Reflections on the first yahrzeit of Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz – The Jerusalem Post

Posted By on August 13, 2021

My father is still alive I can hear his voice in his books and videos. Thats precisely how he wanted to be remembered not by eulogies or speeches, but by regular people learning from his works, says his eldest son and CEO of the Steinsaltz Center in Jerusalem, Rabbi Menachem Meni Even-Israel.

Steinsaltz was awarded the Israel Prize in 1988, for producing his masterpiece a translation and commentary on the Babylonian Talmud. His Talmud The Steinsaltz Edition was a pioneering work and made the Talmud accessible to the masses.

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In 2012, Steinsaltz was awarded the National Jewish Book Award by the Jewish Book Council for his commentary, translation, and notes in the Koren Babylonian Talmud. He also received the Presidents Medal in 2012, for his contribution to the study of the Talmud, and the Yakir Yerushalayim prize in 2017, for his writing and translation work.

My father had an eclectic ability to bring together a vast range of sources - both Jewish and non-Jewish - from archaeology and science, to history and technology - in one tapestry and impart an intellectual and moral message, says Meni.

He was a devout chassid (disciple) of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, but he had his own views which were different to the Rebbe. They did have a similar goal though that of bringing G-d and Torah closer to all people not just Jews.

When asked what he thought his fathers legacy was, Meni, is quite clear: To take the Jewish canon Talmud and the Bible and make it accessible and interesting to ordinary people. He used modern, scientific language which helped all religious and secular and non-Jews discover the beauty of authentic Judaism through texts like he had done himself in his youth.

My father was deeply pained by the reality that Jews were indifferent to Jewish life. He wanted to make Judaism meaningful and believed this can only be done through engaging with the original texts. My father never said, Keep all the mitzvot to people. He believed that Jewish knowledge was the most important thing and performing mitzvot was the natural result.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe, believed that being Jewish is about keeping mitzvot about doing. For Rabbi Steinsaltz, being Jewish was about being connected to your past through text. He saw his role as to bring the Jewish bookshelf back to its rightful owners the Jewish people, says Meni.

Like Rabbi Sacks, Rabbi Steinsaltz wanted to take Judaism to the streets, using the language of the layman. Rabbi Sacks was in his own league in how articulate he was and making the non-Jewish world approach Judaism with respect and awe, observes Meni. My father and Rabbi Sacks had the same goal to take Judaism out of the hands of the learned and elite and make it relevant and engaging for the masses - to the public forum.

Both of their missions were charged by the Lubavitcher Rebbes vigilance, persistence and love for the Jewish people. Both of their deaths were far too soon and they were both involved in multiple projects at the time of their deaths. They were both selfless Jewish intellectuals and leaders they actually met when Rabbi Sacks was studying in Oxford and from then stayed in touch throughout their professional careers.

Practically what is the Steinsaltz Center doing to continue his legacy?

Firstly, Meni says, they are focusing on publishing his 80 books he left and disseminating his thought and knowledge through a new app and social media.

Since Rabbi Steinsaltzs death, there has been a proliferation of his books being published, in Hebrew, English and French. They plan to continue to publish two books per year, as well as starting to produce the new edition of the Talmud in French. The first volume of Rabbi Steinsaltzs commentary on the Tanya (early work of hasidic philosophy) is coming out in French to mark his first yahrzeit.

The app that is already available to download and is free - will be formally launched in September. It has all of Rabbi Steinsaltzs teaching and interpretations on from Talmud and Bible to Maimonidies and Jewish ideas and theology.

The Steinsaltz Center has a very active Instagram, Facebook and Twitter accounts sharing his quotes, video-clips, PDFs and articles using social media to reach as many people as possible.

Steinsaltz left over 10,000 hours of audio and 5,000 hours of videos. They plan on uploading them all to their website and app.

The Steinsaltz Center have established the Shalhevet program an international program where over 120 students in the Tekoa hesder yeshiva in Gush Etzion, learn online, on Zoom, Skype or telephone, with students from all around the world. They learn a whole spectrum of texts, all based on Steinsaltzs work from Talmud and Bible to Mishna and Jewish thought.

In English, the Erez series a set of five books, was Steinsaltzs concise guide to Judaism. A collection of the best of our Jewish wisdom and Halacha.

Also, a Hebrew collection of the hasidic talks he gave throughout the year and quotations will be available for the chagim with stunning pictures. The hope is that this book with also be translated into English.

For the yahrzeit itself, there will be a special 24-hour Mishna learning program connecting Jews all around the globe. From Rabbi Levi Woolf in Melbourne to Rabbi Yitzchak Mishna in Brazil, Jews will be learning Mishna from downloaded from their new app.

Is Rabbi Steinsaltz replaceable?

Meni says in one word no.

However, Meni continues, We can continue his legacy by reading his works and connecting with his ideas and thoughts. His philosophy was, Ill give you the keys you take responsibility and run with it. He did that in Yeshivat Tekoa (in the Gush Etzion, on the outskirts of Jerusalem.) He gave Rabbi Zinger the keys and he created an empire.

There are not enough superlatives to describe Rabbi Steinsaltz or what hes done for the Jewish world (though many have been used). He was said to have been a modern-day Rashi; that would be true, had Rashi also translated, written books, founded schools, lectured to vast audiences, and gone round the world helping Jewish communities.

Fine adds, Rabbi Steinsaltzs contribution is immeasurable. A year after his death, were still very far from understanding the magnitude of his legacy. It may take generations to fully appreciate it. For now, we can simply be grateful that we got to live in the shadow of this towering giant of Torah.

The Jerusalem Report also spoke with Meir Klein, former editor at the Steinsaltz Tenach commentary project, currently writing a dissertation on Rabbi Steinsaltz.

Rabbi Steinsaltz believed that if you were Jewish he was interested in you that every Jew has an equal share in our common inheritance. The basis for change was learning. He was determined to battle ignorance, as his lifelong project was making the sources of Judaism and particularly the Talmud, accessible to all, says Klein.

Steinsaltz was a complex man, Klein believes. He was influenced in his youth by the communist revolution and longed for a new hasidic revolution. On the other hand, he recognized that meaningful change took time and dedicated his life to promoting a Jewish renaissance. Without giving up on the dreams of his youth, he focused on the realistic, step-by-step approach and engineer change that way.

He was extraordinarily devoted to his work - the results of which speak for themselves. His books have become an entrance gate to Judaism for many, and a mobile teacher as he put it for many others.

The goal was affecting people and bringing them closer to Judaism. He wanted people to live a new kind of Jewish life, full of passion and emotion, relevant and contemporary, but also authentic and faithful to tradition, innovative but committed to traditional practices, rooted in foundations of Jewish knowledge and at the same time instrumental in creating a more functional and moral society, says Klein.

Klein believes Steinsaltz had a decisive influence on many trends of contemporary Judaism, from the teshuvah (repentance) movement to the study of the daily Daf Yomi (one page of Talmud per day) from the hasidic revival to the growth of pluralistic study centers, from the dissolving of sectoral boundaries to the strengthening of Jewish peoplehood.

Steinsaltz was looking at results rather than respect and credit. Someone once told him that he had received one of his books and thanks to him had returned to his Jewish roots. Recalling this, in tears of excitement, Rabbi Steinsaltz said that at that moment he felt that he had returned to the Jew his legal inheritance.

Rabbi Steinsaltz saw his students and followers as his living legacy. His lifes motto was, Let my people know. As we approach a year since Rabbi Steinsaltzs passing away, the vacuum he has left can only be filled by learning from his books and applying his message to our daily lives.

As Meni says, His agenda is still on Torah is reaching Jews and non-Jews alike. In this way, Rabbi Steinsaltz is still here with us. People having conversations about Judaism based on texts, knowledge and real learning not just folklore. Thats exactly what my father wanted.

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Reflections on the first yahrzeit of Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz - The Jerusalem Post

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