The late Tommy Lapid and Dylan Thomas

29 b Iyyar
For several years I was a part-time, self-appointed, undercover agent, infiltrating the Shinui party organization in Netanya. I thought about this on Sunday, 27 bIyyar, when during a two-hour drive south I listened to several radio programs devoted to the Shinui party head, Yosef Tommy Lapid, who had passed away that morning and whose funeral was to be the following day. There were interviews with those who knew the late Tommy Lapid including R.Arye Deri, R. Israel Eichler, and Ruth Sirkis (who collaborated with him on Paprika, a [kosher!] cook book of Hungarian dishes.)

Back in the 2003 election, when Lapid’s Shinui party garnered 15 Knesset seats on an anti-clerical platform, I had become curious, and wanted to understand what were the main beefs that Shinui voters had against religious Jews. So I began attending the local party meetings, incognito. I discovered that …..

….most Shinui members, at least the ones in Netanya, did not hate haredim per se. They were against some amorphous „religious coercion” they could barely define. In Netanya there was almost no anti-haredi feeling, partly due to the fact that everyone in the region comes into contact with haredim because the Laniado Hospital run by Sanz hassidim is the only game in town, and the overwhelming majority of people have had good-to-excellent experiences dealing with the staff.

It wasn’t easy to keep my identity secret. I used my maiden name, but when I got phone calls at home for „Cheryl” family members were puzzled and told the callers they had a wrong number. I insisted on paying my dues in cash, because my checks had my real name. Luckily, my Shinui comrades did not discern I was wearing a wig. I was so successful in my disguise, and so regular in my attendance, that the activists asked me to join the Shinui list that ran in the local elections! ( I declined).

Back to Tommy Lapid and the radio interviews. R. Eichler did not employ the term tinok shenishba, but he emphasized that Lapid never saw tefillin until he was in the army and thought they were part of the army equipment. Arye Deri, who said he planned „im yirtze Hashem” to attend the funeral, had to spar often with Tommy Lapid and Deri admitted that sometimes he had to hold tight to his chair in order not to jump up at the outrageous insults he heard from his interlocutor. Deri said he managed to salvage one televised interview by saying that he learned in Yeshivas Hevron that when it comes to Holocaust survivors, their place in Heaven is assured, and we don’t argue with them. Deri insisted:

I can say about Tommy Lapid: “piv v’libo shavim” – he didn’t dissemble, but was frank and honest.

This reminded me of a commentary by Yad Haketana on “You shall not hate your brother in your heart.” (Lev.19:17) Yad Haketana says that

anything which you keep in your heart grows in a deep way. If you hate someone in your heart and you refrain from telling him, and you don’t try to salve it, it will grow until it consumes you. If you tell the object of your hatred that you hate him, at least this has the virtue of preventing the hatred from increasing; it won’t become stronger. Another advantage is that if you tell him “I hate you” at least there is contact between you.

Yosef Tommy Lapid didn’t hate in his heart; he broadcast it. But I am not sure he really even hated haredim.
Deri concluded that he hoped and prayed that Lapid’s son, Yair, would say kaddish at the graveside, and indeed he did. BTW Yair’s book on the Bible, HaGiborim Sheli, has been on the Israeli bestseller list for 3 months and is currently in 6th place.

Yair Lapid was asked by his mother (author Shulamit Lapid) in a Der Spiegel English-language interview, why he wrote a book about the Bible.

His response: “Because Dad wanted nothing to do with the Bible.”

Several years ago I was asked to debate Lapid in the pages of the Jerusalem Report. In my segment I issued an invitation to him to visit Kiryat Sanz to see how haredim handle the challenges and problems of modernity. He protested, “You think that you will give me gefilte fish and Shabbat wine, and that will win me over. What can I do? I love shrimp.” I retorted, “I didn’t invite you for fish, but for facts.” A friend of mine who read the debate, opined that here was a person who wrestled with his Judaism. Better than someone who is completely indifferent and blase.

Some family and friends insisted I be silent and not write about someone they term a “rasha.” But when I encounter someone who is anti-religious, I wonder what I (we) may have contributed (inadvertantly) to that person’s antipathy to Jewish tradition.

In addition to recitation of kaddish, Tommy Lapid had specified that his son recite, in Hebrew translation, the Dylan Thomas poem that describes this irascible personality. “Do not go gentle into that good night, rage rage against the dying of the light…”

Shira Schmidt

Shira Leibowitz Schmidt was raised in an assimilated Jewish home in New York, and became observant while studying at Stanford University in California. In June 1967 she told her engineering school professor she would miss the final exam because she was going to Israel to volunteer during the Six Day War. “That’s the most original excuse I have ever been offered,” he responded. She arrived during the war and stayed, receiving her BSc in absentia. She subsequently met and married the late Elhanan Leibowitz, and they raised their six children in Beersheba. Mrs. Leibowitz acquired a Masters in Urban & Regional Planning from the Technion, and an MSc in Civil Engineering from University of Waterloo. Today she lives with her husband, Dr. Baruch Schmidt, in Netanya. She co-authored, with Nobel prize-winning chemist Roald Hoffmann, Old Wine New Flasks. She has co-translated from Hebrew to English (with Jessica Setbon) From the Depths (the autobiography of Rabbi Israel Meir Lau); The Forgotten Memoirs (memoirs of Rabbis who survived the Shoah, edited by Esther Farbstein); and Rest of the Dove (Parashat Hashavua by Rabbi Haim Sabato). She and her husband appear in the documentary film about the Sanz-Klausenberger Rebbe, “Hidden Face.” She is available to lecture in Israel and in the US and can be contacted via

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17 Responses

  1. Garnel Ironheart says:

    >But when I encounter someone who is anti-religious, I wonder what I (we) may have contributed (inadvertantly) to that person’s antipathy to Jewish tradition.

    The one enduring thing that Lapid and Shinui did for the religious community in Israel was to answer that question loud and clear. The question is: was anyone on the other side listening? After all, if Ms. Schmidt is still wondering…

  2. Baruch Pelta says:

    I remember when after shiur, my old chavrusa was complaining about people who talk about people who sympathize with Tommy Lapid and think he’s not responsible for his actions. My old Rosh Yeshiva said that he wasn’t sure Lapid couldn’t be considered an oneis.

    Then again, I heard from another rabbi — a kanoi who visited my yeshiva once a week — that the gedolim had called Lapid a rasha and a bonified member of the Eruv Rav.

    Whether this statement of this kanoi is true or not, it reflects differing views in the chareidi community on Lapid.

  3. Yehoshua Friedman says:

    Do you have a source for the Hebrew translation? Who translated it? I would love to see how it comes out in Hebrew.

  4. Yehoshua Friedman says:

    Do you have a source for the Hebrew translation of the Dylan Thomas poem? Who translated it? I would love to see how it comes out in Hebrew.

  5. Yehoshua Gavant says:

    Thanks for this brief piece and for pointing out the positive even in troubling personalities. Of course, as they say אחרי מות קדושים אמור; there’s a reason for that. Now that fighting with this man is no longer necessary, let us let down our guard and see what can be learned from him or at least from what he showed us about ourselves.

  6. Harry Maryles says:

    What a marvelous and insightful obituary. I couldn’t agree with you more.

  7. Yisroel Moshe says:

    What’s with the love fest?

    How quickly we forgot the extent of this man’s Rishus. His hatred of religious Jews, in whatever endearing terms you wish to cloth it (“He was not anti-Charedei, just anti religious coercion”) was deep seeded and open for all to see.

    How quickly we forget how, on national Israeli TV, he unambiguously called the holy Torah toilet paper.

    In case you are unsure whether it is appropriate to rejoice upon this joyous occasion of Lapid’s death, perhaps this article by our very own Reb Jonathan should lay your doubts to rest.

    As far as Lapid being a holocaust survivor, let me state my opinion clearly. The idea that Lapid can do enormous harm to Klal Yisroel and to Hashem’s Torah and still have a share in Olam Habbah because he is a holocaust survivor is absurd. Ultimately, Lapid’s portion (or lack of it) will be determined by Hashem, but the default assumption for human purposes must not fly in the face of one of our most basic beliefs: S’char V’onesh.

    In regards to Deri’s comment, I suspect the teaching he is referring to is (I heard this in the name of the Satmar Rebbe, and I sure many others have said similarly), that an individual who survived the holocaust and still believes in Hashem Echad is the equivalent of (or greater than) a great Tzadik. Using a Kal Vachomer, he is basically guaranteed a great share in Olam Habbah.

    There is no carte blanche reward solely for surviving.


  8. Nachum says:

    What a good piece. Seriously, Mrs. Schmidt, you should have accepted the invitation to run. A religious Shinui would have been quite attractive.

  9. SBA says:

    Metzora Achrei-Mos Kedoshim Emor

  10. MYCROFT says:

    “But when I encounter someone who is anti-religious, I wonder what I (we) may have contributed (inadvertantly) to that person’s antipathy to Jewish tradition”

    I hope you could expound on this important hashkafic point and perhaps tie it in to the hashkafa of eglah arufa-the red heifer where the Rabbis had to swear that they didn’t turn people away and thus cause the murder.

    In general Mrs. Schmidt an excellent post.

  11. yy says:

    YM’s words are frighteningly true. While the author’s sentiments for PERSONAL diyun l’kaf zchus are admirable, to display this publically is a giant responsibility she seems to have overlooked. No question that it’s time to let go of the belief that surviving horror = kdusha.

    At the same time, the fact that he wrestled mightily with his conscience is something not to scoff at. Perhaps an apt reference is the Rasha in the Haggaddah, who while being labelled for who he is and respectively responded to with bluntness, nevertheless is, in essence, listed next to the choachom; higher than most other Jews!

  12. Bob Miller says:

    We can bring out all kinds of sensitive, creative reasons why, but the Shinui Party’s actual effect was all negative. Is no one responsible for that?

  13. Mark says:

    It blows my mind to hear how complimentary everyone suddenly is about Tommy Lapid. Let’s assume for a moment that his animus toward religious Jews was purely political and that his status as a survivor grants him immunity from being judged unkindly. Fine – he can’t be cursed out and no glee may be expressed over news of his death.
    What has he done to earn such positive reviews? What exactly distinguished him from the other nine people listed in the Israeli obits yesterday?
    He was not a war hero. He was not at the helm of any chessed organizations. The only thing he did was host a TV show and run a political party aimed at wiping out “religious coercion”. Is that really something to be admired and praised? Why the rush to offer anything at all?

  14. LOberstein says:

    Tommy Lapid won 15 seats in the Knesset on a platform to remove religion from the public domain, to stop state subsidies of religious institutions, in other words to have the system we have in the US. There is a wide gulf in Israel between the religious of various stripes and the secular of various stripes. This gap won’t be healed with naive thinking that there aren’t really good reasons for secular to dislike what they read and hear about the religious.Lapid was just as secular as Olmert is secular today , he was just more honest about it.

  15. Baruch Horowitz says:

    “What has he done to earn such positive reviews?…Why the rush to offer anything at all?”

    Perhaps because of the mere fact that it shows diversity in the thought of the Torah world, that a Torah reaction to an occurrence is not necessarily the assumed one. For example, see Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau’s reaction here:,2506,L-3550789,00.html

    “But when I encounter someone who is anti-religious, I wonder what I (we) may have contributed (inadvertantly) to that person’s antipathy to Jewish tradition.”

    I remember an article following Shinui’s victory in the Jewish Observer, which made the point that perhaps Shinui’s victory should be a cause for a degree of introspection on the religious side, for example, that maybe it was inappropriate for politicial parties to lobby for funds for causes such as summer camps at the expense of certain other national needs. On the other hand, to take too much responsibility for Shinui’s popularity would be to blame the victim.

  16. sara channa eisenmann says:

    I am a childsurvivor of Terezin and Birkenau,and still carry with me the terrible horrors everyday,every hour.So,I can identify with Tommy Lapid’s pain and understand his way of coping.i have never lost my faith,but it doesn’t mean I am not struggling with the same issue as Tommy L.But I find that I as so many others,don’t want or need and answer to the “Why?”.I strongly believe that it is an act of loving kindness that Hashem withholds
    the answer because we will not be able to carry that answer.
    Tommy L so often forced me/us to look into ourselves and our actions.That struggle should continue to improve our lives and our observance.
    PS.I am a little disturbed by the author’s description of herself as an “undercover agent’isn’t it to cheat these people she critizes so harshly?One of their big complaints is just that,what they see as dishonesty…..something to rethink maybe?

  17. Yehoshua Friedman says:

    I would agree with the suggestion that Ms. Schmidt should run on a religious Shinui ticket opposing the vicissitudes of the religious establishment from within and as a danger to real religious faith and lifestyle. But that would only be if we had a democratic political system. Right now, as a present settler and former Religious Zionist (although I NEVER voted for the NRP as such), I can only pray to Hashem to remove the false regime (especially including the pernicious judges and media) from our land and establish the Kingdom of our Righteous Moshiach.

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