The Jewish world has lost one of its great scholars following the death of Rabbi Adin Even-Israel Steinsaltz last Friday.
Future generations will draw upon his back catalogue of books, commentaries and teachings.
The esteemed rabbi, 83 died from a lung infection at Shaare Zedek Medical Centre, Jerusalem. A small funeral took place due to the coronavirus pandemic. The service was broadcast live on his website.
Author of over 60 books on a range of subjects, Rabbi Steinsaltz’s greatest legacy was enabling his life’s work, a 45-volume translation and commentary of the 2,711-page Babylonian Talmud, to be accessible to millions in a landmark publication in 2010. The Steinsaltz Talmud in addition to its Hebrew translation has condensed parts in English, French, Spanish, and Russian.
President of Yeshivat Makor Chaim and army yeshiva, Yeshivat Tekoa, Rabbi Steinsaltz was greatly influenced by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson. Indeed, in 1992, he changed his surname to Even-Israel as guided by the Rebbe. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he was a “Torah genius” and man of “exemplary spirit”.
“The Rebbe’s exceptional personality made a strong impression on him, just as happened to me in my meetings with him,” Netanyahu reportedly said. “In my view, in both of them, the Lubavitcher Rebbe and his student, Rabbi Steinsaltz, I saw the same great light of love of humanity and of the Jewish people.”
He added, “Rabbi Steinsaltz was an outstanding example of the persistent Jew. He invested unceasing effort in his commentaries, especially his explanation of the Talmud which made the study of Gemara accessible to the public at large in clear and understandable language. His important works will stand for generations at the foundation of Jewish heritage, as an eternal flame in his memory.”
Rivlin noted, “He was a man of great spiritual courage, deep knowledge and profound thought who brought the Talmud to Am Yisrael in clear and accessible Hebrew and English.”
Ambassador Ron Dermer said the Jewish people and the state mourned the loss of one of our greatest teachers.
World Jewish Congress said Rabbi Steinsaltz was one of the “towering intellects” of the modern era.
“In his gentle, unassuming manner, he taught thousands upon thousands the beauty and depth of Jewish culture and tradition, making the Talmud accessible to contemporary and future generations as never before,” said President Ronald Lauder.
A plethora of heatfelt tributes appeared on his website including from the Mantel Foundation.
“One will no longer read the Bible or the Talmud without inquiring into the “comments of Steinsaltz”,” they wrote. “His remarks, always lucid and luminous, echoed on everyone’s humanitarian chords. It is the entire “Matanel family” made up of its craftsmen, its leaders and its activists that his death plunges into a disarray of mourning and a sea of gratitude. His teachings, his advice, conveyed, here and there, in memories and parable-narratives in the best of Chasidic traditions, and his beautiful gestures, smiling and generous, will continue to guide us on the philanthropic path.”
Born in Jerusalem, Rabbi Steinsaltz grew up in the Old Katamon neighbourhood.
Influenced initially by Rabbi Abraham Chen and Rabbi Dov Eliazarov, he studied chemistry and physics at The Hebrew University, dedicating spare time to Jewish Studies. Inspired by Rabbi Shmaryahu Sasonkin and Rabbi Shlomo Zavin, he studied at Chabad Yeshiva in Lod. The youngest high school headteacher in Israel aged 24, in 1965, Rabbi Steinsaltz, with aid of the Israeli government, founded The Israel Institute for Talmudic Publications in Jerusalem.
The institute became the Steinsaltz Center for Jewish Knowledge in 2006, an umbrella organisation for educational activities.
An accomplished author, including an introduction to Kabbalah, the Talmud and Chasidic movement, Rabbi Steinsaltz recently published his thoughts on a blog from around the world.
He also founded Makor Chaim institutions in Jerusalem and Russia. A network of schools in the former USSR includes the first yeshiva acknowledged by the authorities.
The Aleph Society operates in the U.S., UK, Australia and Israel to spread his vision.
Rabbi Steinsaltz has received numerous accolades during an extraordinary life including The Israel Prize, The President and Prime Minister’s Award, the inaugural Israeli Presidential Award of Distinction and Yakir Yerushalayim annual citizenship prize.
He received honorary doctorate degrees from Bar Ilan University, Ben Gurion University, Yeshiva University, Brandeis University and Florida International University.
Rabbi Steinsaltz is survived by his wife, Sarah, sons Menachem and Amechaye, daughter, Esther Sheleg, and 18 grandchildren.