Rabbi Dov Lipman is a freshman member of the Knesset and a member of Yesh Atid, a new Israeli political party that translated Israel’s 2011 economic protests into a surprising 19-seat presence in the Knesset after the January 2013 elections. The party, led by former journalist Yair Lapid, voices a broad range of social and economic concerns, appealing primarily to the sensibilities of the Jewish state’s middle class. 

Lipman, who was ordained at the Orthodox Yeshivas Ner Yisroel in Baltimore, is the first American in the Knesset in a generation, as Valley Beit Midrash says in publicizing his talk, titled “Driving Change in Israeli Society,” at Temple Chai on May 7 (see details box on this page). Reached by phone in Jerusalem, he said of his upcoming talk, “It’s really about the future of Israel, which certainly relates as well to the things I’m working on.” 

The biggest issue, he said, “is generating unity in Israel, creating a scenario where even if we have different beliefs or different lifestyles religiously, that we remember that we’re one nation and we all work together for the state and for the land and for the Jewish people. That has many different levels to it, but that’s the umbrella vision.” 

One of the major divisions is between secular and religious spheres of life in the Jewish state, he said.  

“When the state was founded there was a big battle over what kind of state it was going to be. Many of the secular founders ... very much wanted a secular culture devoid essentially of Torah study or religious observance. On the other hand, you had the religious Zionists and the ultra-Orthodox communities that were saying, ‘No. Our land of Israel, the state of Israel, has to be built on religion.’ ... We’re now 65, almost 66, years into this, and that battle does not exist anymore, meaning the secular community in Israel is not looking for there to be no religion or no Torah, they accept it as a reality, and I believe that it’s time for us to shift into a mode where we work together.”

He described Yesh Atid as a party that’s predominantly secular, but “with a lot of respect toward the religious ... we sit together and we work out issues together, and that’s very much the goal that I have for broader Israel.” 

As an example, he cited an effort to create civil unions in Israel. “I come from an Orthodox background and religious, and certainly for me marriage is done as a religious ceremony, the way it’s been done throughout our history.” However, he said that many people in Israel are completely secular and don’t want to have a religious ceremony as required in Israel since the state was founded. “And they feel religious coercion, and as a result 9,000 or so couples every year go to Cyprus and other places to get married. And all it’s doing is pushing people away from Judaism. On the other hand, it’s a Jewish state and we certainly want to preserve the notion of marriage being spiritual.”

Yesh Atid offered a two-track solution, one for civil unions, which provide contractual rights to domestic partners, and one for marriage, which would be done through the rabbinate, adding “it has to be a rabbinate which is more embracing in nature and even lenient at times if necessary. ... It’s not outright, full civil marriage, the way many people might want, but it’s a compromise, and that’s really what we feel is necessary.” 

He stressed that Israel is different from the United States, where there is separation of religion and state.

“That’s actually the challenge, meaning in Israel we don’t want to separate religion and state. We want to be a Jewish state.On the other hand, you want to provide people with their full democratic rights. This is a challenge, and it’s a challenge which no one has really addressed. Along with fighting between the religious and the secular for 65 years, we’ve also never sat together to really address this issue. How do we balance the two? That’s what we are very much trying to do.”

DETAILS

Who: Rabbi Dov Lipman, member of Knesset 

What: “Driving Change in Israeli Society,” a Valley Beit Midrash discussion

When: 7 p.m. Wednesday, May 7

Where: Temple Chai, 4645 E. Marilyn Road, Phoenix

Admission: Free

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