In maiden speech

US-born MK calls on ultra-Orthodox to serve country

Quoting Torah sources, first American expat legislator in 30 years exhorts Haredim to embrace army service and join labor market

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

MK Rabbi Dov Lipman sitting in the plenum hall of the Knesset during an introduction day for new parliament members, February 03, 2013. (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)
MK Rabbi Dov Lipman sitting in the plenum hall of the Knesset during an introduction day for new parliament members, February 03, 2013. (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

MK Rabbi Dov Lipman, the first American-born Israeli member of parliament in 30 years, delivered his inaugural Knesset speech Wednesday, recalling his family’s immigration to Israel eight years ago and urging the ultra-Orthodox community to give up its opposition to the universal draft and to join the workforce.

Quoting sources from the Torah and biblical commentators about the value of work and the need for soldiers to protect the nation, Lipman (Yesh Atid) exhorted the Haredi parties to accept proposals that end blanket draft exemptions for yeshiva students and encouraged them to join the army and/or participate in some sort of national service.

“Everyone, including yeshiva students, is obligated to contribute to the state through military or civil service,” the 41-year-old Maryland native said in perfect Hebrew but with a thick American accent. “I am proud to be an MK for a party that has a visionary leader who understands the time has come to restore the true Jewish tradition, which combines Torah with work.”

Lipman, who received rabbinic ordination from Baltimore’s Orthodox Ner Israel Rabbinical College, then turned to his fellow Haredi MKs and called on them to cooperate with his party’s plan to introduce universal conscription. “There is no ‘we’ and ‘you.’ There are no two sides. We are brothers; we’re all Jews,” he said.

Most Haredim know full well that their children will not be able to exclusively study Torah all their lives, he said, adding that pious Jews in the US combine rigorous religious study with university education and the pursuit of a livelihood. “There is no contradiction between the two.”

Lipman, who is known in the English-speaking Israeli community for his activism against Haredi extremism in his hometown of Beit Shemesh, devoted a significant portion of his 12-minute speech to his family’s aliya experience.

“We decided to leave the US out of choice, to be part of the Jewish Zionist enterprise, the State of Israel. We found an amazing and special country. But it’s impossible to ignore the problems that we have here,” he said.

After his speech, several MKs from Yesh Atid and other parties rose to their feet and congratulated Lipman. Many male legislators hugged Lipman, while his female colleagues handed him flowers, respecting the belief of ultra-Orthodox men they are not allowed to touch women.

As is customary for an incoming MK’s maiden speech, Lipman was lauded by a fellow lawmaker from a different party upon concluding his remarks.

MK Isaac Herzog (Labor) praised Lipman for his activism in Beit Shemesh and said he viewed Lipman as a continuation of MKs who represent English-speaking Jews in the Knesset, including his late father Haim Herzog (who was born in Belfast) and his uncle Abba Eban (who was born in Cape Town.)

“You represent a very important stream in the Jewish world, that of Haredim from English-speaking countries who follow in the footsteps of Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, of blessed memory and many other great rabbis, which understands the synthesis of the modern world and its complexities and Judaism in the widest and deepest sense,” Herzog said. “It’s a difficult and very complicated challenge.”

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