Moshe-Mordechai van Zuiden
Psychology, Medicine, Science, Politics, Oppression, Integrity, Philosophy, Jews

Rav Steinsaltz: unassuming

Many beautiful words are and will be written at the occasion of Rav Steinsaltz’s untimely demise. And they’re all true. But I want to add a few words on the impression he made on me. Unforgettable.

He sometimes came on Friday, at the end of the school day and week, to his school to chat with the kids. He had a long gray beard but talked to the 6-12-year-olds as if he was one of them. Unassuming. Which is different from trying to show how humble or popular you are. Relaxed, laid-back.

After being bountifully praised as an introduction before speaking at one of his popular forums with the great humble lawyer Rabbi Emanuel Quint OBM, he once replied before the lecture: If I now came up in shorts with a football under my arm, you would not believe a word you just heard about me. Just the fact that I put on long trousers doesn’t mean it’s anyway true.

At another of these forums, he made fun of the introductory praises such: Lyndon Johnson was once lavishly praised. He came up and said: If my father would have been here, he would have loved what you just said. And if my mother would have been here, she would have believed it.

I want to remind us all of things long forgotten. When the last Lubavitcher Rebbe passed away, he was the most well-known Lubavitcher Rabbi left. He would be the next Rebbe, many said. It was not going to happen. For whatever reason, Rav Steinsaltz was not interested. Probably unrelated, he once remarked at a Steinsaltz-Quint forum: Sometimes, you got to do what you got to do–even if no one, even your spouse, understands you.

He unlocked the Talmud for those who don’t know Aramaic and are not trained in the discourse and vocabulary of the Sages. He translated the text and explained it. But he did not present all the breadth and depth of all commentaries and all of the scope of the Talmudic discussions. He did something much harder. He pointed out the essence. To do that, you must know and really understand all of it. He was a master teacher. Goethe already wrote: Only in conciseness the master [really] shows himself.

In the beginning, his Talmud presentation was trashed in Chareidic circles. I once brought his overview volume to my Chareidic yeshivah and the Talmud teacher froze from fear when he saw that. I told him: It’s not our Tractate, it’s his overview. He visibly relaxed. And while we were learning in pairs, he asked if he could have a look. After the lesson, he returned the book to me and said: It’s really excellent. The success of his work was undeniable. So, the only option there was was to compete with him. His work has caused the Chareidic ArtScroll translation of the Talmud.

At a fundraiser, I once heard him say: So many are busy with explaining that one should say [in the Shema’] tizzkeru and not tisskeru, while millions of Jews don’t know what is Shema’ Yisrael or Shabbat candles. We must prioritize the essence before spending so much time on detail.

His eyes often twinkled, looked amused. There was something naughty in them when he spoke. While his whole body said: relax already. Keep that in mind when you read his works or about his person. May his memory be for a blessing. May the One Who is everywhere comfort his family, friends, and generations of students amidst those who mourn Zion and Jerusalem.

We know that, while the wicked seem dead while alive, the saintly only really come to life after they departed. Be ready for an uptick in the sales and learning from the great schoolmaster whose voice we’ll miss so much.

About the Author
MM is a prolific and creative writer and thinker, a daily blog contributor to the TOI. He is a fetal survivor of the pharmaceutical industry (, born in 1953 to two Dutch survivors who met in the largest concentration camp in the Netherlands, Westerbork, and holds a BA in medicine (University of Amsterdam). He taught Re-evaluation Co-counseling, became a social activist, became religious, made Aliyah, and raised three wonderful kids. He wrote an unpublished tome about Jewish Free Will. He's a strict vegan since 2008. He's an Orthodox Jew but not a rabbi. * His most influential teachers (chronologically) are: his parents, Nico (natan) van Zuiden and Betty (beisye) Nieweg, Wim Kan, Mozart, Harvey Jackins, Marshal Rosenberg, Reb Shlomo Carlebach, and, lehavdil bein chayim lechayim: Rabbi Dr. Natan Lopes Cardozo, Rav Zev Leff, and Rav Meir Lubin. * Previously, for decades, he was known to the Jerusalem Post readers as a frequent letter writer. For a couple of years, he wrote hasbara for the Dutch public. His fields of attention now are varied: Psychology (including Sexuality and Abuse), Medicine (including physical immortality), Science (statistics), Politics (Israel, the US and the Netherlands, Activism - more than leftwing or rightwing, he hopes to highlight Truth), Oppression and Liberation (intersectionally, for young people, the elderly, non-Whites, women, workers, Jews, LGBTQIA, foreigners and anyone else who's dehumanized or exploited), Integrity, Philosophy, Jews (Judaism, Zionism, Holocaust and Jewish Liberation), Ecology and Veganism. Sometimes he's misunderstood because he has such a wide vision that never fits any specialist's box. But that's exactly what many love about him. Many of his posts relate to affairs from the news or the Torah Portion of the Week or are new insights that suddenly befell him. * He hopes that his words will inspire and inform, reassure the doubters but make the self-assured doubt more. He strives to bring a fresh perspective rather than bore you with the obvious. He doesn't expect his readers to agree. Rather, original minds must be disputed. In short, his main political positions are: anti-Trumpism, for Zionism, Intersectionality, non-violence, democracy, anti the fake peace process, for original-Orthodoxy, Science, Free Will, anti blaming-the-victim and for down-to-earth optimism. Read his blog how he attempts to bridge any discrepancies. He admits sometimes exaggerating to make a point, which could have him come across as nasty, while in actuality, he's quite a lovely person to interact with. He holds - how Dutch - that a strong opinion doesn't imply intolerance of other views. * His writing has been made possible by an allowance for second-generation Holocaust survivors from the Netherlands. It has been his dream since he was 38 to try to make a difference by teaching through writing. He had three times 9-out-of-10 for Dutch at his high school finals but is spending his days communicating in English and Hebrew - how ironic. G-d must have a fine sense of humor. In case you wonder - yes, he is a bit dyslectic. November 13, 2018, he published his 500th blog post with the ToI. If you're a native English speaker and wonder why you should read from people whose English is only their second language, consider the advantage of having a peek outside of your cultural bubble. * NEW: To see other blog posts by him, his overspill blog you can reach by clicking on the Website icon next to his picture at the head of every post. There you may find precursors to later TOI blog posts, addition or corrections of published TOI blog posts, blog posts the TOI will not carry, and some thoughts that are too short to be a TOI blog post. Also, the TOI only allows for one blog post per blogger per 24 hours. Sometimes, he has more to say than that. * To send any personal reaction to him, scroll to the top of the blog post and click Contact Me.
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