Rabbi Adin Even-Israel Steinsaltz, renowned for his unmatched, encyclopedic commentary on the Talmud which opened up centuries of Jewish knowledge to rank and file Jews as well as to scholars, passed away on Friday as a result of pneumonia in Jerusalem’s Shaare Tzedek Medical Center.
Rabbi Steinsaltz was a sweet and generous man, full of joy and humor, whose heart was filled with love for every Jew he met, and who was eager to share his knowledge with anyone who asked. His clear and unencumbered approach to Jewish tradition redeemed our ancient books from dust-covered corners and opened up the treasure trove of Jewish knowledge to the masses.
Born in 1937 in Jerusalem, into a secular family, Steinsaltz became religious in his teen years and studied in Chabad’s Toras Emes yeshiva. He studied mathematics, physics, and chemistry at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, while studying for his rabbinic ordination at Chabad’s Tomchei Temimim yeshiva in Lod. At age 24, he became the youngest school principal in Israel.
In 1965, Rabbi Steinsaltz founded the Israel Institute for Talmudic Publications, where he launched his monumental work on the Talmud, with translation as well as a comprehensive commentary, encyclopedic notations and numerous illustrations in Hebrew, English, and Russian. He completed his Hebrew edition of the entire Babylonian Talmud in November 2010, at which time Koren Publishers Jerusalem became the publisher of all of his works, including the Talmud.
Steinsaltz’s work on the Kabbalah, The Thirteen Petalled Rose, was first published in 1980, and has been translated into seven languages.
Rabbi Steinsaltz has authored some 60 books and hundreds of articles on subjects including the Talmud, Jewish mysticism, Jewish philosophy, sociology, historical biography, and philosophy. His memoir-biography on the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, was published by Maggid Books in 2014.
In 1985, Rabbi Steinsaltz established Yeshivat Mekor Chaim, and Yeshivat Tekoa in 1999, both known for their Neo-Chassidic direction, together with maverick rabbis Menachem Froman and Shimon Gershon Rosenberg (Shagar). Mekor Chaim is recognized by Israel’s Education Ministry as an Experimental School and a Teacher Training Institution. The yeshiva operates a high school in Gush Etzion.
Rabbi Steinsaltz also served as scholar in residence at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, DC, and the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. His honorary degrees include doctorates from Yeshiva University, Ben Gurion University of the Negev, Bar Ilan University, Brandeis University, and Florida International University.
Adhering to a request from the late Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, in 1989 Rabbi Steinsaltz went to the Soviet Union to assist Chabad emissaries. He flew to Russia and the Soviet Republics from Israel once every month, and founded the Jewish University in Moscow and Leningrad.
In 1991, again adhering to the Rebbe’s request, Rabbi Steinsaltz he changed his name from Steinsaltz to Even Israel.
Few have done so much to enlighten so many.