Jerusalem – Prior to my election to the 19th Knesset, I devoted time to writing books and columns. Since taking office, my time is consumed fulfilling my responsibilities as a member of the Knesset, and I no longer have the additional time to write.
Many people ask why I have not responded to the many negative articles and columns written about me in American Jewish media outlets. I must admit that I pay little attention to them. Now, however, a red line of falsehood, inaccuracy and distortion has been crossed, and therefore I am compelled to respond.
Someone forwarded a link to a column written about me by prolific charedi columnist Jonathan Rosenblum – a column replete with falsehoods. I will begin my response by addressing the most glaring inaccuracy.
Mr. Rosenblum wrote: “In a widely circulated video last year, Lipman is seen leading a woman whose attire guaranteed to provoke an angry response past a shul in the ‘Yerushalmi’ neighborhood of Ramat Bet Shemesh.”
False. Here are the facts: There was no shul, there was no woman dressed provocatively, and there was no Yerushalmi neighborhood. Mr. Rosenblum is revisiting an incident which occurred nearly two years ago, and he has chosen to believe hearsay and to rewrite history. Here is what actually happened:
As the video shows, dozens of extremists were blocking the sidewalk near a religious girls’ school on a main thoroughfare in Beit Shemesh, in an attempt to intimidate young religious girls on their way home from school with chants of “prutzah,” “shiktzah” and more.
I was at the school in order to help guarantee the safety of the girls, and requested that the police clear the extremists off the sidewalk. The police chose not to get involved. I then asked a religious woman standing nearby to walk with me towards the extremists, in order to ensure that the girls could walk through safely. It was important that a woman be there to hold the girls’ hands, or give them a hug as they walked through the threatening crowd of hostile men.
As we approached the mob, they began screaming at me, including blatant threats on my life. This video shows one of them saying that I need to be cut into pieces, and I have to admit, I was quite scared. I pumped my arms for a few seconds in order to demonstrate my unwillingness to kowtow to their threats.
As can be seen in the video of the incident we escorted the girls through safely, calmed them down, and helped them cope with their fear, thank G-d.
Prior to the election, I had met with current Education Minister Rabbi Shai Piron, and we discussed the need to be anchored spiritually despite the busy schedules we would experience as members of Knesset. Minister Piron chose to begin every day by reading the “Igeres HaRamban.” I decided to start every day with Mesilas Yesharim. In Chapter 11, Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzatto writes: “‘The righteous hate a false thing (Proverbs 13:15).” And it is in relation to this that we were warned ‘Stay far away from a false thing.’ (Shemot 23:7) Note that we do not have ‘Guard yourself from falsehood’ but ‘Stay far away from a false thing.’ This is to awaken us to the greatness of the extent to which one must withdraw himself and flee from falsehood. …Our Sages of blessed memory have said (Shabbat 55a): ‘The seal of the Holy One Blessed be He is truth.’ Indeed if the truth is what the Holy One Blessed Be He selected as His seal, how abominable must its opposite be to Him… ‘Truth is one of the pillars upon which the word stands (Avot 1:18).’ Speaking falsehood, then is comparable to removing the foundation of the world.”
The false and inaccurate depiction that Rosenblum related above is not the only one in his column. The following are his other false claims, followed by the accurate facts.
1) False claim: “His remark upon seeing an elderly street cleaner – “Why couldn’t a yeshiva student be doing that?” – has become widely quoted in the Israeli yeshiva world as an example of Yesh Atid’s contempt for Torah learning. (Apparently, it did not occur to him that the street cleaner earned his living that way.)”
Fact: Here is the precise quote which I wrote on Facebook that morning: “I want to share a thought I had this morning as I jogged through the streets of Bet Shemesh. I saw 3 street cleaners working – all over the age of 70. Why aren’t yeshiva students, who are on their month long vacation during Nissan, volunteering to provide these older men with some vacation or to at least make their jobs a bit easier? Just a thought.”
I saw three elderly men working hard, and I thought about all the yeshiva boys – chareidi and dati – who were on vacation for three weeks at that point, and how nice it would be if they volunteered for a day or two to give these elderly men a paid vacation. This would be a wonderful act of chessed and would sanctify God’s Name.
2) False claim: “By the time he placed his film clip on Yair Lapid’s TV show of a woman walking her whimpering daughter to school to protect her against the same “Yerushalmis,” the events described in Ramat Beit Shemesh were three months old and the crisis had largely been resolved.”
Fact: The extremists returned for weeks, and after a short break, they came back again in larger numbers and were even more violent than before. This particular video which was taken two months into the school year, shows one of them spitting on a woman who was there to protect the girls.
There was also information that the extremists were planning on doing something far worse. I must emphasize that I went to rabbis throughout the charedi community to ask for their assistance in stopping the madness, and not one of them helped. Some were originally willing to sign a letter denouncing the assaults, but then refused to do so when they realized that rabbis who wore knitted kippot were also signing the letter.
I must also emphasize that some of the “whimpering” girls (Rosenblum’s word) were experiencing severe emotional, psychological and even theological damage during these months. Therefore, as a last resort, a decision was made to turn to the press.
3) False claim: “The video, however, well-served the plans of Lipman’s future boss, Yair Lapid, to launch his political career at the head of an anti-chareidi party by tarring the entire chareidi community with the reprehensible behavior of some members of the “Yerushalmi” community.”
Fact: The general chareidi community was not tarred at all. We specifically asked that these people be called “extremists,” and that is exactly what Yair Lapid did both times that he referenced chareidim in his newscast– “chareidim kitzonim” – which means “extremist chareidim.” Click here to watch the video to prove it.
4) False claim: “For one thing, the Yesh Atid platform explicitly endorses non-traditional marriage. To invite an Orthodox musmach who ran for the Knesset on that platform sends a confusing message about the RCA’s own stance on one of the crucial social issues of the time.“
Fact: I am involved in working out a compromise on this issue, which will preserve the Jewish definition of marriage – something which would not likely have happened if religious people were not involved.
5) False claim: “Lipman, on the other hand, has personally come out in favor of the most minimal standards for “kabbolas mitzvos” for conversion. It is enough, he argues, that the would-be convert take on a few basic mitzvos of identification, such as fasting on Yom Kippur and lighting candles on leil Shabbos.”
Fact: I have only discussed minimal standards for conversions of people from “zera yisrael” – those who have moved to Israel from Russia under the Law of Return, who have a Jewish father or grandfather. This idea is endorsed by numerous major poskim over the generations, and Rav Ovadiah Yosef has written similar decisions as well.
6) False claim: “Lipman has been an outspoken supporter of the Women of the Wall, disingenuously brandishing in the Knesset an old photo of men and women silently praying at the Kosel, without a mechitzah between them, to prove that the Kosel lacks the status of a bais haknesses.”
Fact: Click here to watch the video of the one time I discussed this topic, and I didn’t brandish any photos.
Aside from the trivial issue of the picture, this is what I actually argued regarding the “Women of the Wall.” We are making a huge mistake by making an issue out of women who want to wear a talit at the Kotel. Small groups have been going once a month for Rosh Chodesh davening for more than 20 years, and it only became an issue when the charedi leadership decided to make it illegal and to have them arrested for it. As long as they are not forcing anyone to transgress, and as long as they are not doing anything to “defile” the kotel (wearing a talit is permitted according to accepted poskim), we should not make this a source of conflict.
My Knesset speech included a reference to men and women davening together at the Kotel without a mechitza in the past, in response to being asked why I would let women wear a talit at the kotel if they would not be allowed to do so in my synagogue. I did not agree with the comparison between the Kotel and my synagogue, and supported this by stating that under no circumstance would men and women ever pray together without a mechitza in an Orthodox synagogue.
7) False claim: “He cannot understand that the issue is less about math and English than it is over ceding curricular control of chareidi schools to secular authorities.”
Fact: Control will not be handed over to secular authorities according to our plan. There is a chareidi advisor to the Minister of Education who will oversee the general studies in chareidi schools.
8) False claim: “And similarly, former Chief of Staff and current Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon grasps far better than Lipman why 5,000 chareidi 18-year-olds are not going into the IDF annually any time in the near future, and why the IDF has no interest in their doing so.”
Fact: According to our proposed law, the draft for chareidim begins at age 21 and includes national service options for those whom the IDF does not see fit for army service. The law does NOT include 5,000 chareidi 18-year-old boys joining the army at any point in time. There is a constant attempt to mislead people regarding what the law says, and this is causing serious damage.
9) False claim: “Nor does he show any appreciation for the miraculous achievements of the Israel Torah community in rebuilding a vibrant world from the ashes.”
Fact: I regularly refer to this phenomenon in my speeches, and also speak about the brilliance and foresight of making this happen.
10) False claim: “…boasts that he will write the exams for illuim seeking army exemptions and no more than 400 will pass. That boast reflects how little time he has spent inside Israeli yeshivos.”
Fact: I was being interviewed and I explained my vision for a small group of elite scholars of the highest level, including the fact that they would know all of shas at a young age – similar to the stories we hear about our Torah giants when they were children. This was simply to emphasize how difficult the tests should be to determine who should be exempt from any form of service outside of Torah study.
11) False claim: “Lipman shows no recognition of the very great changes that are taking place in the chareidi community. One important initiative in chareidi training is the Shachar Kachol program, primarily for married men within the IDF. Under that program, the IDF provides training in computer programming and quality control, as well as other technical fields, and those trained fill some of the crucial manpower needs of the IDF.”
Fact: I have written columns which talk about programs like Shachar Kachol, and I am hard at work building similar programs for younger ages since Shachar Kachol starts at age 26. Here is a precise quote from a column which I actually wrote to respond to words written by Mr. Rosenblum: “Is the Torah study of charedi IDF soldiers in Nahal Haredi and the Shahar program, where they have actual Torah classes on their bases, not providing that protection?”
12) False claim: “They appear driven by a desire to punish the chareidi community, not just by the concern with labor force participation or the manpower needs of the army.”
Fact: This is simply propaganda, and not based on facts. The following is a quote from a recent speech which Minister Lapid gave in the Knesset: “Today’s step enables all of us to stop hiding and to begin thinking big. This law frees 28,000 charedim to join the workforce immediately. We will help them enter the workforce and find jobs in hi-tech, factories, financial firms, and real estate. We will do everything in our power so that in a few years we will have charedi doctors, young charedim who establish start-up companies, charedi contractors, and charedi engineers. And above all, we will have charedi brothers. This law is not the beginning of a war between us, but the beginning of our making peace with one another. It will close a wound which has been in the heart of Israeli society for years, and will enable us to live together without the barriers of suspicions and baseless hatred.”
13) False claim: “The decision to criminalize refusal to serve in the IDF – something not called for in the coalition guidelines – achieves nothing in practical terms. Defense Minister Ya’alon has made clear that the IDF cannot afford to absorb large numbers of chareidim overnight. But it does turn Torah learning into outlaw activity.”
Fact: Legal advisors said that a criminal element had to appear in the law in order for it to pass the test of the Supreme Court, because otherwise it is not equality since there is jail time for religious Zionist and secular boys who don’t serve.
There is another inaccuracy here. The entire platform was built with input from the IDF, which is why the draft does not start until 2017. It is not in any way “overnight.”
14) False claim: “…but they were fully predictable consequences of the hubris-driven agenda of Dov Lipman and friends.
Fact: The only hubris I see is assuming that a human being can understand what is truly driving another person. Rosenblum has never taken the time to talk to me before judging my motives.
Fifteen falsehoods. Apparently, truth dictates that the changes we are working on together with many in the chareidi community are going to help young chareidi boys remain fervently religious and grow as Torah scholars, while at the same time sustaining their families with dignity.
I must make one additional point. Mr. Rosenblum refers to me as “this former basketball coach,” without mention of my rabbinic ordination, career in education, and published Torah works. I have been blessed with the opportunity to inspire many young people as a rebbi, an author, and as a basketball coach, and I wear all of those labels with pride.
Jonathan Rosenblum represents the Torah world, and wrote this particular piece in the Yated Neeman, a newspaper which is governed by the Torah giants of our time. Thus, I hope Rosenblum has the courage to correct these falsehoods and apologize. Whether he does or not will say a lot about him, but I am satisfied that all readers now have been presented with the facts. I also hope that readers understand that while I would never initiate such harsh discourse, I had to address this misleading column in order to correct the inaccuracies regarding the work I have done in the past, and the work I will continue to do, with G-d’s help, as part of the Yesh Atid party in the Knesset.
The above was first published at Times Of Israel, reprinted with permission.
MK Rabbi Dov Lipman has semicha from Ner Israel Rabbinical College and a masters in education from Johns Hopkins University. He has held numerous chinuch positions in the USA and Israel and is the author of three books. Rabbi Lipman was elected to the 19th Knesset as a member of the Yesh Atid party.