Adin Steinsaltz

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Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz (Hebrew: עדין שטיינזלץ) or Adin Even Yisrael (Hebrew: עדין אבן ישראל) (born 1937) is most commonly known for his popular commentary and translation of both Talmuds into Hebrew language, French language, Russian language and Spanish language. In 1988, he was awarded the Israel Prize, State of Israel's highest honor.

Steinsaltz is a noted rabbi, scholar, philosopher, social critic and author world wide whose background also includes extensive scientific training. In 1988, Time magazine praised him as an "once-in-a-millennium scholar."[1]

"A society must ask, seek and demand, that each individual give something of himself From the sum of these small offerings, It can then build itself anew. If all of us light the candle of our souls, the world will be filled with light." -Adin Steinsaltz

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Main article The Irrelevance of “Toleration” in Judaism

The interactions that are possible between Jews and non-Jews in modern times are fundamentally different from those of any previous era in Jewish history. Particularly in the Western world, Jews and non-Jews meet each other in civil society on an equal footing. In the secular context of the modern state, a consensus has been reached about religious freedom. Jews, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, and Buddhists may live side by side—and each by his own faith shall live. “toleration” is a concept very hard to apply in the context of monotheism. Religious beliefs cannot, and really should not, figure as options on a list of legitimate alternatives.

However, there are partial solutions about which not enough has been said. Judaism, despite the absolute and exclusionary quality of its monotheism, has a side that tends toward openness and toleration. This side of Judaism has also an expression in the Jewish abstention from proselytizing. Even ultimately, Judaism does not view itself as the religion of all people. It is the religion of the Jews alone and is, for almost all its practitioners, inherited. The assumption that Judaism is the religion of one people (and a few unsought converts) is emphatically a normative principle and is important to our discussion because it suggests that, within Jewish doctrine, there is room for the religious beliefs of others.

Rabbi Steinsaltz’s involvement in interfaith relations brings him to places around the world to meet with diplomatic and religious leaders, including the Dalai Lama and chief cardinals at the Vatican. In 2000, he delivered a keynote address at the Millennium World Peace Summit of Religious and Spiritual Leaders at the United Nations, and in 2004, he presented at the World Symposium of Catholic Cardinals and Jewish Leaders, hosted by the World Jewish Congress. In November 2005, Rabbi Steinsaltz was hosted by the Vatican, where he delivered a lecture on "Infinity in Science and Faith" at the STOQ (Science, Theology and the Ontological Quest) '05 International Conference on "Infinity in Science, Philosophy and Theology." Through these visits and others, the Rabbi has opened a dialogue among the world’s foremost religious leaders and scholars.

Each year, Rabbi Steinsaltz is invited to Hong Kong by the Ohel Leah Synagogue, where he gives lectures and Talmud classes that are open to the entire community. Hundreds of people who have attended his lectures over the years eagerly await his annual return and the opportunity to study with him once again. During a tour of China, Rabbi Steinsaltz presented a Chinese translation of his commentary to Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) to the Chinese National Academy of Social Sciences.

On a recent visit to Australia, he delivered a series of talks in Sydney and Melbourne that engaged more than 1,000 participants. The Rabbi also spoke to the Russian Jewish community there and lead a Shabbat retreat for the Russian-speaking Jews that featured in-depth study of fundamental Jewish topics like prayer and Shabbat. He is often invited to speak in Rome by the Chief Rabbi, Riccardo Shmuel Di Segni. Rabbi Steinsaltz has given classes at the Rabbinical School there and spoken to the community about two of his books that are published in Italian, The Essential Talmud and The Thirteen Petalled Rose.

In response to the brutal attacks of September 11, 2001 and the escalation of violence in the land of Israel, Rabbi Steinsaltz issued an international Call to Prayer to unite the Jewish people during a time of crisis. A prayer composed by Rabbi Steinsaltz, which asks God to respond with mercy to the pleas of Israel, was distributed in the United States, Israel, the former Soviet Union, and around the world and inspired thousands to compose their own personal prayers and to reflect on the need for Jewish unity to bring about a more peaceful world.


Born in Jerusalem in 1937 to secular parents, Steinsaltz studied physics, chemistry, mathematics, and sociology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, in addition to rabbinical studies. Following graduation, he established several experimental schools and, at the age of 23, became Israel’s youngest school principal, a record still unbroken.

In 1965, he founded the Israel Institute for Talmudic Publications and began his monumental translation to Hebrew language, English language, Russian language, and various other languages. His edition of the Talmud includes his own explanation of the text and a complete commentary on the Talmud. Steinsaltz first translates the Talmud into Modern Hebrew from the original Aramaic and rabbinical Hebrew and adds his explanations, the other language editions are translations of the Hebrew. The only rival to Steinsaltz is Artscroll's similarly popular Schottenstein Edition Talmud (translated first into English and then other languages). To date, he has published 38 of the anticipated 46 volumes. While not without criticism (e.g. by Jacob Neusner, 1998), the Steinsaltz edition is widely used throughout Israel, the United States and the world. Over 2 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 Press 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 reasons for halting publication by Random House are disputed.

His translation of the Talmud from Aramaic (or rabbinical Hebrew to Modern Hebrew) has increased the number of people who are able to study its content. His translation opened the door for women who traditionally are not taught Talmud, and are therefore not proficient in Aramaic, to study the Talmud. Modern Orthodox High Schools and Seminaries teach women Talmud using his translation. The number of men capable of studying Talmud also increased as a result of Steinzaltz' work.

Regarding the access that his work provides, 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. My Gemara are surely used, if they are used anywhere, in Matan [a yeshiva for Orthodox women in Jerusalem], from beginning to end. Why? Because they help skip the elementary school level of training. That makes learning Talmud for them possible, and if it is possible then it is challenging and some of the men don’t want that challenge.”

The Rabbi’s classic work of Kabbalah, The Thirteen Petalled Rose, was first published in 1980 and now appears in eight languages. In all, Rabbi 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.

Continuing his work as a teacher and spiritual mentor, Rabbi 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 Studies at Princeton University. His honorary degrees include doctorates from Yeshiva University, Ben Gurion University of the Negev, Bar Ilan University, Brandeis University, and Florida International University. Rabbi Steinsaltz is also Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Hesder Tekoa, and functions as Nasi in an attempt to revive the Sanhedrin. Rabbi Steinsaltz was honored with the Israel Prize in 1988 in the field of Jewish studies.

Being a personal friend and follower of the late Grand Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson of Chabad-Lubavitch, he went to help Jews in the Soviet Union assisting Chabad's shluchim network. Deeply involved in the future of the Jews in the former Soviet Union, Steinsaltz serves as the region's Duchovny Ravin, 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 St. Petersburg. The Jewish University is the first degree-granting institution of Jewish studies ever established in the former Soviet Union.

Rabbi Steinsaltz and his wife live in Jerusalem, and have three children and ten grandchildren. His son, Rabbi Menachem Even-Israel, is the Director of Educational Programs at the Steinsaltz Center in the Nachlaot neighborhood of Jerusalem.

As a speaker

Steinsaltz is a popular University and radio commentator. He has been invited to speak at the Aspen Institute for Humanistic Studies at Yale University in 1979. In Jerusalem, he gives evening seminars, which according to Newsweek usually last till 2 in the morning, and have attracted prominent politicians as the former Prime Minister Levi Eshkol and former Finance Minister Pinhas Sapir.[2]

As Head of the new Sanhedrin

Rabbi Steinsaltz accepted a position as Nasi (President) of a recent attempt to revive the Sanhedrin. Prior to the actual meeting of the new Sanhedrin, Rabbi Steinsaltz advised sticking strictly to devotional matters, focusing on gaining broadened acceptance in the traditional Jewish community, and steering clear of matters of politics. Since meeting, however, the new Sanhedrin appears to have disagreed. It established a division on state matters which takes a nationalistic position on matters of foreign policy and seeks to establish the new Sanhedrin as an upper theocratic political chamber with veto power over Israeli state laws and government actions it deems inconsistent with Halakha, traditional Jewish law. The new Sanhedrin has encountered extensive controversy, with opposition to its claims to religious legitimacy and its proposed role in the State. Rabbi Steinsaltz has not endorsed the Sanhedrin's current direction, but has remained in his position as Nasi.


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