American-born MK on U.S. speaking tour
Dov Lipman is coming to the United States this week for the first time without a U.S. passport.
As a precondition for joining the Israeli government as a Member of Knesset, Lipman, 41, had to make the troubling decision to renounce his American citizenship.
As he told The Times of Israel, he cried at the ceremony when he said, “I renounce my U.S. citizenship with free will and without coercion.”
But that’s done. Now the newly elected M.K. is looking to the future as an Israeli public official.
In a Chronicle interview via Skype on April 3, Lipman, who is beginning a U.S. speaking tour, discussed his career shift from teaching to politics, his own plans and those of his party, Yesh Atid.
The Knesset (parliament) that was elected this past January is a unique one. According to Lipman, 48 of the 120 members elected — one-third of the total body — are freshmen. All 19 members of his own party are new to the assembly.
Lipman himself is haredi (ultra-Orthodox) and one of two rabbis elected with his party, which is something of a unique amalgam. Headed by Yair Lapid, a veteran television journalist and son of the late Shinui party leader Josef “Tommy” Lapid, he crafted his list carefully to include members from a variety of demographic groups: English speakers living in Israel, Ethiopians, secular, religious and disabled.
For Lipman, joining a secular party as a religious Jew has been an experience.
“Basically, we have said that we agree on about 80 percent” of the issues, he said. On the remaining 20 percent, “let’s have dialogue and discussion. [For] all difficult issues we will sit and work them out.”
This is the first Israeli coalition government in a long while to be formed without the aid of haredi parties, so Lipman, as a haredi Jew elected in a secular party, has a unique role to play. A self-described moderate haredi, he believes haredi parties “do not represent the entire haredi population” and have a “more extreme approach to Orthodox and haredi Judaism” than he.
He stressed the importance of being “someone who supports our family with dignity,” citing the traditional wording of the ketuba (the Jewish marriage
“[Jews have] always been people who were well educated, well versed in science and mathematics,” Lipman said. He would like to see more of that in the haredi community.
To that end, he removed his children from the local schools in Beit Shemesh because he wanted them to have more educational options.
“It’s not fair to our children to be in a system that wasn’t going to give them the general studies they need to succeed professionally,” he said, noting his teenage son is learning extensive Torah along with general studies and music.
“He can be a huge Torah scholar but have every opportunity for career and army service,” Lipman said.
He said the haredi educational system should set the same goals as the religious Zionist framework — to “be part of the Jewish people and broader Israeli society and to join the workforce.”
In the Knesset, Lipman is assigned to a task force to help haredim enter the workforce. He sees the panel as “a lobbying force” for his segment of the population, and believes he can play a significant role in transforming the workforce.
Lipman’s moderate views also extend to women and their role in public life. “We have to separate between two things: halacha (Jewish law) and the way things have been done,” he said. “The latter is not ironclad, and can be adjusted and adapted.”
For example, he cited the education of women in the Jewish world and the opening of the Beis Yaakov network of Jewish schools for women under the auspices of Rabbi Israel Meir Ha-Cohen.
“Women are leaders,” Lipman said. “Women are full and capable [and are] able to be the greatest of leaders.” He noted that eight of the 19 MKs from his own party are women, as are 27 members of the entire Knesset.
Asked about his views on religion and politics, Lipman said that “religion should be separate from politics but not from the state. We define ourselves as a Jewish state, but also Jewish and democratic state.
“I can’t force what I believe on someone else, he added. “I can’t force something on others in a Jewish and democratic country.”
Lipman’s first piece of legislation will relate to “core Jewish values that people from a broad range of parties can relate around,” in this case cruelty to animals. He is trying to pass a bill banning the import of foie gras, which is produced when ducks or geese are force-fed and their livers are distended. It is already illegal to produce the product in Israel.
Though no longer a U.S. citizen, Lipman credits his “American values” — including tolerance and “living at peace even if we disagree” — for motivating him to do the work he is taking on in Israel.
(Beth Kissileff is the author of the forthcoming “Reading Genesis,” Continuum Books, 2013. Her writing has appeared in the Huffington Post, NYTimes.com, Slate.com, WashingtonPost.com, the Forward, New York Jewish Week, Hadassah, Moment and other publications.)