Tributes have been paid to a rabbi whose translations made the Talmud much more accessible after he died of pneumonia in Jerusalem on Friday aged 83.
In 1965, aged 27, Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz began translating the 5,400-page Jewish text from Aramaic into Hebrew, a project that took him the best part of half a century.
The Talmud’s pages record the debates of Jewish sages in Babylonia more than 1,500 years ago, discussing the laws and ethics of Judaism.
While not the first translation, Steinsaltz’s included commentaries made in the margins by influential Jewish scholars such as medieval French rabbi Rashi, to whom Israeli President Reuven Rivlin this week compared him.
Philanthropists Leo and Susan Noé, who supported Steinsaltz’s work, said: “We mourn the passing of HaRav Adin Steinsaltz z”l – one of The Greats of our generation. He was interested in everyone and warm and friendly to all who met him. We are privileged to have known him and learned from him.
“Rav Steinsaltz z”l was a giant in learning who displayed great humility and we are so very proud to have played our part in bringing his thoughts, interpretations, and erudition to the Jewish people. He will live on forever in his writing.”
Steinsaltz was finally able to complete the 45-volume set in 2010, which allowed it to be translated into English, Russian, French and Spanish. Israeli Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer said this made the Talmud “accessible to millions”.
Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks paid tribute, calling him “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.”
Jonathan Greenblatt, chief executive of the Anti-Defamation League, said Steinsaltz was “one of the most revolutionary and important Jewish scholars of our generation” while Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union of Reform Judaism, said he was “one of the greatest sages of Torah learning”.
His life as a scholar led to him publishing more than 60 books, including the classic Kabbalah text ‘The Thirteen Petalled Rose,’ in areas that spanned mysticism to zoology, but his life was not entirely spent at a desk.
As a follower of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson of outreach organisation Chabad-Lubavitch, Steinsaltz went to the Soviet Union to help Jews there who wanted to emigrate to Israel.
In later life he was awarded the Israel Prize, the President’s Prize and the Yakir Yerushalayim Medal, before suffering a stroke in 2016 which left him unable to speak. He is survived by his wife and three children.