Death of a Giant: An Obituary

We tragically and heart-broken learned a few days ago of the death of Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz at age 83 from pneumonia.

His life was a fascinating one. He was born in Jerusalem to parents who were non-religious secular Jews and members of Israel’s communist party.

As a teenager he joined the Chassidic Chabad youth movement and from that time on he was devoted to a life of strict orthodox Judaism.

At the Hebrew University in Jerusalem he studied mathematics (in which he became a specialist), chemistry and physics.

Throughout the years of his life he was a devoted follower of the Lubavitcher Rabbi Menachem Schneerson, the father of the Chabad movement, and he became the head of Chabad in Israel

Rabbi Steinsaltz published more than 60 books including some on zoology and theology. But his greatest passion and which brought him international fame was the study of the ancient Babylonian Talmud and his renowned translation..

He spent sixteen hour daily over 45 years in translating the Talmud Bavli from Aramaic into Hebrew. He began his gigantic work in 1965 and his final edition was completed and published in 2010. More than 2,700 pages in double folio

There are 45 published volumes of the renowned Steinsaltz Talmud.

In 1988 he was awarded the Israel Prize Laureate (Israel’s version of the Nobel Prize) and in 2012 he received the Presidential Medal of Honor for his 45 volume translation of the Babylonian Talmud.

While there are two different Talmuds, one written in Babylonia and one in Jerusalem, the only official and widely studied version is the Babylonian which was begun in the fifth century.

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz was a modest man and a giant of a scholar. There is no one like him since the time of Rashi in 10th century France.

He and his beloved wife Sara had three children and eighteen grandchildren living in Jerusalem.

Yeshiva students, rabbis and scholars throughout the Jewish world study the Steinsaltz translations of Talmud Bavli.

In his memory today on the eve of the sacred Shabbat, I have taken the volume of Baba Metzia from the bookshelf and will read a page of his translation from the original Aramaic into modern Hebrew.

His sad death was the death of a giant who walked, worked and lived among us. He was buried in the historic Jerusalem cemetery on the Mount of Olives.
May we all be blessed by the memory of the giant who is physically no more but whose spirituality will live on for thousands of years.

I join with the millions who extend condolences to the Steinsaltz family: “HaMakom yenachem etchem b’toch sh’ar avalai Tziyon v’Yerushalayim.” May the Almighty and Merciful God comfort you among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.
And in the words of the last of our ancient prophets, Malachi: “True instruction was on his lips and he did not give voice to unrighteousness. He walked with the Lord his God in peace, uprightly ,and he turned many away from iniquity”.

A beloved and esteemed giant of our century has died. There are none to replace him. Yehi zichro baruch. May his memory be for a blessing. Amen.

About the Author
Esor Ben-Sorek is a retired professor of Hebrew, Biblical literature & history of Israel. Conversant in 8 languages: Hebrew, Yiddish, English, French, German, Spanish, Polish & Dutch. Very proud of being an Israeli citizen. A follower of Trumpeldor & Jabotinsky & Begin.
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