Editor’s Note: This week, Rabbi Yair Hoffman is on assignment in the Knesset, where he met and spoke with a number of the Knesset members and their staffs. In the weeks ahead, the Five Towns Jewish Times will be featuring several of these interviews. We begin with MK Dov Lipman.
YH: We have watched your speeches to the new olim yesterday at the Nefesh B’Nefesh ceremony, and there is no question that you have the ability to infuse an appreciation for Torah and Yiddishkeit in the audiences that you address. Where else do you see that this agenda will be pursued?
DL: First of all, I don’t want to underemphasize the point you made. I wake up every day asking how I can be mekadesh shem Shamayim. That is a big part of what I do. I think that as a government we should be doing this as well, as an entity to be mekadesh shem Shamayim. That is an ultimate goal of mine, to introduce to the nations the core Jewish values. There are certainly, of course, bumps along the way. But that is the general goal.
YH: Do you feel that your presence in Yesh Atid has at all tempered their stance regarding chareidim?
DL: Absolutely, and on a daily basis. But let me begin that there is no one in Yesh Atid that has hatred for chareidim. And no one in Yesh Atid who has an agenda to have chareidim be any less chareidi or are anti-chareidi. Anyone that would spend ten minutes with Yair Lapid would realize very clearly that that is not the case. How have we tempered them? We’ve certainly been able to share the Torah perspective. That there will be 1,800 yeshiva students who will be able to learn full time is something that we have an impact on. We have set forth the case that the yeshivas can establish who are the iluyim, who could learn full time. And everyone will be able to learn until 20. Now also, it could be that someone at 16 is not so into the learning but at 19 he’ll be ignited. The legislation that we are introducing is allowing for that. And right after Elul, the first chareidi type of hesder yeshiva will be launched.
YH: What might Yesh Atid have looked like without Dov Lipman?
DL: I think that there might be two differences. The first is that it would have been more difficult for the MKs to completely understand the chareidi side. The second is the response that they would have had to some of the chareidi MK’s responses. When they see some of the antics of the chareidi MKs, such as handcuffing themselves to the podium and other outbursts, which constitute, in my opinion, an absolute chillul Hashem, their reaction if we weren’t involved with them might have been animosity. On a daily basis I remind them that these are just politicians and that the overwhelming majority of the chareidi community are wonderful, nice people with derech eretz for others.
YH: The chareidi draft—when will it kick in, and is it possible that it will be overturned in some future government deal? Are there circumstances where you see that some other deal can be made?
DL: I think that, number one, this is the best deal on the table that the chareidi community will ever see. It is a tragic mistake that they compare what is being done to what the Romans and the Greeks did to the Jews. The vision that we have will take time. But with the plan, the poverty that exists in the chareidi community will be eliminated, as they will have the opportunity to go to work legally. This plan will allow every chareidi to be free to go to work afterward. And 1,800 yeshiva boys, iluyim, will be allowed to study full time. Everyone can learn for a few years and for just two years they will have to do national service.
Also, after talking to many chareidim right here in this office, we have found that there is also a huge problem from the chiloni end of things. The chareidim, even when qualified, are just not being hired for the jobs. To address this, we have just met with and took on board an organization named Alljobs—which is the number-one employment firm in Israel—they are opening a division for chareidim. There will be an option of mehadrin, where special kitchens will be available for chareidim to work in industry and the corporate world. The kitchens will even have a rav ha’machshir to make sure that this is all legitimate. These are companies that will specifically be looking for chareidim to hire. Now I am not saying that the vision that we have for things will be resolved overnight. But we are trying to address the major hurdles of poverty in the chareidi community.
YH: What guides you in regard to making your decision when you look at an issue?
DL: I have all my life tried to follow the core values of Torah. In regard to halachic issues, I do speak to a posek. I am not at liberty to discuss who it is, because I know that what happened to me is what will happen to him.
YH: You say “halachic issues,” but you have left out the political issues.
DL: I speak to him and to others about the political issues too, but like I said, anyone that comes out will just be destroyed by things. I mentioned halachah, true, but the fact is true for political issues as well.
YH: Is there any matter in which you would seek guidance from a Rav Shteinman, a Rav Shmuel Auerbach, a Rav Chaim Kanievsky?
DL: I would like to think that I would follow their view in pretty much everything, but once again there are others that set the agendas and dictate to them. Unfortunately, they are not as free to say things and they too have been victimized in a sense by people around them.
YH: Theoretically, if Rav Chaim Kanievsky were together alone with you in a place far away from everyone else and said to you in complete privacy, “Reb Dov, I am not being victimized and these are my true and completely legitimate beliefs. Absolutely no one is pressuring me.” Would you be willing to change course?
DL: This is a completely hypothetical case and I don’t think that it could happen, so it is relatively fruitless to pursue this.
YH: You seem to characterize Yair Lapid as not against the chareidim, but let’s go back to that sarcastic little tirade he had a few months ago where he said, “We are sick of listening to you. I feel so bad for you that you are no longer in power.” Does this not strike you as a tinge of anti-chareidi-ism?”
DL: I do not believe that Yair Lapid has any anti-chareidi agenda. This tirade was said spontaneously in response to the fact that the chareidi MKs would not let Yair Lapid get in one word edgewise. It was completely inappropriate. He had the floor and they refused to allow him the basic courtesy of finishing his sentence or thought without taunting and interrupting. He did not plan to say that, but he felt forced to.
YH: That is a difficult conclusion to make for two reasons. First, it was very polished and looked well-rehearsed.
DL: It wasn’t; it was spontaneous.
YH: Secondly, I recall seeing a video of it. I believe, if I am not mistaken, that he was reading it from a prepared text.
DL: I don’t think so, but we can check. It doesn’t matter, however. Yair Lapid is merely trying to achieve a measure of fair share and he has no agenda of making chareidim any less chareidi.
YH: Is it at all possible that Dov Lipman has made an error in sizing up Yair Lapid?
DL: Yes, it is possible. I don’t think so, but I constantly question myself, as everyone should do. We should never assume that we are always right and that we have all the answers to questions. That being said, I think that when Yair Lapid makes these statements he is responding to the most outlandish broadsides.
YH: I’d like to switch tracks a bit on the next question. As you know, approximately ten years ago, the Knesset forbade domestic foie gras production on the grounds of cruelty to animals. Last week you introduced legislation to forbid importing it as well. A month ago or so you claimed that you were victimized unfairly by people attacking you without having examined the issue. I personally have visited a foie gras production plant in the United States. Now, I am not addressing the possible treifus issue. I am simply exploring your statement that it was tzaar baalei chaim. I personally believe that there is no tzaar baalei chaim issue here at all, as seen from the conditions that I observed, and as testified by numerous people who have been in these plants, and by the numerous teshuvos in the Acharonim and earlier, including the Rema. So I would like to ask you: Were you ever at a goose-raising plant to see the alleged tzaar baalei chaim yourself?
DL: No, I was not.
YH: Are you willing to revisit the issue by paying a visit to such a plant so that you can see for yourself? I mentioned it to the gentile manager of the foie gras plant in upstate New York and he was more than willing to speak to you about it.
DL: I am always willing to revisit any issue. And I would welcome the opportunity to go with you to the plant.
YH: You have expressed reservations concerning some of the tactics of Shas in terms of promising voters Olam HaBa if they vote for Shas, but have they not caused a resurgence in Sephardic religious observance? Is this not a very good thing?
DL: I have never questioned the accomplishments of Shas, and in the Knesset I enjoy working with them. They are my friends, and all of Shas MKs themselves have served in the army. The resurgence, of course, is an excellent thing. v
Rabbi Hoffman can be reached at email@example.com.