haredim are wonderful people. 

The last element of our activity this past year relating to the haredi community is regarding general studies in schools.  Soon after the 2013 elections Adina bar Shalom, daughter of Rav Ovadiah Yosef, zt”l, told me that the most important thing we could do is to institute basic math and English into all haredi schools.  She explained that without those tools, when they try to get training at a later stage in institutions like her Haredi College of Jerusalem, they cannot catch up and 50% of the boys drop out. 
We cut budgets to schools that don’t teach basic general studies but promised full funding to any school which accepts basic general studies – subjects which don’t in any way contradict Torah values or tradition. 

Thank G-d, this past Elul, over 50 mainstream haredi schools opened with basic general studies and it is going so well that many more have asked to join this program for next year.  I visited some of these schools and remarkable things are happening. Many boys have said that their davening and Torah learning has improved because they have two hours a day of different subjects and because, in general they are happier knowing they are getting skills for a future which is not limited to full time Torah study alone.

Many in the haredi community have taken notice of the fact that positive changes are happening thanks to Yesh Atid’s efforts.  During this election campaign we have spent a lot of time walking through shopping malls all over Israel to engage, face to face, with voters.  At almost every stop I am approached by haredim who compliment me for the work we have done – to open more options for service, to help them get to work, or to provide their children with basic general studies. 

One haredi rabbi visited me in my home and thanked me saying, “You are saving us from ourselves.”  (I asked him why he can't say so in public and he responded that he can't because it will ruin his daughters for shidduchim and his sons will be tormented in Talmud Torah or expelled.)

So, yes – Yesh Atid will use the progress we have made in the haredi community as part of our election campaign and we hope to return to the Knesset with full force to continue this progress.  At least one haredi party has talked about getting back into power and "turning the clock back" on all the progress we have made in these past two years.  That would be catastrophic for the haredi community and makes these elections even more important and meaningful.  

With G-d’s help, I won’t stop my efforts until Israel is filled with haredi doctors, lawyers, accountants, hi-tech entrepreneurs and, yes, haredi generals in the army.  The haredi community will be far better off when that happens, and all of Israel will be better off - economically and, even more importantly spiritually - when that happens.

As our campaign slogan says: Yesh Atid – It’s a fight for our country!