Yosef Mendelevich
Yosef MendelevichEliran Aharon

Jewish Home chairman Naftali Bennett came in for heated criticism on Wednesday, over his recent decision to make a very publicized visit to the Solomon Shechter Conservative movement school in New York.

In the wake of this storm, Arutz Sheva interviewed Ex-Prisoner of Zion Yosef Mendelevich, who recounted the story of how he once came to speak at a Reform temple.

"When I was released from the Soviet jail, I was invited to come to the US, and I appeared before various groups, especially those who had supported the struggle. One day I received an invitation from some Reform temple. Since I knew that this was a problematic thing, I contacted Rabbi Moshe Sherer, who was President of Agudat Yisrael, and we were on good terms with him, and I asked him if he could ask Rabbi Moshe Feinstein to instruct us how to act. While I had met Rabbi Moshe Feinstein myself on several occasions, this was a situation in which time was short.

"He got back to me and said that Rabbi Moshe Feinstein says it is alright to speak at the temple on several conditions. First – that it should not take place during their prayer service, nor in the place where they pray, but is some public hall. Also, that I should try to have them sit with separation (between men and women), but the main thing he said that I should mention in my lecture that the Torah is from Heaven, both written and oral, and that all 613 mitzvot (commandments) are obligatory.

"I accepted this. I came and I made sure to tell them that I kept the Sabbath in jail, and I stressed that I did this because the Torah is from Heaven and a Jew must obey all 613 mitzvot. In the end they applauded me. On other occasions I also spoke at Conservative shuls, always according to the guideline of what one needs to mention."

'Pompous, false, arrogant'

Popular haredi lecturer Rabbi Mordechai Neugroschel slammed Bennett's defense of his visit, according to which he was trying to embrace all Jews as Disapora Affairs Minister, saying, "his definition is pompous, false, arrogant and prideful." 

Bennett previously was criticized by Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi David Lau, who warned the visit acts to grant recognition to the movement that increases the dangers of assimilation. The Education Minister responded by saying there is an "emergency situation" of assimilation for Jews in the diaspora, and that Israeli leaders need to bring all Jews closer regardless of affiliation.

Conservative Judaism does not adhere to halakha (Jewish law) and to a large degree rejects the divine nature of the Torah, leaving open individual reinterpretation.