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Rabbi Adin Even-Israel (Steinsaltz) (2010)
|Born||1937 (age 81–82)|
|The Talmud: The Steinsaltz Edition|
Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz (Hebrew: עדין שטיינזלץ) or Adin Even Yisrael (עדין אבן ישראל) (born 1937) is a teacher, philosopher, social critic, and spiritual mentor, who has been hailed by Time magazine as a "once-in-a-millennium scholar". He has devoted his life to making the Talmud accessible to all Jews. Originally published in modern Hebrew, with a running commentary to facilitate learning, his Steinsaltz edition of the Talmud has also been translated into English, French, Russian, and Spanish. Beginning in 1989, Steinsaltz published several tractates in Hebrew and English of the Babylonian (Bavli) Talmud in an English-Hebrew edition. The first volume of a new English-Hebrew edition, the Koren Talmud Bavli, was released in May, 2012, with thirteen tractates in print by July 2014. New volumes are being released following the Daf Yomi cycle.
Born in Jerusalem in 1937 to secular parents, Steinsaltz studied mathematics, physics, and chemistry at the Hebrew University, in addition to rabbinical studies. Following graduation, he established several experimental schools after an unsuccessful attempt to start a neo-Hassidic community in the Negev desert, and, at the age of 23, became Israel's youngest school principal.
In 1965, he founded the Israel Institute for Talmudic Publications, and began his monumental work on the Talmud, including translation into Hebrew, English, Russian, and various other languages. The Steinsaltz editions of the Talmud include translation from the original Aramaic and a comprehensive commentary. Steinsaltz 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. While not without criticism (such as by Jacob Neusner, 1998), the Steinsaltz edition is widely used throughout Israel, the United States, and the world. Over two million volumes of the Steinsaltz Talmud have been distributed to date. The out-of-print Random House publication of The Talmud: The Steinsaltz Edition is widely regarded as the most accurate and least redacted of any English language edition, and is sought after on that basis by scholars and collectors. Controversial Talmud passages previously obscured, omitted entirely or confined to footnotes in English translations like the Soncino Talmud, receive full exposition in the Steinsaltz Talmud. Random House halted publication of the Steinsaltz Talmud after less than one-third of the English translation had been published.
The Steinsaltz editions of the Talmud have opened up the world of Talmud study to thousands of people outside the walls of the traditional yeshiva, including women, who traditionally were not taught Talmud. Regarding the access that his work provides, Rabbi Steinsaltz says: "I never thought that spreading ignorance has any advantage, except for those who are in a position of power and want to deprive others of their rights and spread ignorance in order to keep them underlings."
Rabbi Steinsaltz's classic work of Kabbalah, The Thirteen Petalled Rose, was first published in 1980, and now appears in eight languages. In all, Steinsaltz has authored some 60 books and hundreds of articles on subjects including Talmud, Jewish mysticism, Jewish philosophy, sociology, historical biography, and philosophy. Many of these works have been translated into English by his close personal friend, now deceased, Yehuda Hanegbi. His latest book is a memoir-biography on the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, published by Maggid Books (2014).
Continuing his work as a teacher and spiritual mentor, Steinsaltz established a network of schools and educational institutions in Israel and the former Soviet Union. He has served as scholar in residence at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D. C., 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. Steinsaltz is also Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Hesder Tekoa.
Being a follower of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson of Chabad-Lubavitch, he went to help Jews in the Soviet Union assisting Chabad's shluchim (propagators) network. Deeply involved in the future of the Jews in the former Soviet Union, Steinsaltz serves as the region's Duchovny Ravin (Spiritual Rabbi), a historic Russian title which indicates that he is 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 degree-granting institution of Jewish studies in the former Soviet Union.
Steinsaltz has taken a cautious approach to interfaith dialogues. During a visit of a delegation of Roman Catholic cardinals in Manhattan in January 2004, he said that, "You do not have to raise over-expectations of a meeting, as it doesn't signify in itself a breakthrough; however, the opportunity for cardinals and rabbis to speak face to face is valuable. It's part of a process in which we can talk to each other in a friendly way", and called for "a theological dialogue that asks the tough questions, such as whether Catholicism allows for Jews to enter eternal paradise".
Steinsaltz and his wife live in Jerusalem, and have three children and more than ten grandchildren. His son, Rabbi Menachem ("Meni") Even-Israel, is the Executive Director of the Steinsaltz Center, Rabbi Steinsaltz's umbrella organization, located in the Nachlaot neighborhood of Jerusalem.
Rabbi Steinsaltz is a prolific author and commentator, having written numerous books on Jewish knowledge, tradition and culture, and produced original commentaries on the entirety of Jewish canon: Tanakh (Torah, Prophets, and Writings), the Babylonian Talmud, the Mishna, the Mishneh Torah, and Tanya.
His published works include:
Prior to his stroke, he gave evening seminars in Jerusalem, which, according to Newsweek, usually lasted until 2:00 in the morning, and attracted prominent politicians, such as the former Prime Minister Levi Eshkol and former Finance Minister Pinhas Sapir.
Rabbi Steinsaltz has been honored with numerous awards throughout his lifetime to highlight his dedication to the dissemination of Jewish knowledge. On April 21, 1988, he received the Israel Prize for Jewish Studies, the first of these awards.
Years later, on February 9, 2012, Steinsaltz was honored by Israeli President Shimon Peres with Israel's first President's Prize alongside Zubin Mehta, Uri Slonim, Henry Kissinger, Judy Feld Carr, and the Rashi Foundation. Steinsaltz was presented with this award for his contribution to the study of Talmud, making it more accessible to Jews worldwide.
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. The Modern Jewish Thought & Experience award was awarded on January 15, 2013 in memory of Joy Ungerleider Mayerson by the Dorot Foundation.
On May 22, 2017, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat visited Steinsaltz at his home to present him with the Yakir Yerushalayim (“Worthy Citizen of Jerusalem”) medal. This medal of achievement was awarded to Steinsaltz to honor his hard work in writing and translating books to be studied by millions of Jews and non-Jews around the world.
On June 10, 2018, Steinsaltz was honored at a Gala Dinner at the Orient Hotel in Jerusalem as a public marking of his unparalleled pedagogical achievements throughout a lifetime dedicated to Jewish education. A limited-edition version of “The Steinsaltz Humash” was presented to the attendees of this event.
Steinsaltz's works aroused fierce opposition in parts of the Orthodox Jewish world, with many leading rabbis such as Elazar Shach, Yosef Shalom Eliashiv, and Eliezer Waldenberg harshly condemning his Talmud and other books. Waldenberg wrote that when the Steinsaltz Talmud was brought before him, he was "shocked" to see the way in which the Steinsaltz Talmud described the Patriarchs and Talmudic sages, as well as its approach to the Oral Torah. Waldenberg further wrote that the Steinsaltz Talmud had the power to "poison the souls" of those who read it. Mordechai Gifter delivered a pointed lecture on the subject, criticizing Steinsaltz and his defenders in strong terms.
Aharon Feldman has penned a lengthy critical review of the Steinsaltz Talmud. Among many criticisms, he writes, "Specifically, the work is marred by an extraordinary number of inaccuracies stemming primarily from misreadings of the sources; it fails to explain those difficult passages which the reader would expect it to explain; and it confuses him with notes which are often irrelevant, incomprehensible, and contradictory." Feldman says he fears that, "An intelligent student utilizing the Steinsaltz Talmud as his personal instructor might in fact conclude that Talmud in general is not supposed to make sense." Furthermore, writes Feldman, the Steinsaltz Talmud gives off the impression that the Talmud is intellectually flabby, inconsistent, and often trivial.
While certain members of the Haredi community might not agree with Steinsaltz's work, other Jewish leaders, Rabbis, and authors have spoken or written about their appreciation for Steinsaltz's unique educational approach. Rabbi John Rosove of Temple Israel of Hollywood featured “Opening The Tanya”, “Learning the Tanya”, and “Understanding the Tanya” on his list of the top ten recommended Jewish books. These volumes are written by Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the founder of the Chabad Lubavitch movement, and include commentary by Rabbi Steinsaltz. Through reading the Tanya, readers can explore all aspects of the central text of Chabad movement. Rabbi Elie Kaunfer, a rosh yeshiva and the CEO of Mechon Hadar Yeshiva, discussed his gratitude for Steinsaltz's Global Day of Jewish Learning and the opportunity created by this online platform for learning and creating a deeper connection to Torah, other Jewish text, and Jews worldwide. Rabbi Pinchas Allouche, who studied under Rabbi Steinsaltz, notes that Steinsaltz “is a world scholar” who “revolutionized the Jewish landscape” through his commentary, other writings, and educational organizations. Other members of the Jewish community, such as Zeev Katz, an Israeli Historian, have verbalized their appreciation of Steinsaltz's contribution to historical education by comparing Steinsaltz to Rashi and Maimonides, two great Jewish sages of medieval times, and classifying him as “a once-in-a-millennium scholar”. In addition, Ilana Kurshan, an American-Israeli author, wrote that Steinsaltz's ability to bring “the historical world of the Talmudic stages to life” created an enjoyable Jewish learning experience for her when she was intensely studying Talmud.
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