Israel Mourns Loss of Spiritual Giant, Leading Scholar and Top Educator of his Generation
Through his translation of the Talmud and groundbreaking network of schools, Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz opened up the wisdom and beauty of the Torah to people from a diverse range of backgrounds.
By Ebin Sandler, United with Israel
Rabbi Adin (Even-Israel) Steinsaltz was 83 years old when he passed away on Friday in Jerusalem.
A beloved rabbi who undertook the herculean task of completing a translation and commentary on the entire Talmud, Rav Steinsaltz also earned acclaim as a one-of-a-kind educator who created a new paradigm for formal education within Israel’s religious world and beyond.
“From the depths of my heart, I lament the passing of Rabbi Steinsaltz, whose knowledge was vast, a Torah genius and a man of exemplary spirit,” commented Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin remembered Rabbi Steinsaltz as “a man of great spiritual courage, deep knowledge and profound thought,” calling him “a modern-day Rashi,” a reference to the medieval commentator who authored definitive commentaries on the key texts in the Jewish canon.
Born in Jerusalem in 1937, Steinsaltz was raised in a non-religious home, but was drawn to Torah observance in his teenage years largely through the outreach of the Chabad-Lubavitch hasidic movement. Steinsaltz would eventually become a close devotee of the movement’s leader, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, known to many simply as the “Rebbe.”
While Steinsaltz studied mathematics and hard sciences at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, he ultimately devoted his life to opening up traditional Torah knowledge to those who either lacked a formal religious education or struggled to find a place in the yeshiva system.
Specifically, Steinsaltz oversaw the translation of the Talmud from its original Aramaic into Hebrew, English, and Russian, in addition to other languages. The Steinsaltz edition of the Talmud also contains a commentary and explanatory notes.
In addition to his work on the Talmud, Steinsaltz authored 60 books, including his acclaimed book on the mystical aspects of Judaism, “The Thirteen Petalled Rose.”
A Teacher Who Loved His Students
Steinsaltz, heralded by Time magazine in 2001 as a “once-in-a-millennium” scholar, still found time to create a groundbreaking network of schools in Israel and the former Soviet Union.
Rabbi Dani Gutenmacher has been an educator at one of these schools, Yeshivat Mekor Chaim in Gush Etzion, for over three decades. He spoke with United with Israel following Steinsaltz’s death.
“He was ebullient,” said Gutenmacher. “When Rav Steinsaltz explained something, he would introduce illustrations from every discipline you could imagine, from animal behavior to sociology to history. To say he was broad-minded would be an understatement.
“He was very demanding of himself and everybody else around him, not in the sense that he was difficult, but when he described his dreams for his schools, they were on a level that was nearly impossible to reach.”
Gutenmacher continued, “There are near-endless examples of kids whom he had an impact on. He gave them individual attention. He wanted each student to be great, in whatever endeavor he set his mind to. He spoke with students personally.”
Photographer Marko Dashev captured Steinsaltz’s love for his students in a short essay he wrote following a photo shoot in 2014.
“The moment of this portrait stays with me for many reasons. The most compelling is this. At the time, Rabbi Steinsaltz, and everyone else for that matter, were saying Tehilim (Psalms), with the hopes of the safe return of Naftali [Frenkel], Gilad [Shaer], and Eyal [Yifrach], the three young yeshiva students who were reported missing from Mekor Chaim, Rabbi Steinsaltz’s school,” Dashev recalled.
“Their bodies were found the very next day, Daled Tammuz, victims of terrorists. Rabbi Steinsaltz flew back to Israel to be with his students.”
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