11 Aug Remembering Rav Adin Even-Israel Steinsaltz zt’l: “A Once In a Millenium Scholar”
This past Friday we lost one of the greatest minds of our generation. Rabbi Adin Even-Israel Steinsaltz, z”l, best known for his translation of the Talmud Bavli, was niftar last Friday morning at the age of 83. Rabbi Steinsaltz had been hospitalized at Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Yerushalayim, where he was being treated for a lung infection not related to the coronavirus. Rabbi Steinsaltz was a Torah scholar of prodigious knowledge, an author, educator and educational innovator, and had a profound impact on Jewish thought and religious study during his lifetime. He was considered by many a modern day Rashi. A longtime educator, prolific author of over 60 books and Israel Prize laureate, Rabbi Steinsaltz (who years ago switched to a Hebraicized version of his surname, Even-Israel, but never shook off the original) was also a physicist and chemist, a biting social critic and a beloved public figure in Eretz Yisrael — revered for his encyclopedic mind, and admired for his down-to-earth and kindly bearing. His first name means “gentle” in Hebrew, and by all accounts, he was. His books and hundreds of articles were on many different subjects, including Gemara, Jewish mysticism, Jewish philosophy, sociology, historical biography and philosophy. Born in 1937 in Yerushalayim to a secular family, Rabbi Steinzaltz was sent by his father, a communist Zionist who believed in giving a broad Jewish education to his children, to a religious school where he gradually became religious and moved towards the Chabad Chasidus under the influence of his friend and mentor, Rabbi Shmuel Elazar Halperin, a descendant of the founder of Chabad. Rabbi Steinzaltz was also influenced by the Rabbi of the Katamon neighborhood where he lived, Rabbi Dov Ber Eliezrov, who was also a Chasid of Chabad. Rabbi Steinzaltz studied at the Tomchei Temimim yeshiva in Lod and also completed his academic studies in mathematics, physics and chemistry. He worked as an educator and as the principal of a school in the Negev. Rabbi Steinsaltz studied physics and chemistry at Hebrew University. He established several experimental schools and, at the age of 24, became Israel’s youngest school principal. His father was a great-grandson of the first Slonimer Rebbe. In 1965 Rabbi Steinzaltz, whose motto was “let my people know” (a play on words of “let my people go”) and who dreamed of making the Jewish bookcase accessible to all who wish to study Jewish sources, established the Israel Institute for Talmudic Publications, which later became the Steinzaltz Center. In 1965 Rabbi Steinsaltz began work on what came to be known as the Steinsaltz Edition of the Talmud, translating the entire Talmud Bavli into Hebrew. He completed it in 2010. After being originally published in Hebrew, it was also translated into English, French, Russian and Spanish. When he completed, in 2010, his 41-volume translation of Gemara into modern Hebrew with a running commentary (which has since been translated into English), it was hailed as a revolutionary feat making the largely Aramaic, often obscure text accessible, furthering its reach and encouraging deeper study. But like any good Jewish literary-rabbinical product, it was not without its raging critics. Steinsaltz spurred tremendous criticism in the Olam HaTorah for altering conventions by placing his commentary in the space traditionally reserved for Rashi. He also added new notes in place of certain Tosafos and changed the traditional layout and pagination in his translation. Still endorsed by Rabbi Moshe Feinstein zt ‘’l, Steinsaltz’s translation was also reportedly applauded by the Ger Chasidic sect. Former Sephardic Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar praised its capacity to “expand the borders of holiness” to encompass those not well-versed in Talmud, but fretted that its ease of use would contribute to the dying out of ancient methods of study among yeshiva students and runs counter to the edict to “toil in the study of Torah.” “There is no laziness like intellectual laziness,” Amar told the ultra-Orthodox Kol Berama radio station in 2009, lamenting the resorting to “easy commentaries” by yeshiva students. Steinsaltz was not the first translation of the Babylonian Talmud. But as the first into modern Hebrew, with his own phrase-by-phrase commentary appearing alongside medieval commentaries Rashi and Tosafot, it caused the greatest stir. In interviews, Rabbi Steinsaltz countered that much of the Charedi criticism stemmed from opposition among the ultra-Orthodox to the Chabad-Lubavitch community with which he was affiliated, rather than to his work. Traditional study of Gemara, he insisted, is bogged down by technical details that keep students from plumbing its depths. Continuing his work as a teacher and spiritual mentor, Rabbi Steinsaltz established Yeshivat Mekor Chaim alongside Rabbis Menachem Froman and Shagar in 1984, and Yeshivat Tekoa in 1999. He also served as president of the Shefa Middle and High Schools. His honorary degrees include doctorates from Yeshiva University, Ben Gurion University of the Negev, Bar Ilan University, Brandeis University, and Florida International University. Rabbi Steinsaltz was also the Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Hesder Tekoa. The founder of a network of yeshivas in Eretz Yisrael and the former Soviet Union, Rabbi Steinsaltz was also active in outreach to Jews beyond the Iron Curtain. In 1989, when he founded a yeshiva in Moscow, it became the first state-sanctioned institution of Jewish study in the city in 60 years. Being a follower of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Steinsaltz went to help Jews in the Soviet Union, assisting Chabad’s shluchim (emissaries) network. Steinsaltz served as the region’s Duchovny Ravin (Spiritual Rabbi), a historic Russian title which indicates that he was the spiritual mentor of Russian Jewry. In this capacity, Steinsaltz travelled to Russia and the Republics once each month from his home in Jerusalem. During his time in the former Soviet Union, he founded the Jewish University, both in Moscow and Saint Petersburg. The Jewish University is the first degreegranting institution of Jewish studies in the former Soviet Union. In 1991, on the advice of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, he changed his family name from Steinsaltz to Even-Israel. During a prolific writing career which spanned more than five decades, Steinzaltz published some 60 books on the entire gamut of Jewish literature. Steinzaltz authored a seminal book on Kabbalah, “The Thirteen- Petalled Rose” which was first published in 1980 and now appears in eight languages. He also wrote hundreds of articles on subjects including Talmud, Jewish philosophy, sociology, historical biography, and philosophy. His books have been translated into 60 languages and he received numerous prizes including the Israel Prize in 1988 and the President’s Citation in 2012. Rabbi Steinsaltz was also presented with the 2012 National Jewish Book Award in the category of Modern Jewish Thought & Experience by the Jewish Book Council for his commentary, translation, and notes in the Koren Babylonian Talmud, which has now been completed. (English edition) In 2017 he completed his commentary on Chumash as well as the Neviim and recently completed a commentary on the Mishnah. He also authored three books on the Tanyathe seminal Chasidic work by Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Ladi, the founder of the Lubavitch dynasty: “Opening The Tanya”, “Learning the Tanya”, and “Understanding the Tanya.” In his later years — even as his books were translated into numerous languages, selling millions of copies worldwide, and as he wrapped up his Chumash commentary, Rabbi Steinsaltz was still daunted by the work that remained unfinished. In one of his final interviews in 2016, to the Ben Gurion University periodical “Israelis,” he mused: “I never thought about what will be written on my tombstone, it doesn’t really preoccupy me. But I am concerned by what will be remembered. I did something, but I didn’t do enough, I didn’t even do a fraction of the things I wanted to do. I wrote such-and-such books — very nice. I gave such-and-such lectures — very nice. I wrote articles like sand on the seashore; it’s not enough. What would I have wanted to do? I would want to leave [behind] a small tree that will grow.” “I will tell you a final story,” he continued. “In my garden, years ago, I planted two cypress trees. One was stolen, and the other was a small cypress whose head was shorn off. I simply had mercy on it, I took its head and taped it to the still-fresh trunk. I didn’t do anything else. I let it grow, I hoped the fissure would heal. Today, that cypress is almost three meters tall, a mighty tree! That’s what I would have wanted to have done, to plant a small cypress, even one that was chopped, that will grow into a large tree.” In 2016 Rabbi Steintsaltz suffered a stroke and suffered from that ever since. He is survived by his wife, Sarah, their three children, and their eighteen grandchildren. Yehi zichro baruch.
HESPEDIM ON R’ ADIN EVEN-ISRAEL STEINSALTZ…
Harav Adin Steinsaltz zt’l who has passed away was the Rashi of our generation. His commentaries made texts, especially the Talmud Bavli, accessible to millions for whom they had been a closed book before. He was a unique figure, whose knowledge seemed to cover every field and whose insights were often poetical, unexpected and profound. So formidable were his gifts that already as a young man he gave a weekly shiur to the President of Israel, and he had an unrivalled ability to convey religious truths even to very secular people. He was imaginative, humorous, unconventional but deeply spiritual. He was unique and we are now an orphaned generation. Baruch Dayan Ha-emet.
By: Rabbi Jonathan Sacks
The passing of Rav Adin Steinsaltz was not a shock as he had been ill for many years, but it was most certainly a tremendous loss! He was the oldest child I ever knew, not in his behavior, but in the unbiased perspective he brought to a conversation. He listened carefully and learned from everyone, and for a person with such a giganticly broad knowledge of Tanach and commentary, he would always take the time to hear and process your perspective, and comment respectfully. He was an example of all that’s good and in many instances lacking in today’s leadership. Our world just very quietly lost a gift that Ha’Shem shared with us, a gift of an example of what each and everyone of us is capable of emulating, but none of us seems able to duplicate. I give a heartfelt cry from here in Jerusalem, Ha’Shem please don’t let me forget Rav Steinsaltz’s modesty of example, and open minded perspective… Min Ha’Shamayim Tinuchamu to all his family and students, and may he be granted the Aliyah in Shamayim right next to the Throne of Ha’Shem, that he so righteously deserves…
By: Rabbi S. Simon Jacob
Our hearts mourn the passing of Rabbi Adin Even Israel Steinsaltz zt”l. 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. May his memory be a blessing. יהי זכרו ברוך
By: Israel President Reuven Rivlin