Dov Lipman, a freshman Knesset member of the Yesh Atid party, has come under fire from the leader of the yeshiva in which he once studied over his purported goal to shut down ultra-Orthodox high schools that don’t teach secular studies. In fact, Lipman has no such goal.

Rabbi Aharon Feldman, the rosh yeshiva of Baltimore’s ultra-Othodox Ner Israel Rabbinical College, called Lipman a “wicked” apostate and said his positions on Jewish education do not represent the values taught by the institution from which he received rabbinic ordination.

Lipman, who does not know Feldman personally but seven years ago received from him a haskama, or letter of recommendation, for one of  his books, said the rabbi’s comments misrepresented his true position. He doesn’t seek to close Haredi high schools but merely calls for them to teach math and English in addition to Torah, the 41-year-old lawmaker emphasized .

“The positions and statements of MK Lipman in no way reflect the views and education of Yeshiva Ner Israel,” Feldman wrote in a letter published by the Haredi magazine Mishpacha on Tuesday. “Our yeshiva is based on the foundation that the study of Torah is the very soul of the Jewish people. Therefore it is our opinion that no individual or government institution that calls itself Jewish has the right to hinder in any way those who dedicate their lives to Torah study.”

Lipman, a native of Silver Spring, Maryland, immigrated to Israel in 2004 and earlier this year became the first American-born MK since the 1980s. He calls himself ultra-Orthodox, or Haredi, because he believes in strict adherence of Jewish law. Yet he has been the target of vicious attacks from Israel’s established Haredi parties — mostly United Torah Judaism — due to his relatively moderate stance on various issues. Lipman, for instance, advocates an end to blanket draft exemptions for yeshiva students and has said he isn’t bothered by women donning prayer shawls and phylacteries at the Western Wall.

“I am asking one thing of you,”  UTJ lawmaker Yaakov Asher last week told Lipman in the Knesset, “don’t say you’re Haredi, because you’re not.”

In a Torah lecture last week, Feldman, who was born in Baltimore and become the head of the prestigious Ner Israel in 2001, suggested that Lipman is a “wicked” man and compared him to the historic enemies of the Jewish people.

Rabbi Aharon Feldman (photo credit: CC BY-SA Yoninah, Wikimedia Commons)

Rabbi Aharon Feldman (photo credit: CC BY-SA Yoninah, Wikimedia Commons)

Without mentioning the Yesh Atid MK by name, Feldman said that “one of our former talmidim (students)” said he intended to “close down” all religious high schools because they don’t sufficiently teach secular studies. He then called Lipman a “shanah u’piresh,” or apostate, a term sometimes used in the ultra-Orthodox world to describe someone who, having been versed in Torah studies, turns his back on his heritage.

“I don’t know how he was corrupted; he didn’t learn it here in yeshiva,” Feldman said, according to a recording of the lecture obtained by the Baltimore Jewish Life website. Feldman went on to bemoan that “forces” in Israel are trying to undermine Orthodox Jewish education.

The essence of the Jewish people is dedication to Torah study and “to learn as much as possible,” he said. “And, they’re trying to say they love us. They’re doing it because they love us. They hate us, they hate Torah.”

‘In a few years they’ll be gone, there will be nothing left of them’

Feldman then vowed that “little minds” who are only chasing honor will not succeed in uprooting Torah, clearly referring to Lipman and his Yesh Atid colleagues. “In a few years they’ll be gone; there will be nothing left of them; no history left of them,” he said. While they might temporarily cause trouble for yeshiva students, their fate will be similar to that of Amalek, Feldman added, referring to the biblical arch-enemy of the Jewish people.

Responding to a Times of Israel query, Lipman said he was hurt by Feldman “misquoting” him and expected the rosh yeshiva to issue a correction. “People around the world now think I said that all yeshiva ketanos [religious high schools] should be closed when I would have never said such a thing.”

Lipman further said he had never claimed to align himself with Ner Israel, which rendered irrelevant the accusation that he didn’t represent the yeshiva’s values. “Having said that,” he added, “as long as the yeshiva continues to teach a full array of general studies to its high school students and has a working relationship with nearby secular universities, I have a difficult time understanding how my desire for Haredi high schools in Israel to teach math and English is contrary to the positions of the yeshiva and its leaders.”

While Lipman doesn’t know Feldman personally, they did engage in “significant communication,” the MK said.

In 2006, Lipman showed a manuscript of his book “Discover: Answers for Teenagers (and Adults) to Questions about the Jewish Faith” to Feldman. “In fact, he asked me to add some specific points to the book about prayer and Torah study which I added in his name,” Lipman said.

Feldman also wrote a warm recommendation for Lipman and his book.

“A student in a modern day yeshiva high school is constantly — consciously or subconsciously — faced with the conflict of views,” Feldman wrote. “He needs to understand why he should accept upon himself the way of the Torah and why it is superior to the lifestyle he sees in the world around him.

The recommendation Rabbi Feldman wrote for MK Lipman's 2006 book (photo credit: courtesy Dov Lipman)

The recommendation Rabbi Feldman wrote for MK Lipman’s 2006 book (photo credit: courtesy Dov Lipman)

“Rabbi Dov Lipman who has spent many years teaching these students has produced a modern ‘Guide for the Perplexed’ for them,” the recommendation continues. “He explains why Jews must believe in Torah and skillfully addresses many of the issues confronting a modern student. It is my fervent wish that this book deepen the commitment of young Jews to Torah and that it bring them to the recognition that true success lies in following in its paths.”

Asked by The Times of Israel earlier this year to sum up his background, Lipman said: “Someone who studied in ultra-Orthodox yeshivas. Someone who very much identifies with many of the concerns of the ultra-Orthodox community, in terms of influence of the outside world and certain things that are foreign to us religiously. That’s part one. But [someone] who has made a transformation and sees himself as part of the world, [so] that one could call me modern Haredi, or moderate Haredi, or Zionist Haredi.”